Saturday, 15 January 2011

Elephants and Aliab patrols

Peculiar things come up at auctions. Like the Paris home of infamous Central African dictator, Jean-Bedel Bokassa which just sold for £720,000. I admit it is less flashy than a mansion, but I took a lot of geeky smugness is discovering this lot of medals at Bonhams.

They were awarded posthumously to a Major Chauncey Stigand of the Royal West Kent Regiment.  On the 8th of December 1919, Chauncey Stigand was shot through the heart with a spear and he died instantly. He had been on ‘patrol’ in the home of the Aliab Dinka, located in the most south easterly part of Lakes state.  I drove through this area on my way to Yirol in December.

The patrol he was on was sent in response to an uprising that started at the end of October of 1919. The Aliab felt (not unreasonably, one might think) resentful of the British presence. As even the Governor of Mongalla Province admitted “The Government has done nothing for the Aliab. It has not protected them from aggression, has given them no economic benefits…it has forced them to do a certain amount of labour, to pay taxed and to endure a not negligible amount of extortion by police” (quoted in Daly’s Empire on the Nile…).

So it is no great surprise that in October 1919, a group of Aliab attacked and killed eight of these policemen. When Stigand et al went to investigate these deaths, 24 of their party (including Stigand) were killed. The Government, as you can image, responded to this with a macho display of superior fire power, but it still took them several more patrols and burning of villages to assert themselves in the area. The British administration then held, as far as I can see, a rather schizophrenic perception of the Aliab for the next 30 years. Despite the problems in 1919, by the late 1940s the Governor of Bahr el Ghazal was writing in the letters home to his mother how great the Aliab were (the letters are in the archive here, and I can assure you he was a very good boy about writing to mum regularly).

According to the auction details, Stigand was then buried at Tombe (on the bank of the Nile) with stones sent by his wife from his home in Kajo-Keji (on the border of Sudan and Uganda). Military officers in Southern Sudan were not technically supposed to have wives or families because it was considered a hardship posting. But, in Stigand’s case this rule had been overlooked on account of the fact that he had been trampled by an elephant (while hunting) the year before.  'Sorry you got trampled by an elephant, have a wife', kind of thing.

Elephant hunting appears to have been Stigand’s great passion. Despite his successful army career he found time to write a guidebook/manual to elephant hunting, which was introduced with utmost respect by Theodore Roosevelt. I have read (ok, skimmed…) this book and I am not sure how helpful it would be in actually getting your hands on an elephant. But given the trampling incident I don’t think I would take Stigand’s advice as gospel anyway…

The past seems like a very odd place sometimes.


  1. Great post! (Stabbed by a spear, shurely...)

  2. haha. I knew something was wrong with that when I wrote it but I couldn't quite see it. I think you are right - stabbed is better - but I reasoned that has the spear may have been launched from some distance so "shot" could be OK - as you can also shoot a bow and arrow