Forever Summer




The fun fair was wrapped up for the winter, the pier shops barely open, and there was already a strong hint of autumn in the air when we went to Old Orchard Beach. We were too late. The sky was grey. We had missed all the beach fun. But then as we were mooching up the main street, wrapped in coats and searching for coffee, I spotted this mural on the side of a building. And so it was, in a corner of this out-of-season town, that summer never ends.

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

Word Press Photo Challenge: Summer Lovin’

Desert Date ~ a real-life tree of life


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Badda, Othoo, Olokwai, Eroronyit, Mjunju, Kiwowa – are just some of the names that Kenya’s peoples use for this super-tree. Here, in the Maasai Mara, its  lone presence on the grasslands adds a sense of drama. Perhaps the spare silhouette springs some ancestral memory. For if we believe that humankind evolved in the Great Rift, then we must have an ages-old association with this tree, and not only as a source of food, but for firewood, the making of shelters and tools and, most especially, for medicine.

All the photos here were taken in the Mara, but the range of the Desert Date (Balanites aegyptiaca) extends across much of Africa, and into parts of the Middle East and India. But wherever it grows, its multiple uses have long been valued. Much like the baobab, it is a natural pharmacy. Every part of this unassuming tree has been scientifically shown to be packed with pharmacologically active substances.

Saponins are the key compounds. They protect the immune system, decrease blood lipids, lower cancer risk and cholesterol levels. They include diosgenin, from which hormones for the contraceptive pill may be produced. In short, the tree’s parts – roots, shoots, bark, fruits and seeds – have been shown in laboratory tests to have many healing and prophylactic properties: anti-fever, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-parasitic, anti-cancer, antioxidant and liver-protecting. (For more scientific details see Bishnu P Chapagain 2006.)

And so it is that the practices of generations of traditional healers, from Africa to India, (and so often sneered at) may now be vindicated: all along they have been barking up precisely the right tree.

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For example, the Pokot pastoralists of northwest Kenya make a decoction of the root to treat malaria. They also boil the root in soup to ease oedema and stomach pains. For heartburn, the Akamba of central Kenya make an infusion of bark.  Throughout East Africa, the root is used to get rid of intestinal worms, and as a general purgative. The bark is used as a fish poison, and when mixed with fruit will kill freshwater snails and copepods that host the parasites that cause Bilharzia and Guinea Worm respectively, both scourges in many parts of Africa. In Sudan herbalists use Desert Date to treat jaundice, and in West Africa the fruit is mixed into porridge and eaten by nursing mothers. The seeds, when boiled, produce an excellent oil that is used in food preparation and to soothe headaches. Over 4,ooo years ago in Ancient Egypt this oil was a prized cosmetic. So much so, that the seeds were placed in tombs beside the dead as if to suggest that, in the afterlife, this was a tree that no one could be without.


In fact Balanites thus once grew in profusion along the Nile Valley, and were possibly cultivated. But they are also well adapted to arid and semi-arid conditions, tolerating both sand and heavy clay. Their vertical roots reach down 7 metres, while the horizontal roots may extend 20 metres from the trunk. It can also cope with stock and wildlife grazing (the characteristic canopy is shaped by browsing giraffes), flood, and grassfire. Their boughs and long, thin spines photosynthesize even when the leaves drop off. This makes them a valuable famine food. No matter how dry, each year they can produce up to 10,000 date-like fruits. The flesh is bitter-sweet, but eaten by humans, their stock and most wild game. In fact elephants are one of the main propagators of this species, at least in Africa. While most other creatures spit out the stones, elephants swallow them, depositing them in due course in dollops of ready-made compost.

In Kenya the Pokot and Turkana also eat the tree’s young leaves and shoots, boiled, pounded and fried with fat. The Maasai eat the gum, and the Marakwet boil the seeds and eat them like beans. In other parts of Africa the small flowers are stirred into porridge, and the fruit is fermented to make alcoholic drinks.


And then there is the wood. This is an excellent cooking fuel since it burns with little smoke. The wood is durable and used for house-building. It is also easily worked to make yokes, wooden spoons, pestles, mortars, handles, stools, combs. Resin from the tree stems is used to stick feathers on to arrow shafts and spear heads to shafts. The Turkana use it to repair cracks in tool handles. And the tree itself may be grown in farmsteads as a living fence that can be cropped for both human needs and livestock fodder. While it is protecting domestic animals and crops it is also fixing nitrogen in the soil.

And now you know why I called it a tree of life. It is ripe for development too, the kind of development that can only enhance existence on the planet. In fact one gasps at how much potential can subsist within a single tree species. AND THIS IS JUST ONE TREE. But doesn’t it show, and with glaring clarity, that instead of destroying the world’s wild places (and for mostly very pointless reasons), we need to protect and learn from them, and learn, too, from those indigenous peoples who still know them intimately and understand where the real treasure lies.


 Copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

For my earlier post on the baobab:                                                                                                                                               

Anthology Baobab: African Story Tree

Jungle2Jungle and Bishnu P Chapagain 2006 for more about the Desert Date

Flickr Comments for more ‘D’ words

Meeting with Lions in the Mara


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It is late afternoon when Daniel, our guide, takes us to the rock-strewn  place where he knows  the lions will be.

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The males are hiding away in longer grass, but the females and cubs are out in the open, enjoying the last of the sun. The light is spectacular. I wonder if the lionesses have chosen this place on purpose: because their young blend in so well with the landscape. In any event, they seem utterly relaxed. This mother (above) simply watches us as she feeds one of her cubs. There is another at her tail, disguised as a boulder, while the third one takes off on a small adventure.


The quiet proximity of these lionesses is breath-taking, our intrusion on their family life above their notice. We watch them until the sun goes down and it is time to return to our camp on the Mara River.


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Ailsa’s travel challenge: meeting places

Go here for Ailsa’s and other bloggers’ meeting places. Meanwhile, here are a few that caught my eye:


Travel Tales of Life Cinque Terre: Meeting in an Italian Paradise

Third Person Travel

Stefano Scheda

Almost Italian

Charles Darwin, holy bones and wild orchids at Wenlock Priory




I came upon this wild orchid last week: a single small spike, flowering in the un-mown margins of Wenlock Priory. The Priory is my hometown ancient ruin. In fact the town of Much Wenlock both grew up around, and then later out of the monastery. This latter occurrence was due to some opportunistic recycling on the part of the local populace. After Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1540 (this in a bid to take control of the English church, marry Anne Boleyn and free up some  much needed monastic capital), the lead was ripped from the roofs, and over the years, the stones from the ensuing ruins used to build many of the town’s houses.





The orchid is Anacamptis pyramidalis, a pyramidal orchid, and fairly common in Shropshire. This particular specimen was only a hand’s span in height, but the plant will grow taller. I did not get down to sniff it, and am sorry now, because I have since read that the flowers have a vanilla scent by day to attract pollinating butterflies. But then at night, when wet with dew, they give off a goaty smell that offends moths, or indeed anyone rash enough to get down on their knees for a quick nocturnal whiff. Their roots have medicinal properties when dried and ground into a sweet, nutritious powder called salep. It was once used to soothe upset stomachs. Perhaps the monks in the priory’s infirmary used it too, but please do not try this at home.

Incidentally, it was Charles Darwin who discovered that the structure of orchid flowers was designed specifically to be pollinated by either butterflies or moths with their long probosces. He wrote about it in Fertilisation of Orchids. Darwin also has a local connection. He was a Shropshire lad, born  in the nearby county town of Shrewsbury in 1809. Shropshire has a lot to answer for, and indeed be proud of.

It is also interesting to think of Darwin within these Priory confines. Just as his book On the Origin Species shook the foundations of Christian orthodoxy, so these ruins mark England’s break from the Church in Rome and a complete shake-up in religious belief that rebounded down the centuries. For years, Darwin put off publishing his theory of natural selection – “like confessing a murder”. Even his wife was concerned about the state of his soul. Only the realization that out in the Malay Archipelago, one Alfred Russel Wallace was arriving at similar conclusions to his own, prompted him to finish his book. In the first public airing that described Darwin’s work, Wallace was also given credit.



But back to the orchid. I found it growing not far from the place where the Priory’s high altar would have stood, beneath the great east window. Behind that altar was said to be the shrine of St. Milburga. She was a Saxon princess famous for all manner of miracles, and who long after her death, became a big draw on the medieval pilgrim circuit.

For thirty years she had been abbess of the first monastic house in Much Wenlock. This predates the existing 12th – 15th century monastic remains by hundreds of  years, and was founded as a mixed house for both monks and nuns in 680 AD by her father King Merewahl of Mercia. Her grandfather had been the great King Penda, who, it is said,  personally abhorred Christianity, while nonetheless tolerating those with Christian beliefs.

All three of Merewahl’s daughters, and also his queen (after she forsook the marriage) headed religious houses. And I gather it was common in Saxon times both to have mixed-sex religious houses, although with separate places of worship and accommodation, and for them to be ruled by women. Milburga had been well educated at Chelles in Paris before she took up her office. She also controlled extensive estates, which later became part of the Cluniac monastery of Norman times, and yielded large revenues in agricultural produce.  It is clear that in Saxon times, princesses were deemed to have both political and spiritual power to wield. There was apparently no incentive for kings to marry them off in useful dynastic marriages.

The re-discovery of Milburga’s remains in 1101 during the rebuilding of her, by then, ruinous church greatly added to the Priory’s revenue and prosperity as pilgrims flocked to the newly established shrine.  The opulence of the Prior’s lodging, expanded in 1425 , gives an indication of the wealth and power enjoyed by its then Prior, Richard Singer.


There are many historical accounts of grim goings on in Wenlock Priory – everything from monks counterfeiting coinage to plotting to murder their prior. But these will have to wait for another post. For now more views of the priory ruins and its other plants – wild and cultivated.

IMG_1230.jpgFoxglove in the cloister garden. Digitalis purpurea was used by monastic herbalists from the early Middle Ages to cure dropsy (oedema or swelling caused by fluid). It has also  long been used for heart conditions, although an overdose can prove fatal. Something else not to try at home.



More mauve than purple – the lavender border (and topiary) in the cloister. Lavender has many soothing medicinal uses – for headaches in particular. I have no idea why the topiary hedges are there – a much more recent non-monastic addition it seems.


copyright 2014 Tish Farrell


For more shades of purple go to Ailsa’s Travel Challenge HERE 

For more ‘C’ stories go to Flickr Comments HERE

Container Mania: Maine Make-do and Memories



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The Farrell domain is full of containers of the rural and artisanal variety – too full, says the Team Leader. He murmurs the word ‘cluttered’. I close my ears. These are artefacts to think by.  They resonate with story.  (See  also Basket Case, the story behind my Nubian mats.)

Yet even G was beguiled  by this American sugar bucket or firkin, once used for collecting sap from maple trees.  Not that we knew this when we first spotted it in the Ocean Park antique store in Southern Maine. The elderly owner of this  ‘going-out-of-business’ curio emporium was having a sale. He did not mention the maple syrup, but called the bucket  a farm ‘make-do’, pointing out that the replacement handle was a length of horse harness, and that in its latter days it was probably used for doling out animal feed.

I instantly pictured my own rural upbringing in Cheshire (England). When I was small my parents rented a house on a large farm. I often used to help the farmer’s wife feed the hens, carrying a bucket round the orchard chicken run, and tossing out handfuls of corn to  happy, healthy hens. So you can guess what happened next.

Sold. One ‘make-do’.



 The ‘make-do’ now sits on the kitchen window sill, and further reminds us of the kindness of Cousin Jan who was the reason we went to Maine in the first place. She let us stay in her magical Ocean Park cottage.  (Thank you, Jan and Craig, and happy anniversary to you both).

The bucket makes me smile for other reasons too. The Stars and Stripes came free when we bought it – a give-away  on account of the flag’s deficit of stars. It only has 48, and thus pre-dates 1959 and the admission of Alaska and Hawaii to the USA. I recall the brittle humour of the dealer who gave it to me. It turned out he was married to an English woman, who coincidentally just happened to come from G’s home town of Wolverhampton. He said he met her during ww2 when he was stationed  nearby. He was thus a bit of an antique himself, although you wouldn’t have known it to look at him. He said he was giving up the shop to concentrate on doing shows instead.

So there you have it. My justification for container mania (and I haven’t even mentioned the Polish potato basket which I use to store my onions, or the Zambian gourd that holds my cooking salt). This plain, rustic bucket simply goes on accruing meaning, a bit like Rumpelstiltskin weaving gold from farmyard straw. Which of course makes me wonder about the craftsman who made it, and the generations of family members who used it, and the circumstances by which one individual decided that, despite the broken handle, there was still good and useful life left in it, and so applied a length of harness strap to keep it going for another generation or two.

But for G, who would ever de-clutter if I gave him the chance, he has own reasons to be well-disposed towards the make-do.  Now that he knows it was probably once used for collecting sugar sap, he recalls the bright winter days of his Ontario childhood, the crisp air filled with the scent of hot maple syrup. For every year, at the winter maple syrup festival, freshly gathered sap would be boiled up outside in a big vat, and then thrown, sizzling, onto the snow-covered ground for some taffy pulling, and then much delicious eating. He speaks of this memory so vividly that I almost believe it to be my own…

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

Go HERE for more wordpress bloggers’ containers

“Wheat…fields of wheat…” Musings on the path to the allotment



Okay, who knows which film this quote comes from? As an extra clue I give you the line in ‘full’: “Wheat… lots of wheat… fields of wheat… a tremendous amount of wheat…”

For some reason I cannot explain, this particular exhortation is rather popular in the Farrell household.  The Team Leader is wont to deliver it at unexpected  intervals and with some vigour. This habit even predates the time when we actually came to live beside  a field that often has wheat growing in it. So here is it. The field behind our house. And while I admit it might overstep the bounds of propriety to share my washing with the world, here is another view of the wheat field from our garden. I also think the flower shadows on the sheet rather fine: housework turned artwork?

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I have written in earlier posts how our house lies on the edge of Wenlock Edge, a twenty-mile scarp formed from the upthrust bed of a tropical sea – the Silurian Sea in fact. This geological formation is a breath-taking 400  million years old – a place once inhabited by trilobites, and molluscs, and sponges and corals, although it should be made clear that when these creatures lived, the shallow sea in question was not in the northern hemisphere.  No indeed. In its tropical heyday Shropshire lay off equatorial East Africa. We are thus, for all our rustic appearance, a well-travelled county. We also have lots of geology of international importance, but  which I cannot begin to describe because the terminology and chronological expanses confound even me, a prehistorian. The Shropshire Geological Society have  a good site HERE should you wish to know more.


The reason I’m showing you the wheat field is because my path to the allotment runs along the edge of it. I walk back and forth at least once a day. And so when I’m not writing blog posts or fiddling with my novel, this is one of the places where I’m likely to be. There is always something that catches my eye – thistles, the light, clouds, buzzards, the rooks and jackdaws, a neighbour’s three white ducks that regularly escape from their pen to eat slugs along the path, cats on the prowl, pretending I can’t see them.

Even the wheat is quite interesting. It amazes me how it manages to force its way up through a cloddy layer of grey clay that bakes to concrete after a few days with no rain. This soil, too, is a product of a geological event – a deluge of  volcanic ash from aeons ago and that has now broken down into bentonite clay.  It is the same soil in the allotment. Soft fruits seem to thrive on it. Everything else is a challenge. Wheat, though, has apparently been grown along the slopes above the town for generations, hence the name The Wheatlands for some of our now built-upon areas.



And talking of building, a couple of years ago when the Local Authority called for landowners to put forward development land, our local landowner proposed  this and most of the fields on the Edge side of the town, including the allotments too, gardens  that have been there since the 1940s.  Development on this scale is something that most town residents fervently  hope will not happen. We have already been threatened with up to 500 houses over the next 11 years. This in a town with antiquated drainage, severe traffic congestion, few jobs, poor public transport, and inflated house prices, and one that has seen several new developments of upmarket houses in the last few years.  More crucially, the town sits in a bowl below the Edge and has recently been designated a rapid response flood risk area by the Environment Agency.

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More tarmac, roofs and roads that speed up run off from the hills above our homes are the last thing we need.  Some of the newest developments in the town are themselves subject to flooding.



All right, I admit it. The landscape behind our house is perhaps not particularly noteworthy of itself, but the light and sky above it are. The uptilted scarp of Wenlock Edge forms a false horizon, so there is always much weather to watch. It changes every second. One day we saw a fire rainbow which we gather is quite rare.

Ironically, it it perhaps because this view from our house is ever under threat, that makes us look at it and appreciate it all the more. But it makes me angry too. I am not opposed to development, but it should be well planned, and enhance the locality, not cause problems for other people’s homes. There appears to be no mechanism in English planning that can ensure the provision of good quality housing at prices people can afford. Density seems to be the only planning criterion, not  homes with green spaces around them, and places for community orchards and gardens, footpaths and cycle tracks and areas where people of all ages can play. All things that boost wellbeing. You would wonder why it is so hard to do.

It is true that  Much Wenlock people have recently voted to have the Local Authority  accept their Neighbourhood Plan, a community compiled document that reflects our aspirations and plans for the foreseeable future. Our Conservative Party MP, Philip Dunne, tells us the Plan will deliver localism to our door, that is, we will have a say in the kind and scale of development that is proposed for our town and parish, development that will protect landscapes, open spaces and heritage while improving the quality of life for everyone. Whether it will, or not remains to be seen, particularly under a government whose recently sacked Secretary for the Environment apparently allowed for the destruction of ancient woodland as long as developers replanted elsewhere.  Bio-diversity anyone?

Which I suppose brings me back to the quote; “Wheat…fields of wheat…” You can’t get more of a monoculture than that. Hey ho. So many things to unpick. Think I’ll trundle up the path to the allotment and pick raspberries.

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell


…of Silurian Shores

Old Stones of Wenlock: repurposing the Silurian Sea

In Much Wenlock an Inspector Calls


P.S. The quote is from Woody Allen’s Love and Death


Dhows in Dubai ~ Living Relics




There have been dhows sailing out of the Persian Gulf for India and East Africa for a thousand years and more, following the gyre of monsoon winds. Dates, jewels, fine carpets and chests went one way; ivory, gold, leopard skins and slaves came the other.

These days in Dubai Creek you are more likely to see cargos of Coca Cola, white goods and Japanese cars being loaded on deck. But for all that, and yet among the ever sprouting  high rises, there is still a drift of Arabian Nights’ romance, and more than a hint of Sinbad’s voyaging.

Related posts:

Zanzibar: time’s twists and turns

Weekly Photo Challenge: Culture (The Swahili)

Inside looking out on Lamu Island


WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Relic Go here for more bloggers’ relics

Basket case? Tales of bravery and betrayal




These glorious Nubian mats adorn my kitchen. They decorate our every day, their colours radiating like mini-suns however dull the weather. It is hard to imagine, then, that there is a dark tale behind their creation, a tale of statelessness and discrimination.

The makers of the mats are women from the Nubian community of Kibera, in Nairobi (Kenya). They, their parents and grandparents before them, were born in this quarter of the city suburbs. This has been the case since the early 1900s, when British colonial authorities gazetted an area of land for settlement by Sudanese Nubian soldiers of the British Army, men who had first been recruited during the 1890s when Britain was trying to establish control over the peoples and territories of East Africa.

This next photo thus shows another form of decoration – a Nubian KAR officer’s chest adorned with medals that attest to years of brave service in the cause of the British Empire.


Copyright Kenya Nubian Council of Elders

This photo was taken in 1956, during the British colonial era. The officer is showing his invitation to a garden party at Nairobi’s Government House. The gathering was in honour of the visit to Kenya by HRH Princess Margaret of England (Kenya’s Nubians: Then and Now, Open Society Foundations).


The Nubian people (also known in the distant past as Kushites) have a long, long history, their homeland once stretching along the upper reaches of the River Nile in North Sudan and into southern Egypt. Much of their territory was taken in the 1960s for the building of the Aswan Dam by the Egyptians, and this was another cause of displacement. But way back in time, the Nubians were a people to be reckoned with. The earliest evidence of a metropolitan culture  (the Kingdom of Kerma) has a date contemporary with neighbouring Ancient Egypt.  Nubia was the gateway to the African hinterland, and a great trading nexus.

Dr Stuart Tyson Smith (University of California, Santa Barbara) says the Kerma culture evolved out of the Neolithic around 2400 BC. The Kushite rulers of Kerma profited from the trading such luxury goods as gold, ivory, ebony, incense, and even live animals to the Egyptian Pharaohs. By 1650 BC, Kerma had become a densely occupied urban center overseeing a centralized state stretching from at least the 1st Cataract to the 4th, rivaling ancient Egypt. Kerma was sacked in c. 1500 BC, when the entire region was incorporated into the Egyptian New Kingdom empire.” 

The Nubians and Egyptians traded, intermarried and warred with one another over many centuries, the Nubians finally ruling Egypt for half a century during the 25th dynasty (c. 750–655 B.C.E.) And though it may be a big surprise for some people to know this, there were Nubian, black African pharaohs, Nubian pyramids, and a Nubian form of hieroglyphics that were later developed into a 23-letter alphabet (yet to be deciphered). Clearly as time went on, Nubian culture was influenced by Ancient Egypt (though why not the other way around?), yet it also evolved in its own very characteristic ways.

The strikingly tall Nubian pyramids below were built at the time when Britain was a land of Iron Age farmers who lived in thatched round houses and constructed hill forts of earthen banks and ditches.


Fabrizio Demartis Creative Commons

The Nubian Meriotic kingdom developed from the 25th Dynasty when Nubia ruled Ancient Egypt. It is named after its capital Meroë (begun c 800 BCE). Over 255 pyramids belonging to the Meroitic period have so far been discovered.


But back to more recent times, and the story behind my lovely mats. In World War 1, Sudanese Nubian forces were deployed in  defence of British-ruled Kenya along the border with  German controlled Tanganyika. This East African campaign was a brutal affair, fought over waterless, disease-ridden bush, as British forces attempted to thwart Count Von Lettow-Vorbeck’s ingenious guerrilla tactics, carried out by other Africans – the Count’s highly trained  askaris from German East Africa (now Tanzania).

The British Army, with a few exceptions late in the war, did not allow the native peoples of Kenya to carry arms at this time, so it was the Nubians who were the main combatants. Kenyans were instead conscripted into the Carrier Corps to transport army provisions since mules and horses could not survive in tsetse infested bush country.  Tens of thousands of young men died of starvation and disease in the British cause, their families often never hearing what had happened to their sons. They simply never returned from the war with Jerimani.

(For a vivid fictional version of this conflict see William Boyd’s An Ice-cream War).

In 1912 the British colonial administration in Nairobi gazetted 4,197 acres near the city for the settlement of Nubian soldiers and their families who could not be repatriated to Sudan. The Nubians called this place Kibra, the forest land.


Nubian Family c1940s, photographer unknown. Copyright Kenya Nubian Council of Elders. For more wonderful photos see Kenya’s Nubians: Then and Now, Open Society Foundations


By this time, all British East African (Kenyan) tribes had been categorized, and the land they occupied, at the point of British incursion, designated as native reserves. Africans were not allowed to have title deeds to their own and and, in theory, European settlers (who did have title to vast acreages) were not allowed to encroach on the reserves.

The Nubians, however,  were specifically categorized by colonial authorities as ‘Detribalized Natives’, and non-natives of British East Africa. This meant they could not claim any rights to have their land made into a reserve, nor could they build permanent structures on the land.  The community, however, continued to provide further generations of soldiers who would serve in the King’s African Rifles. 

During WW2  Nubian soldiers fought for Britain, alongside other black Kenyan recruits, in Somalia, Abyssinia and in the terrifying war against the Japanese in the jungles of Burma. It is another little remembered  fact that the African troops of the King’s African Rifles played a determining role in the winning of the Burma campaign.

By 1955 the Nubian community of Kibra numbered 3,000. Back then it was an attractive rural village, the houses surrounded by large gardens. But in successive decades as Nairobi grew into a city, hundreds of thousands of rural Kenyans, seeking work, invaded Kibra, putting up  shanty dwellings. Kibera, as it is currently known, is now one of the biggest slums in Africa.

Kibera Schreibkraft cc

A cropped image of Kibera, Nairobi. Photo CC 2014 Schreibkraft

Kibera cc Blazej Mikula

Photo: CC Blazej Mikula


During colonial times, Kibra land remained the property of the British Crown. At Independence in 1963, ownership of Crown Land passed to the new government, and so became state-owned land. The new state also inherited an administration that was still largely operating under State of Emergency regulations from the 1950s Mau Mau uprising. Being able to prove  who your tribe was and the associated right to domicile were essential proofs of citizenship. The Nubians’ former colonial categorization denied them on both fronts.

From 1963 until 2009, when the Nubian community in Kenya was finally accorded official existence as a Kenyan tribe, the Nubians of Kibera and elsewhere in Kenya had been stateless. While the colonial generation did have identity cards, the post-independence generations could only acquire them, if at all, with great difficulty, and after many years of persistence.

This meant they could not be formally employed, open bank accounts, acquire title deeds, participate in the affairs of their country of birth, vote, or even leave their own homes safely, since to be caught without an identity card is a criminal offence.  The only opportunities to earn a living were in the informal sector, and for women, this included/still includes making baskets for sale through non-governmental trading operations, and Nairobi’s tourist curio shops. Hopefully now, with official recognition, the fortunes of the Nubian people will change  for the better, but there is still much ground to make up, and in all senses. For more of these people’s story see the excellent short videos below, and also the full length BBC programme about Ancient Nubia at the end.

In the meantime, back to the beautiful baskets, and a Nubian woman at work. The method of construction involves coiling lengths of papyrus stems or dried grasses then wrapping them round with coloured and natural palm leaf strips. Truly great works of decorative art, and not only that, but life-enhancingly useful too. Expressions of spirit undaunted despite lives of grave hardship unimaginable to most of us?




Flavia Lanyero 2011 Uganda

Article on Nubians of Uganda: Flavia Lanyero 2011 Daily Monitor


text copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

Greg Constanine’s video explains the Kenyan Nubian dilemma


This brief film explains the history of Nubian statelessness in Kenya


Recent archaeological discoveries of the ‘lost’ Nubian civilization


Ailsa’s Challenge: Decoration – Go here for more bloggers’ decorative posts