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WARRIORS IN HEART OF DARKNESS : THE NANDI RESISTANCE 1850 1897 Part 2 The Combatants

by Dennis Bishop

THE NANDI

The total population of the Nandi tribes is estimated in the 1890s to have been between 20,000 and 30,000 people. The tribes never mustered more than 8,000 warriors, but were able to impose themselves upon their much more numerous neighbors and invaders. This was due to two factors.

TRIBAL ORGANIZATION

The fundamental feature of the Nandi tribal organization was the control exercised by the koret, or local council. These small councils controlled the activities of small communities and had a voice in the pororiet consisting of representatives of kokwet and two leading warriors. The kokwet provided a type of court to settle disputes. The pororiet conducted defensive and offensive military decisions and conducted treaty negotiations. These bodies fostered unity among the Nandi tribes. The Laibon (Anglicized Masai L-oibonok) consisted ritual experts and Okoik (medicine-man).

MILITARY ORGANIZATION

The military organization was based upon the pororiet system with warriors of adjoining korotinwek (smallest social unit) joined a siritiet (company) under a kiptainik (leading warrior) elected by the warriors of the company. Several siritiet might join together in a kiptaiyat (raiding party). This would consist of able bodied young warriors, but could include junior elders and young boys seeking experience. Usually independently minded in civil affairs, the warriors were very disciplined at war. Warriors who disobeyed their kiptainik were beaten by their fellow warriors and denied their share of the loot.

The Nandi carried Masai-type stabbing spears, and various throwing spears. For secondary weapons, the Nandi carried short swords, heavy wooden clubs (knobkerries), and occasionally rocks or stones. Bows and poison arrows were commonly used with the arrows smeared with Acokanthera poison. Light, large shields patterned with heraldic emblems like the Masai were also carried.

THE BRITISH

The first British company to acquire access to the Uganda Protectorate was the Imperial British East Africa Company. The region of Uganda was ceded to Britain by the Anglo-German Treaty of 1890 after the IBEAC sent an expedition under F. J. Jackson in 1889 and another under Captain F. J. Lugard in 1890. Both expeditions had armed escorts from the company's Sudanese mercenaries. Both contained 600 askaris, including 75 Sudanese recruited from the Egyptian Sudan. The askaris were armed with Snider rifles at this time. The askaris under Jackson were probably uniformed as variously as other IBEAC mercenaries. Lugard improvised a uniform for his askaris consisting of a white loin-cloth and short jacket, the jacket with either blue or red cuffs and a foot square patch of the same color between the shoulders. The headdress is unknown, but the Zanzibaris (Swahili) probably wore white turbans and the Sudanese probably wore a red fez.

The Sudanese uniform consisted of a red fez, a white or khaki drill tunic and trousers, a blue jersey, and puttees, and black boots in 1891. In 1893, Lugard received permission to provide the Sudanese with a "best uniform" of red fez, blue jersey and white trousers and the "white" officers were issued khaki tunics and breeches. The Sudanese units complained in 1893 and "white" officers were issued two white or two khaki outfits with fez and boots each year and the askaris were to receive either "clothes" or "Americani" cloth (greyish cotton cloth) and five buttons. However, this was inconsistent at best in arriving in Uganda. The result was that all the different colors faded and blended into an earth color. While many askaris attempted to maintain at least the blue jersey and white trousers, others wore kilts or waistcloths or cloth, leather or skin, or knee length cotton smocks. The fez was worn, also a ragged turban, but the most common headdress was a straw hat. Equipment mainly consisted of leather belts with flaps to protect the cartridges from which were hung a variety of charms, amulets, and pouches. They were armed with Remington rifles.

When the crown took over responsibilities for the protectorate from the IBEAC in 1895, things did not improve much. The military was redesignated the Uganda Rifles and totaled 800 askaris organized on a company basis. The only improvement was that the Remington rifle was replaced with the Henry-Martini rifle in some of the companies. Conditions were so bad that the overused I, II, III, IV, and VII Companies mutinied in 1897. It is significant to note that a number of these companies had fought in both demoralizing invasions of Nandi. CLose this window to return to the table of contents 1