Posted on August 24, 2005

Antiques Tycoon Gives it All Up to be Tribal Elder

Alan Hamilton, Times (London), Aug. 24

A millionaire antiques dealer is planning to exchange his 12-bedroom house in the West Country for a mud hut in Kenya.

Graham Pendrill, 57, was honoured by the Masai people during an East African wildlife holiday last October, when he offered a group of them a lift during a thunderstorm as he returned from a day’s flamingo-watching. They were so grateful that they invited him to stay in their village, where he helped to solve an inter-tribal cattle dispute.

Among the proud and statuesque race of warrior pastoralists, cattle disputes are commonplace; one of the foundations of their culture is the belief that they are the rightful owners of all the cows in the world.

Mr Pendrill has been a virtual Masai since his induction as an elder of the tribe during a ceremony last January, when he met chieftains, drank bull’s urine, had a cow sacrificed in his honour, was presented with Masai clothes and a ceremonial club, and was honoured with the tribal name of Siparo, meaning “brave one”.

Since the ceremony Mr Pendrill has cut quite a dash in his home village of Almondsbury, near Bristol, wearing his thigh-length red tribal robe as his everyday garb. He has parcelled up all his suits and shirts, he says, and given them to Oxfam.

“People can call me eccentric if they want to. It doesn’t bother me in the least,” Mr Pendrill said yesterday. “I was wearing Masai dress for most of the time I was with the Masai, and when I got back home my ordinary clothes just felt odd.”

His new-found dress has not gone unnoticed.

“I’ve had one or two sideways looks, and a difficult moment in a Bristol pub. A builder took exception and tried to start a fight with me, but I calmed him down and it all ended peacefully. As long as you maintain a proper demeanour most people are courteous and polite,” Mr Pendrill said.

“It was a real honour to be made an elder. I am very close to the chief; they insist I’m the first white Masai.”

Mr Pendrill, a bachelor, said he had developed “huge respect and affection” for the Masai people, who are thought to number about 120,000 in Kenya and neighbouring Tanzania. A group of them feature in one of the between-programmes continuity shots for BBC One television.

“They are dignified and straight to the point, and I have made some good friendships over there,” Mr Pendrill said.

But he admitted there were risks to selling up his house, valued at £1.2 million, and moving to a simpler life on the edge of the Ngorongoro crater, one of Africa’s finest game reserves.

“The politics of Kenya are volatile, although the Government leaves tribal skirmishes alone. I know that being white could mean I am targeted because I have money, but that doesn’t scare me.”

In entering the world of the Masai Mr Pendrill has cut out layers of apprenticeship. Normal tribal tradition requires circumcision at the age of 13, several years living apart from your family and service as a warrior before even being considered as an elder.


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