My Family Roots in East Africa – Part Two


~Drying coffee beans on our farm at Usa River near Arusha in 1972~

Days spent at our farm in northern Tanzania were full of colourful characters, including a cobra who lived in the trees overshadowing the house. He probably kept down the rodent population quite efficiently.


My greatuncle Tony was probably more dangerous. He had a very sensitive nose and a legendary temper.


My aunt kept tame lemurs. They marked their territory by peeing on their hands. This was understandable until they decided to climb over your face.


My father loved travelling in northern Tanzania and was intrigued by the wildlife.


I was fascinated by the people, many of whom wore traditional dress in the early 1970’s.


Extended ear-lobes, names such as Libougi and bright beaded jewellery had me squinting into the sunlight.


In a country where polygamy was the norm everyone seemed to have rather large families with any number of wives and children.


Having your photograph taken was quite the thing. What the woolly lemurs thought of this, I do not know.


There was always talk of the next expedition up-country. Careful packing was a constant preoccupation.


Complicated arrangements were ever being made. Uncle Tony was an honourary game warden, with the power to arrest poachers.


My mother loved the idea of going on safari and urged him to include us as he toured areas where wildlife thrived.


It was a privilege to be taken game viewing as a child by someone with such a depth of knowledge.


I began to sketch in the back of his Land Rover, while keeping lists of the animals we encountered and trying to learn their Swahili names.


As we drove through the national parks, such as Lake Manyara we rarely saw another vehicle. The reason for packing so carefully was that there was no one around to help if anything went wrong. If you broke down or ran out of fuel you could be in serious trouble.


But there were always old  friends to visit and they were charming, most hospitable.


After driving for ages, we’d end up at another farmhouse, playing croquet.


Nothing but croquet, all afternoon and evening. Somehow I survived. I did so by keeping a diary. It was the first of a whole pile of notebooks that have grown exponentially, forming the basis of quite a few books – with more to come.


To be continued.

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

12 thoughts on “My Family Roots in East Africa – Part Two”

  1. Hi Sophie Fascinating story about Africa!

    I’ve been thinking about you! Due to some complex medical problems and also moving house (!) I have not been sleeping well and listening more to my talking books. (I am partially sighted). Since New Year I have listened over and over again to Swallows and Amazon’s, a recording from RNIB read by Gabriel Woolf. You may not remember him but in the 40s and 50s his was a well known name on radio. He reads the book well and I know it almost off by heart. As soon as it ends I go back to the start! He has problems with Holly Howe. Sometimes he gets it right and sometimes he says Holly Ho which either amuses or annoys me. I am so enjoying the story and can hear your voice in phrases like”people die from it like flies”. The other evening there was nothing on TV so I put on a recording of the Swallows and Amazons film, noticing how the story is edited, though the dialogue is so true to AR’s text.. I have not yet seen the new version and do not really want to! Thanks for keeping your film alive for me.. Pam Moore New home new email address.

    1. Dear Pam, How good to hear from you. I met Gabriel Woolf when he was President of The Arthur Ransome Society and am so glad he was able to record readings of all the Ransome books. I don’t yet have a talking book of ‘The Making of Swallows & Amazons’ but you could always write to the Lutterworth Press and make a request. They are bringing out a second edition of my paperback, which is wonderful. I am so glad you like the 1974 film. Do think of leaving a review on the Amazon site for the DVD. It would help to keep Swallow’s flag flying. Here is the link:

  2. Hi Sophie,
    I’ve always found Africa fascinating and I was wondering when your book “Life on an African Farm” is going to be published? I’d love to read it.

  3. Hi Sophie,
    I’m sorry for taking so long to get back. I forgot to check over the weekend.
    I write children’s stories, so I’m prone to romanticizing heavily about places and time periods.
    I suppose when I hear Africa, my brain instantly brings up images of sun-soaked, dusty savannas; deep, dark jungles; elephants and lions. Colonial Africa brings another layer of images, probably gleaned more from old movies set in British African than reality.
    I’m from America, so Africa seems like a remote, fantastic place, so any opportunity to read about it seems like a treat.

  4. Once again, these photos and stories are amazing. I didn’t know that croquet was such a favourite in colonial and post-colonial east Africa! It says at the end ‘to be continued’; is there a Part Three?

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