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   Kenya "SchoolSpeak"


Kenya "SchoolSpeak"


This list is a light-hearted attempt to remember and categorise the unique blend of language that constituted Kenya SchoolSpeak in the forties, fifties and sixties.  Christopher Collier-Wright (Nairobi Primary, Pembroke House and Prince of Wales) and Brian McIntosh (Parklands Primary, Nakuru Primary and Prince of Wales) compiled the first draft 

Since it was first posted on the Web Site in September 2004, Kenya “SchoolSpeak” has received contributions from Roy Ashworth, Jitze Couperus, Antony Williamson, Colin McCulloch, John Albrecht, John Davis, Joan (nee) Williamson, Dave Burn, Chris Harrison, John Heppes, and Ron Bullock. More recently, contributions have been received from John Welford, Brod Purdy, James Storrar, Charles Milner-Williams, Stan Bleazard, Dicky Tomasyan, Martin Langley, Thomas "Haggis" Hughes, John Garside and Mati Glassborow.

 Other additions or comments are needed.  They should be sent to the Webmaster for inclusion and acknowledgement.                                                 

                                                 Group One: non-English words


Language of origin

English equivalent

Typical Usage



fierce, sharp  very

Ma Murderson is kali sana.
Careful, this knife is kali.




Throw all that taka-taka away!



rotten, useless mixed breed

What a shenzi old car!                                                Our dog’s a shenzi.



craftsman (mechanic, carpenter, etc)

These tables were made by a local fundi.




I’m going to the duka.




The duka-wallah lets us put things on the account.




You must take your dawa twice a day.




There’s a dudu in my soup.




(Used to indicate greed at table.)
Harries is a fisi.



check on

You’d better chunga the kids.


cho (choo)



large metal can (4 gallon kerosene tin) latrine

Carry that debbie of water to the outside cho.




Put on your shamba hat!



maize cob

We’re having mahindi for supper.

tinga-tinga (onomatopoeic)


pump or generator

They switch off the tinga-tinga at half past ten.

piki-piki (onomatopoeic)


motor cycle

Some of the 6th form daybugs ride their piki-pikis to school.



50 cent coin

Two simunis make a shilling.



straw basket

Put your toys in that kikapu.



right-angled shovel, possibly convertible into spade (mattock)

These jembis are used for digging the foundations of the chapel.



long broad knife

Use your panga to hack down that bamboo.



safari ants

These siafu get everywhere.



what’s its name

Could you bring me the nini-hi from that table, please?

boma (literal meaning)  




1. cattle/sheep enclosure

 2. D.C.’s (District Commissioner’s) compound            3. Kenya High School

The cows are kept in the boma at night. 

                                                                                   The boma is at the top of the hill.

                                                                                                   The girls from the heifer boma come to the house dances.                                                                                



smart, beautiful

We’ll decorate the common room with bougainvillea to make it all maridadi for the house dance.




That kuku looks pretty scrawny.



enquiry/witch hunt; problem

There was a big shauri over who was responsible for making the pineapple pombe that exploded under the dorm floor.



beer/illicit liquor

Some boys tried to make pombe from fermented pineapples.

kibs (from kiberiti)



Have you got any kibs?



(literally)  donkey, used to mean heavy bicycle

You’ll never manage to ride up the hill to school on that punda.

bombafu (mpumbavu)



You’re a bombafu!

ngombi (Anglicised plural ngombis)

mtu (Anglicised as mutu)



hump-backed local cattle

a person

We have a mutu at school who keeps the grass short with four ngombis hitched to a gang mower. 



bush country

Boys are not allowed to go into the bundu beyond the games field.



feud, dust-up

Johnny Riddell’s way of settling a fitina between two boys was to make them put on boxing gloves in PT class.

Hoteli ya Kingi Georgi

rukhsa (ruhusa)

“Swahili-icised English”

H.M. Prison

leave, holiday

The thieves were sentenced to six months’ rukhsa in Hoteli ya Kingi Georgi.

nyama  (mnyama)



Nyamaaaaa! (exclamation on spying a particularly peach girl.)




Who’s making all that kelele outside?






trouble, argument

Wacha all this matata!




Can you kill that dudu?

sufuria (anglicized plural sufurias)


saucepan/cooking pot

Ma J makes sure that all the sufurias are kept clean.

chura hop

Swahili frog Did your pre make you do chura hops down the dorm for not cleaning your shoes today?
kufa, sometimes anglicized to kufa’d Swahili kill or die The night watchman’s dog kufa’d two rabbits near the murram pitch last week.
funja, sometimes anglicized to funja’d Swahili to break You’ve funja’d my dinky.   Now you’ll have to get me a new one.
bundu cheroots Swahili/Hindi ersatz cigarettes made from a type of gum tree root Hey, let’s go into the forest at Government House to get some bundu cheroots!
shauri ya mungu Swahili The will of God: fate I don’t know how your pushie got frekked.   Just shauri ya mungu, I think.
chockered Swahili exhausted I'm too chockered to go to the tuck shop.
nusu nusu Swahili half and half Let's share our tuck nusu nusu



posh, smart

He’s got a pukka accent.




My white shirt is at the dhobi.




The sais will hold the reins.




I walked to school with the ayah.



pith helmet 

You must wear your topi when you go riding.



horse-show or sports club

Vanessa is going to ride her pony at the gymkhana.




I’ll give you a ride in the gharri.

dak bungalow


postal service/railway rest-house

The Kisumu train stops at Lumbwa station long enough for us to have dinner at the dak bungalow.

jandha (pronounced jundy)


literally flag but used to mean Indian  (jandha wallah = red flag fellow i.e. nationalist)

You can buy whatever you need at the jundy duka.

The jundy bus is usually very crowded.

Those jundy buns cost twenty cents each.

dekho (pronounced decko)


see, look

Can I have a dekho at how you parsed that paragraph for English prep?

tekkies (pronounced tackies)


gym shoes

Your tekkies are dirty.

voetsek (pronounced footsak)


Go away!         Get lost!

Voetsek! (shouted)



cigarette butt     or short man

Give me a stompie!
Who’s that stompie?

Rooinek     (pronounced royneck)


literally “red –neck”; used to mean person of British origin

There aren’t many rooineks around Eldoret.

plaas japie (abbreviated and pronounced yarpie)


literally farm boy; used to mean Afrikaaner

Rhodes House is full of japies.

The japies here include Engelbrecht and Kleynhans.




You’re an apie!




I like naartjies!

mielie (pronounced mealie)



maize cob 


You can cook that mielie on the braai.



literally, leapfrog; but see note at end by J. Storrar

Let’s play bok-bok at break

ag sies

ag siestog


expression of disgust /           of endearment

Ag sies, man, that’s horrible.

Ag siestog, what lovely puppies!



Lit. thunder    hurt, assault

My shins get really donnered in the scrum.

vrek, pronounced frek Afrikaans to die or be killed Brown vrekked the gears on my pushie, but we won the Coronation Safari anyway.
Herre jong, pronounced yarre yong Afrikaans Sacreligious expression Herre jong, man, did you see Visser donner that new rooinek?
lekker Afrikaans sweet or nice Durban’s a lekker place for a holiday!
broek (anglicised to broeks) Afrikaans short shorts or trousers You can have broeks made at Haria Cash Stores in Stewart Street.
soutie (pronounced sote  at PoW) Afrikaans Literally salty.   Used to mean a South African Briton maintaining excessive contact with his country of origin: one leg in Africa, the other in Britain, and the appendage in between dangling into the salt sea.   Used at the PoW to refer to guys with a provincial English accent.

Soutie Dine's a helluva good runner and rugger player.

cave (pronounced as 1 syllable, as in English)    cus


Latin (custos)

beware        watch out

Cave!    Cus!   

quis  (pronounced quiz)  ego! (or, more emphatically, ego done!)




I / me

Quis? ( Called out when you want to get rid of something.)Ego!  (Response from person who wants to take up the above offer.)              


Latin (pater)


Pa Barton is our headmaster.   


Latin (mater)


I’m scared of Ma Farrant.           

satis  (used in satis card, a form of mobile detention)                                                  non



enough, satisfactory

                           not                  barely enough

Your satis card has to be signed by all your teachers every week.

                                                                        Amoeba gave me an N.S.  (non satis)
You won’t get off satis if you only get vix.

vamos (pronounced vamoos)

Spanish (we go)

Go away!

Shove off!  Vamoos!

Group Two: Mostly slang words, mostly English

 n.b. We have listed here the more esoteric words; we have not included common slang words like grub (food) or chuck (throw). 



Typical Usage


(n) food
(v) to eat

The scoff at school is awful.                                             I scoffed my lunch in a hurry.


a girlfriend or sweetheart
Or derogatory, meaning wet
Or just meaning a girl

Keep your hands off her, she’s my dame!
Welford’s a dame
Let’s go and talk to that dame over there!


pretty girl

Janet’s really peach.


a prefect at school

Davis is a pre in Grigg house.



dining hall duty (a Dartmouth Naval College term introduced in the Princeo by Captain Nicholson
new pupils in form 1

I’ll get a rabble to do my trades for me.  



Bedbugs are allowed to go down to town twice a term on the shopping lorry.


a day pupil (as opposed to a boarder)

Loudon’s just a daybug.

newbug new kid at school Fletcher tells the newbugs about the birds and the bees.


a day pupil

This common room is for the stinkers.      

pommy (adj)

Someone recently arrived from UK, with a provincial accent

Man, what a pommy accent!


Strokes with a bamboo cane on the backside

I got six cuts for smoking.


waste paper basket

Put the waga-paga in the corner.          

jerry or chinky

chamber pot

There’s a jerry under each bed in the dorm. 


triangular indentation in a felt hat

Only the sixth formers are allowed to have porkies.

man (or man alive)

expression of exasperation, etc

Man!  I’ve got so much prep to do.


(n) studious pupil
(v) study hard

Worthy is a swot.
You’d better swot this up for the exam.

bags  (v)

to reserve

Bags I this seat.  (The subject and verb could apparently be inverted.)        


I don’t want
The person in the game of ‘tip’ etc who has to catch the others.

 Nick be he.        


glutinous substance added to soil to form bricks

Quelsh told us to add more goo.      


exchange                       marbles (see below)

I’ll swap my nyabs for your dinky car.    



Where’s my butty net?      


baby or young child

My kicker brother’s a pain in the neck.



You are not allowed to ride your pushie across the quad.        


Land Rover

I’d like to try driving a landy.


bathing costume

I’ve forgotten my cozzy.



My arms are covered with mozzy bites.

titch (n)
titchy (adj)


O.K.  All you titches line up on that side.


small/short guy

These trousers would fit a shortarse.

bags  (n)

shorts (or trousers)

You’ll get a lot of stick if your wear those long Pongo bags at the Princeo.


four arses


smokers’ union

lung-wrenching cigarettes

Four Aces – another brand; also the name of a pop group

 illicit gathering of smokers at morning break time

The gum tree thicket beyond Grigg house is a favourite haunt of ten-centi smokers.                      


The smokers’ union meets behind the hedge on the far side of the murram hockey pitch

Patch, Cabbage Patch (princeo)

Duck Pond

Prince of Wales School, term derived from Prince of Wales feathers on school badge

Duke of York School, term derived from the sound of the name
After you pass the Kenya Prelim (Kenya Preliminary Examination, taken at the end of primary school), you can go on to the Cabbage Patch or the Duck Pond.


a claim

You can borrow my crystal set but I’ve got logs on it.


sheath knife

You’ll need a sheathie at the scout camp.

frenchie  or


french letter/condom

(Young innocent)   The barber asked me if I required anything for the weekend.   What did he mean?     (Know-all)  A frenchie, of course!


Kenya Regiment

Are you looking forward to the reg?

bunk (over) (v)

go without permission

Dare we bunk over to the boma on Sunday?

frogs’ eggs

Tapioca pudding

Ag sies, we’re having frogs’ eggs today.

Tanganyika mud

Chocolate blancmange (speciality of Hawke/Grigg dining hall)

Ma Jessop’s Tanganyika mud is a real treat.


have a pee

I can’t wait to have a slash.


feel awkward/embarrassed

I felt spare when I realized my bags were torn.

grease out of       be gated

be confined to school

I greased out of working party but WillieMac gated me for the rest of term



You’ll get a fantastic tea if you go to crus on Sunday afternoon.


term used to indicate someone is an idiot (a donkey)

Give him a carrot!    


term used at the boma to indicate idiocy

Scratch, scratch!  (accompanied by scratching motion at the arm-pit)         


sliding down a hill, preferably on a tray

Ma Jessop is fed up with Grigg boys using the metal trays to foofie-slide down the valley. 


picking up paper and other rubbish

Saturday’s working party will go scavenging around the Oval.           

shindy (derived from shindig)

loud noise, disturbance, trouble

Quit that shindy!

compound (derived from Malay kampong)

school grounds, campus

Boys are not allowed to leave the compound without a leave pass.

godown (derived from Malay godong)

warehouse, store

The new beds for the dormitory are still in the godown.


military punishment (CCF)

Those on jankers will tidy up the armoury. 



I fired my catty at the monkeys in the trees and they started pelting me with nuts!


short haircut, leaving the hair erect in eponymous fashion

Jake was extremely angry when he saw that those boys had bog-brushes.
quad abbreviated form of quadrangle Only school pres can walk on the grass in the quad.
nyabs marbles, sub-meaning testicles Warren got hit in the nyabs when Scott was playing Rhodes.
standards Minimum requirements in athletics and swimming Have we got standards this arvo?
leave-out exeat from school I’m going on leave-out with Tor Allan next weekend.
arvo Corruption of afternoon I’ve got a detention this arvo, so I can’t go foofie-sliding in the Valley.
dinkies or dinks diecast toy cars/trucks made by Meccano or Corgi Let’s go and play dinks over there!
San abbreviated form of sanatorium (sickbay) Ma Welford is the new San Matron – I hear she’s pretty kali.
Weh!  (prounounced way but breathlessly) Expression of awe or amazement Weh!   That was a good shot, man.
pull finger get a move on We need to pull finger if we’re going to win this match.
heng - derived from heck/hell incredible/fantastic Englebrecht did a heng of a tackle in the last house match.
swank     (n and v) show off, boast O.K. – we all know you got your colours last week. Stop swanking about it.
swogger To hit a ball really well, hard and accurately

Man you really swoggered that one!

grog a fairly unpleasant linctus that was served up to malingerers visiting the "San"  ....... (see more below) The grog they just gave me at the San was kali sana

NyabSpeak Supplement



faunch a foul shot
steelie ball bearing used as a nyab
bulls eye direct hit
keepies no whining if you lose
Bags nick-ennings I don’t want any exclusions or reservations
nick-faunchies no foul shots
bombies firing the nyab from above
jundy flick powerful middle finger flick (Indian style)
allie mega nyab
japs glass marbles with a coloured twisted insert
spiders, blood-shots, clayees, cats’ eyes, clearies

varieties of nyabs designated in accordance with their appearance

bulls eye (2) a large nyab
banana, banana bender A curving shot played by imparting lots of spin to a nyab with a particular type of jundi flick.
keepers Game where you got to keep the nyabs you knocked out of the ring.   The converse of a friendly game where each player got to keep their own nyabs after the game was over.

                    A note by Jim Storrar (Intermediate/Hawke, 1961-65)

Let's talk Nyabs. ( Gololi  in Swahili,)      Playing Marbles,  ..... Tufe ndogo ya jiwe.

  • Marbles,..... or some of them, were made of Marble.
  • Aggies (Nyabs) were made of Agate;
  • Alleys (" " ")  were made of Alabaster;
  • Immies, ... were imitations of all of the above,made of glass.
  • Chinas .....   you've got my drift.
  • clayees, ....   ...... ;
  • Glassies Puries or Clearies were single colour clear glass and often highly prized.
  • Sodies, .... (Afrikaans)  were the clear glass stoppers, removed from Soda bottles, by breaking the pinched neks.
  • Milkies, ....  Opaque or milky white nyabs.
  • Commoneys or Commies, were your everyday nyabs.

A note on Steelies,     ..... I can remember  playing nyabs, on a regular but fairly daunting basis with  a chap called -  "Grosse", by name and nature, whose Dad ,who  worked for East African Airways as a mechanic , had furnished his favourite son with a ballbearing the size of a tennis ball, that came out of an aircraft propeller. This relatively unpleasant fellow, would unveil this monster, from his nyab bag, when occasion allowed, in order to drop a "Bombie" on any unfortunate player's nyab, who had failed to say ..... "Nick faunchies, nick Bombies, nick ennings ,"  The inevitable result was, a powdered nyab, depending on the playing surface or a sure hit. Needless to say, he never missed and he would never hazard his prized possession on a chancy shot.  As you can rightly surmise,  he was despised, yet everyone hoped to wrest this worthy trophy from him, at great cost.

  • "Fudging, Histing and Hunching," were all Pongo words for ... "Faunching".
  • Lagging", ..... Apart from flipping a coin, or going through the Eenie -Meenie -Mo ,routine, or winner goes first. One of the main methods of establishing who shoots first,  was to chalk or draw in the dirt, a line, known as the "Pitch Line". A nyab was pitched or flicked towards a parallel line, ( The "Lag Line" ,) about fifteen feet away. The player whose nyab is closest to the "Lag Line," on either side of it , goes first.
  • Mibs, ... The target marble.
  • Taw, ... the marble you are shooting with.
  • "Fairsies," .... The opposite of "Keepsies,'"     Playing for fun, in other words, no permanent exchange of nyabs.

That's all I can remember at the moment, as the facility of total recall has been compromised by the ravages of time and a fairly dissolute adulthood.

I do hope this triggers some pleasant memories for some old "Kenya Cowboys," who I know would still knuckle down for a game of nyabs, if the opportunity presented itself.

                                                                  Salaams,  Jim Storrar

Racy References 



Typical Usage

spoof Semen, or ejaculation of semen Can you spoof yet?
jock, or on jock Erection I went on jock in Ma Broomfield’s class today – it was really embarrassing.
roundhead Word to denote a circumcised penis or a person with one. Moffat’s a roundhead
cavalier Word to denote an uncircumcised penis or a person with one. (To a newbug:) Hey, are you a roundhead or a cavalier?
kufanya jiggy-jig Swahili/Hindustani To make the two-backed beast Some boys got expelled for having jiggy-jig at a station hoteli on the train ride back to school.


A note by Jim Storrar (Intermediate/Hawke, 1961-65)

I noticed with some amusement, the entry in your school speak section, of the words "Bok-Bok" the explanation for which is.... Leap frog.  Whilst the opening sequence of play superficially resembles leapfrog, all other similarities end there.

The rather endearing term.... "Leap Frog" implies some sort of benign children's' game, free from violence and not of a highly competitive nature.   Nothing could be further from the truth.

Bok-Bok is a very ancient game, played in Roman times. The cry at the opening of the game was;   ... Bucca Bucca quot sunt hic? The game is similar to the English Public School game called ...    High (Hey) Coackalorum. They shout   "Stand rigid, how many fingers on your body"?   In Kenya, the opening cry was.... "Bok-Bok, staan styf. Hoeveel vingers op jou lyf?” 

There is a painting by Breughel of children's games in which the game is illustrated.    Anyway, enough of all that pedantry, as it was only a game, much enjoyed by South Africans, Boeties, young Sikh men and Rugby players.

There are rules, the most important of which was that all rules were there to be broken. If there was a referee and they were usually Hors de Combat or on the blind side of play; they were supposed to adjudge:-  that misdemeanours such as .. eye gouging, kidney punching, rib breaking, hair pulling and rearranging of the cosmatokkers with the skilful back heel kick as  .... foul  play. The penalty suffered by the offending team was to endure the gruelling mauling that was the automatic consequence of being the bucking (notice care in spelling)  or Bokking team. It sure as hell wasn't a game for the faint hearted and I believe it was proscribed by the authorities in most of the girly houses at Prinso, nevertheless it was played with great enthusiasm by the okes in Rrrhodes and Hawke and people whose surname began with "van".   

I dread to think what would have happened to anyone with the temerity to say, in a well-honed English accent,  "Anyone for a game of leapfrog"?   Then having to explain how they sustained a faceful of multiple injuries down at the San.

Years ago, I tried to explain how the game was played, to the blokes in our Pub Tug o' War team, as I felt it might make our training sessions more interesting.  The general consensus afterwards,  ... never again, far too rough.  I hasten to add that it would be tedious if not incomprehensible to even begin to explain the intricacies of the game through this medium.

This is not meant to be a criticism of your team of lexicographers but merely an addendum.  I reckon that later on I might be able to fill in a few more gaps in your dictionary.

                                                                  Salaams,  Jim Storrar

Postscript by Jim Storrar

 Further to all this stuff about Bok-Bok, I can add a little bit more about scoring and strategy, which may not have been universal but were fairly consistent. 

Once a member of the running team was committed to and had started his run, he was not allowed to stop, restart or miss the target ,any of these was counted as falling off and therefore the running team were "out".

  • If any part of any runners' body touched the ground once aboard the Bokking team, that was counted as falling off.
  • Sometimes, by agreement, the runners would defer from landing fists first on the down team.
  • The Bokking team had to remain connected otherwise a break was counted as a collapse.
  • The rearmost chap of the down team had to remain motionless until the first  runner was actually on the move.
  • There was no limit on the number of runners that could be sent in one go, however, teamwork and some pretty fancy footwork was needed to get more than one bloke up in the air at once, as any confusion could stop the run and make your team "out".


  • Normally, in the Bokking team, the end guy would be the toughest and tallest in the team, as he took the brunt of the attack and his height would disadvantage the smaller and less athletic runners.  The heaviest and most sturdy guys would be in the middle, as inevitably this was were most of the runners concentrated their forces  and the smaller guys would be up at the front out of harm's way. 
  • The Bokking and swerving was extremely tiring and increased the risk of becoming disconnected, instructions came from the guy at the  front and the chap at the back who were the only guys who could see what was going on,  as to the most opportune moments to move and thus conserve energy.  
  • The runners would usually send their heaviest guy first, as part of a shock and awe tactic, provided he was athletic and nimble enough to be able to change direction on the run and make that initial big leap and then scramble down the backs to make room for his team mates.
  •  Without the weight of any runners on board, the Bokkers were at their most mobile at this time.  As long as they could jump high enough, the alternative strategy was to get all the smaller guys on first as they were agile enough to make their way up to the front and most vulnerable part of the Bokking team

    Naturally, none of the above mattered a damn, if the game degenerated into a no rules, no holds barred affair, which was the norm.  Great fun was had by all.   Occasionally, the shout of "Bok- Bok" would ring out and every chap in the vicinity would turn up for a mass game which was organized chaos but a helluva lota laughs.

    A note by Jim Storrar (Intermediate/Hawke, 1961-65)

    I  noticed that the word "Grog" doesn't appear in your dictionary. Whatever else it might mean in the outside world, it had it's own connotation as far as Prinso was concerned.

         Grog was a fairly unpleasant linctus that was served up to malingerers visiting the "San".   It was administered in a little shot glass by Matron or one of her unsympathetic and cynical helpers.  The medicament came in two colours, ...  Brown , which tasted of Victory "V"s dissolved in white spirit and was a cure-all for all ailments that could be categorized as Flu.

        The second potion was White, .. It tasted of chalky disinfectant and was the primary cure for all alimentary complaints.

       These panaceas were kept in two huge flagons on a shelf in the dispensary which you could view with some trepidation as you sucked on the thermometer while you tried to figure out how to get your temperature to "go off the clock."

      It was necessary to endure the consumption of either of these foul potions, as part of a wider strategy to acquire a small slip of paper with matron's signature that enabled the bearer to be late for or avoid Flag Parade, Chapel, Detention or some other irksome activity or even Games.   However the end game was to put on an acting performance that would hopefully get you a berth in the "San" without preventing you from missing an exeat.

       The "San" was a marvellous institution. It was a quite sequestered building, all set about with Poinsettias , Frangipanis, Grevillea and Jacaranda trees. A respite from trades, rabble calls, fagging, satis cards, working party and Latin.   A patient could slowly recover from a terminal illness, moping about in a nicely decorated ward with cool breezes blowing in from the veranda and access to an eclectic selection of reading matter and of course, better food.  Needless to say, engineering a stay in the "San" was well nigh impossible, unless of course you were ill, an uncommon state of affairs for most Kenya boys.

                                                                           Yours aye,  Jim Storrar.


  • Rabble Calls

    Charles Milner Williams (Hawke 1958-63) defines these unwelcome intrusions on the liberty of junior boys in the following terms: 

    Rabble calls: these were the prerogative of prefects, and I think until about 1959, sixth formers.  A bellow would resound through the house "RABBLE" and all the junior dorm had to leap from bath, bed, cho or wherever to do
    the great one's bidding.  These calls seem to happen most often after games and before supper, although I do remember the odd early-morning call.  The last one to arrive had to go to the tuck-shop, clean kit - CCF kit was not
    to be done, I recall.  I don't know how long they went on after I had left.

    Stan Bleazard (Grigg/Rhodes/Scott, 1945-8) provides an example of a Rabble call in an unusual setting: 

    Scene:  Maji Mazuri Station, between Eldoret and Nakuru, at 3 a.m. one morning in 1945.

    Faint at first, then strongly from just beyond station limits, the Garratt's siren blasted warning of its imminent arrival. The mist that way began to visibly brighten. Turning into the final straight, the loco's beam suddenly exposed the three of us in brilliant light. Blinking, we turned away in response. Underfoot, I distinctly felt the ground shake as the juggernaut approached and rushed passed. The moment darkness resumed a blast of heat from the loco's firebox hit us. The screech of iron shoes grinding against steel wheels jarred my teeth as the driver applied brakes to every carriage. Finally the train stopped with a shudder. The Ticket Examiner flashed his torch at us to show me to my reservation. As usual, at 0300 hours I was the only person to board.

    Struggling to shove my trunk through the entrance doorway, I twisted my thumb on its beastly metal handle. Most compartments were still lit, so it was easy to find mine. Entering, I greeted two glum looking young fellows who only grunted a response. The Garratt's siren sounded and we were soon moving. I was hardly settled when shouts of 'Rabble' emanated from somewhere at the end of the corridor. Such address was of course unusual and, ignorant of its meaning I at first ignored it. I felt people were rude making such a lot of noise at this hour. Not many seconds elapsed, however, before I was forcibly seized by a couple of ruffians, manhandled to the far compartment and persuaded to introduce myself to several other aspiring thugs. The air inside was full of smoke and it stank of beer. From their intense questioning, I was soon aware that they wished to find grounds for unfair criticism, or any reason at all to mindlessly berate me. Much of this was demeaning, especially aspersions about my heredity. Having exhausted their verbal assault on me, they then demanded I sing for their entertainment. Not well gifted with this facility, my various attempts brought only displeasure, which brought on physical abuse to encourage me to perform better. What followed need not be recorded in detail. Fortunately my vilification did not last because more pupils boarded at Sabatia, the next station. With my tormentors' attention momentarily diverted, I escaped and made as fast as I could to the furthest end of the train. I spent the next hours until daybreak squatting with difficulty in an oriental style toilet. That was how the journey for my secondary education began, which turned out by comparison to have been typical experience for most of us.

                                         (as recalled by Antony Williamson (Grigg 1956-9)

    In case of flatulence (which was frequent with all that cabbage in our diet!) one had to call out 'safeties' as soon as possible after the act. Failure to do so would result in someone calling out 'sixies', whereupon the offender would receive six punches on the upper arm.

    A variant was to call out 'six stations', whereupon the offender would continue to be punched on the arm until he named six railway stations.
    Sometimes the six had to be named in their order on the Uganda, Mombasa  or Nanyuki lines.

    This little ritual was more common in primary school. An inopportune moment of flatulence at Princo could lead to a fist in the face, especially if performed upwind of a Jaap!


              Literal translation and punning supplement

    Colonial officials in distant bomas (and perhaps in the secretariat too) were sometimes inclined to spend
    a few idle minutes playing word games.   Further examples are invited:

    Swahili expression

    English translation

    Haraka, haraka, haina baraka

    This translates as "The more haste the lesser the blessing", or as an English proverb, "More haste, less speed." However, it was frequently translated by perplexed Colonial Office examinees as "Hark, Hark. The Hyenas bark."

    Charles Chenevix Trench in Men Who Ruled Kenya cites the case of the Bwana D.C. Sharpe at Garissa.   He had two long drop conveniences dug.  One, adjacent to his house, was called Haraka (Haste); the other, at the bottom of the garden, surrounded by flowering shrubs, with an idyllic view up and down the River Tana, plentifully supplied with copies of The Field, Country Life and The Tatler, was called Baraka (Blessing).

    maridadi simba

    a dandy-lion

    wewe kuni kuni wewe

    You would, would you?

    Askari ya maji baridi Coldstream guard
    nini jembe What Ho!!


    Swahili Examinations

    Many tales were told about the Swahili examinations which officials had to pass if they sought promotion or augmented income. 

    This old chestnut came from the late Len Gill (Grigg, 1944-48): "At one time recently arrived government officials were encouraged to learn a bit of Swahili.  They were given an oral exam by their boss, whose own knowledge of the language was iffy.
         'How would you say, come here?' asked the examiner.
         'Kuja 'apa,' was the reply.
         'How would you say, go there?'
         The examinee walked across the room, turned and said, 'Kuja 'apa.'
         'That's right.  You've passed Elementary Kiswahili.  You'll be paid an extra fifteen bob a month.'  Deep sigh of satisfaction."on."

    And Fritz Goldsmith, who used to treat his 5 Arts Government classes to some sessions on Kenya’s history and constitutional development, recounted this tale: “An examinee who was marked down as a failure was given a lift home by the examiner.  En route they suffered a puncture.   The spare tyre was put on but proved to be fairly flat.   A car was flagged down but the examiner was unable to explain to the driver in Swahili that he needed a foot pump. 
         ‘If I can get one, can you pass me?’ asked the examinee.
         ‘Certainly, old chap.’
         ‘Sisi na taka puff puff’ led to the instant production of a pump.”


    Speakers of  Kiswahili safi can cite tongue-twisting examples of alliteration.

    John Allen recalls the following:

    Wale wa Liwali wale wali  =  The people of the coast should not eat cooked rice!
    ( Pronounced waliwaliwaliwaliwali)
    Usikule kukuu usiku ya Siku Kuu = Don't eat chicken on Christmas Eve.

    Jan van Someren Graver writes as follows
    The Kiswahili sentence  Wale hauwali wali wa Liwali Ali was sometimes lengthened by the examiners by the addition of one word:
    Watu wale hauwali wali wa Liwali Ali.
    It was used as a test of comprehension in oral tests and as a tongue twister and was rattled off as fast as possible.
    The meaning is: Those people do not eat the (boiled / cooked) rice of the headman Ali.
    Another one used by the examiners was: Use guse ganda, which means do not clear up / sweep away the peel.
    The test usually ended with the examiner nonchalantly looking up at the ceiling then asking, "... and what is the Kiswahili word for the ceiling?"

    For those of us who worked in the Civil Service, every language or vernacular in which we were able to demonstrate the required level of competence also gained us a 30/- per month pay rise - it covered the better part of the cost of a crate of Tusker. Well worth it for those of us who lived in the pori.