Safari Cooking: The Cook (I)

africa-safari-gunbearers1 Cook 35 (rupees) per month*

That’s the salary paid to native/local cooks, those picked to feed the wealthy white adventurers going on safari in East Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and Other East African Adventures (1908),  John Henry Patterson briefly described the food situation on a safari he undertook in 1906:

A cotton shelter-tent and a cooking pot must also be furnished for every five men.

The food for the caravan is mostly rice, of which the Headman gets two kibabas (a kibaba is about 1 lb.) per day; the cook, gun-bearer, ” boy ” and askaris one and a half kibabas, and the ordinary porters, one kibaba, each per day.

It is the duty of the Headman to keep discipline on the safari (caravan journey), both in camp and on the march, and to see to the distribution and safety of the loads, the pitching and striking of camp, the issue of posho (food) to the porters, etc. He always brings up the rear of the caravan, and on him depends greatly the general comfort of the sportsman.

For our trip at the beginning of 1906, we managed to secure a splendid neopara, and never had the least trouble with the porters all the time. His only drawback was that he could not speak English, but he told me when he left us that he was going to learn. Anybody securing him as Headman will be lucky; his name is Munyaki bin Dewani, and he can easily be found at Mombasa.

The cook is also an important member of the caravan, and a good one should be procured if possible. It is wonderful what an experienced native mpishi (cook) can turn out in the way of a meal in a few minutes after camp is pitched.

Patterson’s positive summation of safari cooks belies some of the more cutting attitudes held by his compatriots, as we will see …

*At the time, the rupee in British East Africa was on the basis of 15 to the £ sterling, according to Patterson.

© 2009 C. Bertelsen


2 thoughts on “Safari Cooking: The Cook (I)

  1. Thank you — actually, there will be a few such posts over the next several days and into the beginning of next week.

    Thanks for writing, and for reading “Gherkins & Tomatoes.”


  2. Your collection of historic detail is just fasinating! I’m looking forward to any sequels about safaris of the past.


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