Louis Leakey


Louis Leakey : biography

7 August 1903 – 1 October 1972

Louis conducted interrogations, analyzed handwriting, wrote radio broadcasts and took on regular police investigations. He loved a good mystery of any sort. The white leadership of the King’s African Rifles used him extensively to clear up many cultural mysteries; for example, he helped an officer remove a curse he had inadvertently put on his men.Memoirs, Chapter 9.

Mary continued to find and excavate sites. Jonathan Leakey was born in 1940. She worked in the Coryndon Memorial Museum (later called the National Museums of Kenya) where Louis joined her as an unpaid honorary curator in 1941. Their life was a menage of police work and archaeology. They investigated Rusinga Island and Olorgesailie. At the latter site they were assisted by a team of Italian experts recruited from the prisoners of war and paroled for the purpose.Memoirs Chapter 12

In 1942 the Italian menace ended, but the Japanese began to reconnoiter with a view toward landing in force. Louis found himself in counter-intelligence work, which he performed with zest and imagination. Deborah was born, but died at three months. They lived in a rundown and bug infested Nairobi home, provided by the museum. Jonathan was attacked by army ants in his crib.This section is based on Morell, Chapter 8, "Cloak-and-Dagger."

The turn of the tide

In 1944 Richard Leakey was born. In 1945 the family’s income from police work all but vanished. By now Louis was getting plenty of job offers but he chose to stay on in Kenya as Curator of the Coryndon Museum, with an annual salary and a house, but more importantly, to continue palaeoanthropological research.

In January, 1947, Louis conducted the first Pan-African Congress of Prehistory at Nairobi. Sixty scientists from 26 countries attended, delivering papers and visiting the Leakey sites. The conference restored Louis to the scientific fold and made him a major figure in it. With the money that now poured in Louis undertook the famous expeditions of 1948 and beyond at Rusinga Island in Lake Victoria, where Mary discovered the most complete Proconsul fossil up to that time.

Charles Boise donated money for a boat to be used for transport on Lake Victoria, The Miocene Lady. Its skipper, Hassan Salimu, was later to deliver Jane Goodall to Gombe. Philip Leakey was born in 1949. In 1950, Louis was awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University.

Kenyan affairs

""… I sought a personal interview with the governor, hoping to make him appreciate that it was no longer possible to continue along the lines of the old colonial regime. … Colonial governors and senior civil servants are not easy people to argue with; and, of course, I was not popular, because of my criticism of the colonial service … Had it been possible to make the government open its eyes to the realities of the situation, I believe that the whole miserable episode of what is frequently spoken of as ‘the Mau Mau rebellion’ need never have taken place."
From L.S.B. Leakey, By the Evidence, Chapter 18.

While the Leakeys were at Lake Victoria, the Kikuyu struck at the European settlers of the Kenyan highlands, who seemed to have the upper hand and were insisting on a "white" government of a "white" Africa. In 1949 the Kikuyu formed a secret society, the Mau Mau, which attacked settlers and especially loyalist Kikuyu.

Louis had attempted to warn Sir Philip Mitchell, governor of the colony, that nocturnal meetings and forced oaths were not Kikuyu customs and foreboded violence, but was ignored. Now he found himself pulled away from anthropology to investigate the Mau Mau. During this period his life was threatened and a reward placed on his head. The Leakeys began to pack pistols, termed "European National Dress." The government placed him under 24-hour guard.

In 1952, after a massacre of loyal chiefs, the government arrested Jomo Kenyatta, president of the Kenya African Union. Louis was summoned to be a court interpreter, but withdrew after an accusation of mistranslation because of prejudice against the defendant. He returned on request to translate documents only. Because of lack of evidence linking Kenyatta to the Mau Mau, although convicted, he did not receive the death penalty, but was sentenced to several years of hard labor and banned from Kenya.