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Residents of a Masai village in Kenya have reacted with astonishment to claims by an eccentric English businessman that he plans to give up his life in Britain and move there as an honorary tribesman.
Graham Pendrill, 57, a millionaire antiques dealer, shocked Britain last week when he revealed his ambition to exchange his 12-bedroom house in the West Country for a mud hut in the impoverished African nation.
He claimed to have been seduced by their way of life after being treated to their hospitality during a holiday last October and plans to return there permanently as a “white Masai”.
Yesterday The Sunday Telegraph visited the village of Oldonyo Onyokie, a tiny collection of ramsackle buildings 50 miles south of the capital, Nairobi, to see how locals felt about the prospect of a white man sharing their way of life.
Far from being delighted at the prospect, tribal elders said they doubted that he would be able to cope long-term with dirt, the heat and the disease.
“Why would this man, who seems to be a rich man, want to sell all his things, even his shirt, and come to live here?” said Moses Ranka Ole Masiaaya, a former teacher and village resident. “Here we have no water, it is so hot there is always dust on everything, and I do not see how he can be happy here.”
Mr Pendrill said last week that he was invited to stay in the village after giving a lift to a group of Masai warriors in his car when he drove past them during a thunderstorm.
He said he had met chieftains, had animals slaughtered in his honour, and was given a tribal name of “Siparo”, which means “brave one”. Since his return to his home in the village of Almondsbury, near Bristol, he has caused a stir among his neighbours by ditching his western clothes and wearing only a thigh-length red tribal gown.
So enamoured was he with the Masai way of life that he has decided to sell his £1.2 million home and leave his girlfriend Natalie, 34, and elderly mother Constance, who is now in her 80s.
However, his assumption that he will be able to return to the village as an honorary tribesman was queried by Masai elders, who said it would breach tribal protocol if he turned up to live there uninvited.
Jully Ole Melle, who is the head man of Oldonyo Onyokie, said that not even fellow Masai were allowed to move to the village without a major tribal discussion first, involving up to 1,000 people.
“It is a complete surprise to me that this man should come here and say that he is an important person among my people,” said Mr Melle. “You cannot just one day decide you will move to this place, live here, and become an elder.
“This is an insult, not just to this village but also to the government of Kenya. There is a process he should follow, he needs permission and we Masai must also accept him.
“When something like this happens we must gather the whole group, 1,000 people, from near this village, and most of us must agree on the issue at hand. It will be especially hard in this case because he is a white man.”
Asked if there had been any discussions on the matter, he replied: “We have not met because none of us knew he was saying these things, adopting our dress and claiming to be an elder.
“If somebody comes from outside and makes a friend among us, we welcome them, that is okay. But this particular situation, where he says he will sell all his things and come here, that is not right. He may regret this.”
Oldonyo Onyokie is tucked on the bend of a river in the heart of the Masai’s cattle herdlands, in the shadow of a large loaf-shaped hill called Ol Yokie. It is made up of 14 mud-built homes with thatched roofs plus a handful of corrugated iron shacks nestling among trees lined with nests of weaver birds.
Despite the idyllic setting, the poverty is grinding. There is no proper water supply and the only source of employment other than cattle ranching is a nearby salt processing plant.
Locals recall Mr Pendrill spending much of his time in one of the tribal meeting huts, telling tales of life in England. His words were translated by a Masai woman whom he had become friendly with who spoke fluent English.
The main interest in his coming back, they said, would be if he made good on his talk about bringing some of his English money to help improve their lot.
“If he comes here and provides water to this community, that would be something else, then he would be more quickly accepted,” said Mr Melle. “But I am still surprised that he wants to come here.
“If I could go to his place in England, I would go straight-away because he is a rich man with a big house, and I know that everybody else in the village would do the same.”
(Posted on August 29, 2005)