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Jambo Paulo - Jambo Mykoli: 7 - Kilima Nyani

"During the day, the monkeys came down to the open ground of the park to feed on crickets, grasshoppers, and other things, and swing on the tall gum trees. Sometimes the monkeys created a bit of toofan, mischief, in the shops and even the court,'' writes Kersi Rustomji, continuing his wonderfully vivid account of growing up in East Africa.

Two hills close to a hundred meters high were the main features of Mwanza. Kilima Nyani, Monkey Hill was one of these. It stretched behind the main street and ran up to the station. One side of it faced a park and the court across the road that went past the rail station, to Nakasero. It was full of boulders and thickly wooded and hundreds of African vervet monkeys lived on it as well as birds, a variety of lizards, snakes, and even hyenas.

During the day, the monkeys came down to the open ground of the park to feed on crickets, grasshoppers, and other things, and swing on the tall gum trees. Sometimes the monkeys created a bit of toofan, mischief, in the shops and even the court.

The court was a large stone hall with open arches on three sides. One end was a robing room for the magistrate, through which he entered and left the court. Anybody could sit on the wooden benches and listen to the hearings. There were always two askaries at the back, and always with their bandooki, rifles. The prisoners brought from the jail, marched in twos, escorted by armed police, and sat on the side benches awaiting the call for their trials. All the trials were brief and swift, as the prisoners always pleaded guilty. The police read the charges while the prisoner stood in a small dock. The magistrate looked at the prisoner, pronounced the sentence, banged his gavel, and called for the next prisoner.

One afternoon I was in the park watching the monkeys forage and jump about on the gum trees. Suddenly there were loud shouts and a commotion at the court. Two askaries clutching their fezzes came out shouting, ‘Shika, shika, catch them, catch them.’ They all stopped under two cassia trees near the court, so I ran across to see what was happening. On one of these trees were three monkeys and two clutched some papers. The crowd pointed, clapped, and laughed, as the askaries beat the lower branches with sticks.

‘Huyo, huyo, that’s them, that’s them. Huko, huko, over there, over there. Wana enda ju, wale, wale, wale! They are climbing higher, there, there, there! Ah haramu! Ah the unworthy ones!’
The English magistrate in his wig and gown and two Indian lawyers, Mr. Dhebor and Mr. Chopra clad in black suits looked on. The magistrate was furious, shouting and waving his arms at the askaries, while the two lawyers stood aside with very serious faces, trying not to laugh.

Suddenly someone started to throw stones at the monkeys up in the trees. Immediately the monkeys bounded off to the other side, leapt down and scampered across the road into the park, still clutching the papers. The askaries gave chase and the crowd followed, but not the magistrate and the two lawyers. All the noise and the crowd frightened a mob of other monkeys on the gum trees, which also scampered down and raced towards the wooded hill. The entire troop, some females with babies hanging on, screeched and with tails high, entered the wood and took to the trees. The crowd followed making a great din but stopped at the verge of the wood. The two askaries followed the monkeys in the wood. We could hear their chatter and the swish of the bushes as they went deeper. The crowd waited at the edge to see the end of the fiasco.

‘Lo, lo, wanyani. Oh, oh, the monkeys. Wame ingiya kortini mzee! Went right into the court, old chap. Wame iba makaratasi! Stole the papers! Salala... Mzungu ume chuki, ume chuki. Oo, oo, oo... The white man got angry, oh he got angry.’ So it went on until we heard the askaries come through the brush.

We craned our necks to see them and as they emerged, the crowd rushed to see them. Covered in dirt, bits of leaves, and all kinds of burrs, one held up some rather torn papers. Everybody clapped, laughed, and followed the askaries as we made our way back to the court.

The magistrate and the two lawyers were waiting. One askari handed the papers to one of the lawyers. The three huddled together and whispered as they examined the documents. Everybody waited very quietly at a respectful distance. Very solemnly, the magistrate moved into the court followed by the two lawyers.

Silently the crowd came in behind to get on with the serious business of sheria, the law. That evening at the club, Mr. Dhebor one of the lawyers regaled everybody with the tale of the day, and my presence at the scene also noted.

A prominent feature of the Kilima Nyani was a house built right at the top. Painted white, it could be seen very clearly. The District Commissioner, a government official lived in it. The track to the house was narrow and winding so, a garage was built at the bottom of the track. The D. C. kept his car here and there always was an askari to guard it overnight. One of them a rafiki of mine once saved me from very serious harm.

The askaries always fascinated me. They wore a khaki army type tunic, with four pockets and khaki shorts. They wound dark blue, police colours puttees round their shins, but wore no shoes. They had a red fez with black tassels and the tassels had to be exactly over the right ear. All the brass buttons and belt buckle were beautifully polished. Every morning a detail left the Makongorro police lines and went past our school on various guard duties. They marched two abreast with the one in charge beside the last pair. ‘Hep tu, hep tu, moja mbili, moja mbili. Weka mustari! Hep tu, hep tu. One, two, one, two. Keep it straight!’ He called out.

As they came to their various duty points, they dropped off in pairs or fours with a great deal of ceremony, especially if there happened to be an officer, a white bwana, or a bunch of people about. They were posted at the banks, outside the general ward of the hospital if any prisoners were in for treatment, at the D. C’s office, the prison, the court, the D. C’s garage, the station, and the gates to the port.

At four in the afternoon, there was a change all along the line as a fresh detail took over for the night. Many afternoons after school, we followed the detail up to the prison, and then veered off to take the road home. All along, arms swinging and chest out, we imitated the march, chanting hep, tu, moja mbili, and dropped off one by one as we came to our homes. Often shopkeepers who came out to see us, gave a hearty cheer, and clapped.


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