Linkman Dualla Idris and Chief Waiyaki
By. D. Karanja,
New Bedford, MA
Stories about the exploits and achievements of white explorers in Africa are nearly always related minus the contributions of their African companions. This is sad and unfair for the white explorers relied to a great degree on these assistants not only for cooking and carrying luggage but equally important on their language and geographical knowledge.
Dualla Idris during his time with H.M.Stanley
Quite often the Africans became very experienced and famous during their time and as a result some were able to make a career out of this.(For instance, Manwa Sera [from Central Tanzania] after working for Dr. Livingstone later accompanied H.M. Stanley, Speke & Grant, Speke & Burton, Joseph Thompson and lastly Count Samuel Teleki) One and arguably the best of these unsung heroes was a young Somali named Dualla Idris.
Dualla Idris by the time of his death was a much travelled man even by modern standards. That an African achieved this especially at a young age made it even more remarkable.In addition he was a fluent speaker of English, Swahili, Arabic and a smattering of numerous African languages.
Son of a Police chief from Habr-Anwal at Aden, he had traveled to as far as America as a young boy. At 15 years of age, was engaged by H. M. Stanley in 1879-84 during his time in the Congo Free State setting up what later became Zaire and now the DRC.
During this time, he distinguished himself with Stanley who referred to him as "my ... factotum" amongst many superlatives. Coming from Stanley (a man who was not easy to please) this praise cannot be over-emphasized.
After traveling with Stanley to Europe when the work at Congo was done, he found a similar but brief and minor engagement as a headman. Later on, Count Samuel Teleki was recommended the now 24 year old by a certain Major Hunter at Aden and took him along during his exploration of the Lake Turkana area in 1886-88.
During this time too, his skills, leadership and general cleverness rose above all the rest. On more than one occasion, Teleki's column totally relied on him by sending him to gather food and water when these were critically low and their starvation rations practically exhausted.
In 1889, he traveled with a group of sportsmen (amongst these was Sir Frederick Jackson who would later became governor of Kenya and later on Uganda) who were exploring what became Western Kenya.
Later on, Idris served with Capt. Frederick Lugard in 1890-92 when he was first posted at Kikuyu and later ordered to Uganda. During their trip to up from the coast, Dualla acted as a guide based on his previous travels with Teleki. After passing today’s Ngong area and entering Kikuyu country at Dagoretti, Dualla met up with the principal elders of the area he had met earlier in 1886-89.
One of this was a man referred to as Eiyeki Wahinga (Waiyaki wa Hinga) by Lugard. This was long before the building of the railway and since the nascent Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA) had ordered him to build a caravan supply station near that location, Lugard briefly stopped there and endeavored to strike a rapport with the Kikuyu.
To this end he was assisted by the able Dualla who in a short while even became blood brothers with Waiyaki. In the end of it all, Lugard on behalf of the IBEA signed an agreement with Waiyaki on behalf of the Kikuyu people on October 11th, 1890.
As a sign of the bond between Waiyaki and Dualla, it is interesting to note that while Lugard of course signed with his own hand, Dualla signed in on behalf of Waiyaki. In this agreement, Waiyaki pledged peace and friendship to the IBEA and also offered a piece of land for building the station.* This was the start of the brief interaction of that famed chief with the British and we shall hopefully have occasion to carry on Waiyaki’s story and death in a separate article.
It is during this service with Lugard that his character came to full flower. His qualities seem to have impressed Lugard right away and this is evident from Lugard’s diaries. He(Lugard) referred to Dualla as “simply invaluable”, “absolutely invaluable in camp”, “a capital fellow, and without him I should be lost” and “a most interesting man, with no end of experience and adventures“.
This opinion of Dualla was only to be proven right by later events in Uganda. Lugard even more that Teleki and others came to rely heavily on Idris and had him (Idris) represent him on many occasions before Kabaka Mwanga during those tumultuous times.
* In 1892, he was feeling unwell and out of dedication to Lugard chose to leave Uganda and accompany him to Mombasa on his (Lugard) way home. Upon returning home, he was a guide to the brothers James in their travel in Somalia and afterwards was Arthur Donaldson Smith's headman during his geological expedition through Somalia to Lake Turkana.
Unfortunately, his very successful life came to an end very soon for we learn that he supposedly drowned off Somaliland soon after according to H. H. Johnston.
*A fort was therefore built at Dagoretti by Lugard. However after a series of setbacks, it was moved further north and since the new location was in Kikuyu-land and there were no salient geographical features, the station was simply referred to as Kikuyu. The town grew and eventually became a station for the railway, it is still known by that name today. It was the second station inside Kenya after Machakos.