Friday, June 27, 2014

Out of Africa: Baboon in the Potato Patch

My Aunt Joan's father was a missionary in British East Africa in the 1920s. Her older brother, Homer, wrote an unpublished memoir about his life, and included many stories of the family's time in Africa. Here is one such story:

Below the massive granite ridge high above our house was a dense belt of forest. Brush grew thick between the trees. Perhaps as many as two hundred baboon spent the night there on those craggy heights. I bet you have never seen that many baboons, all busy climbing, running, fussing, hunting berries, or raiding a family's vegetable garden. They can easily consume a lot of corn given the opportunity.

It was early on a fine bright African morning. We had just finished breakfast when some of the Kikuyu we lived among came to the back door with news. A baboon was in the garden digging sweet potatoes. This did not usually happen as the garden was very close to the back of the kitchen. The baboon had never ventured so close to the house before. 

An 1800 drawing of a common baboon 

I reached for my gun, loading it as I went out the door. I cautiously edged to the back corner for a look and sure enough there he was, busy as a baboon could be. A mammoth old male was industriously digging, chewing and enjoying our sweet potatoes. He seemed to know exactly where to dig. In second, he had another one, enjoying a feast at our expense. He was sitting, facing me, watching for any kind of interruption. The dogs had not yet noticed the intruder. Quite evidently, the old baboon did not see me peering past the corner of the cook shack.

I quickly, cautiously slid the rifle past the corner lining up with the target, which was not all that far away. The baboon was shocked at the roar of the gun. I got to wondering why the baboon came into our kitchen garden, so close to the house. The explanation in my mind is as follows. He was very old, likely he had difficulty keeping up with the rest of the pack. Perhaps he chose to keep closer to the rocky, craggy spot where they would return later in the evening. Age may well account for the old one venturing into our sweet potato patch that bright morning.

NOTE:  Previous "Out of Africa" posts:
  1. Doctor Livingstone, I Presume
  2. The Kikuyu
  3. The Eland Hunt
  4. The Hippopotamus Hunt 
  5. Kagui and the Python 
  6. Water Buffalo Trouble


  1. Wow! What a great story and gift for you to have! Thanks so much for sharing ! We are left t o wonder if he scared the baboon away, or killed it--- hmm so many different thoughts running through my head in response to this story!

    1. Helen, believe it or not, a copy of the memoir was not known to our family. I found a reference to it on someone's public tree on and contacted. She very generously copied it for me. It turns out another brother had also written a much shorter unpublished memoir; she copied that for me as well. Amazing find!