Monday, 30 July 2012

The flame trees of Thika : Who was Elspeth Huxley

In one of the first posts done about Thika, we traced the root of the name Thika to the wars that the Maasai and Kikuyu had centuries ago. When the early settlers came to Kenya in the 1880s and the early 1900s, they fell in love with the central highlands and its magnificent mountains and rivers. They "acquired"  acres of land where they established either ranches or coffee plantations. Thika was home to numerous settlers who in some areas like Mangu and Gatanga still own acres of land filled with coffee plantations.
Thika has always been a darling to European settlers since in their passage to either Mt Kenya or the Aberdares, they would always pass through the then rugged town of Thika. That explains the emergence of the Blue Post Hotel along the Thika-Nyeri Highway which was the ideal place for the travelers to rest as they watched the cascading waters of the Thika and Chania Rivers falls.
Of all the white settlers that ever graced Thika none is more famous than one Elspeth Joscelin Huxley. Elspeth was a British woman whose family settled in Thika around 1912 with an aim of delving into large scale coffee farming.
At that time, Elspeth was 5 years old. The family, together with some other few settler families established farms in Thika while at the same time trying to adapt to the life in the wilderness with constant attacks from lions and elephants.  Well,the story goes on and on until when the World War broke and the lovely status quo of safari adventure and romance was broken. Huxley went to Britain for studies and later came back to Africa to be employed by the Kenyan colonial government. Later in life, she became a celebrated writer,administrator,journalist,,environmentalist and farmer.
You may be wondering where am heading with such a tale, but later in Life, Elspeth Huxley would share her experiences about Thika with the rest of the world through her best selling novel: The Flame Trees of Thika. The book would later become serialized into a television series. The Flame Trees of Thika was her most famous book of the more than 30 pieces that she penned.
It shares her life as young girl growing alongside the Maasai and the Kikuyu while experiencing the wilderness, terror and the romance that it brought with it. Many events that took place around the time were never or  fully documented thus Huxley's life as documented from her words, builds a visual image of the unique Thika wilderness then. In the 1980s the book was serialized into a television series ,The flames Trees of Thika with seven,50 minute episodes. It starred actress Hayley Mills and was filmed in Central province and Thika in particular. The series was nominated for various awards including the British Academy Television Awards.
The episodes start with the promised land, when Elspeth and her parents settled in Thika to the drums of war when the lords of the World War come knocking. Elspeth was a great friend of Joy Adamson the famous writer who penned Born free. The book about the experiences of rearing Elsa the famous lion is one of the most popular African wildlife and classical novel . The book was made into an Academy Award winning movie under the same name. Matter of fact, on Joy Adamson autobiography, Elspeth Huxley did the foreword, highlighting the close friendship between the two environmentalists and writers. Elspeth died aged 89 in January 1997 in England.
Twenty years after, we have the Thika Flame Tree apartments along Garissa Road. The gated community which is 5 min drive from Thika Town consists of 3 bedroom affordable units.

This makes me wonder, does every story about Thika end with real estate development.
In brief,that is the story behind the famous Flame Trees of Thika....the novel,writer,series..and the apartments.

Images courtesy of Google


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  2. You refuse to mention that Huxley's book was an apologia for colonialism. Her description of Africans as nothing more than animals who needed to be tamed makes her one of the worst racists Kenya has ever had. There is nothing positive to celebrate about her

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