This film is held by the BFI (ID: 21287).


A Kenyan villager applies the new methods of agriculture he has learned at Bukura College.

A British voiceover introduces the Bantu people living north east of Kenya's Lake Victoria, explaining that their deficiencies on the land - 'these people know nothing of proper pasturing or manuring or crop rotation ' - often lead to fever, disease and premature death. After shots of a local village, the film introduces Omolo, who works on the land using the same methods and tools as his father before him. A fire at Omolo's hut destroys his home and all his belongings. A disconsolate Omolo visits the headman who advises him to go to Bukura to learn farming under a government scheme. Omolo sets off with his family and eventually reaches Bukura. Omolo is told that his family can live and work there as part of the Kenyan Agricultural Department's two-year training course. The European officer shakes Omolo's hand before he begins his training. He is shown ploughing, learning in the classroom, clearing swamps, and visiting the market.

Omolo then plans to build a house, and receives 'expert advice' from a European man. After two years, he returns to his own village, where little has changed. Once there, Omolo builds a new house and, because of all he has learnt, produces stronger crops and cattle. The commentator explains that 'now Omolo's village is slowly changing', but reiterates, over shots of a smiling Omolo at training, the need for change and development in other villages in East Africa.



Although Basil Wright is often listed as the director of The Story of Omolo, it is far more likely that the film was directed by Robert Kingston-Davies, with Basil Wright serving as producer. The Annual Report of the Kenyan Department of Agriculture for 1946 states that ‘Captain Kingston-Davies, of the Military Information Bureau, filmed the activities of Bukura last year’. The report added that ‘It is a pity that still no copy of this film has been obtained by the Department for publicity purposes’ (Annual Report, 1946, 197). Furthermore, Kingston-Davies directed Tea From Nyasaland, produced by Basil Wright in 1946, and subsequently headed a programme of film production in East Africa, which the Crown Film Unit launched in 1946.

Colonial Cinema explained in June 1947 that ‘among the film projects sponsored by the Colonial Office is a new programme of documentaries about East Africa’ made by the Crown Film Unit (Colonial Cinema, June 1947, 38). Although The Story of Omolo is listed as a new release in Film User in 1949 and reviewed in Monthly Film Bulletin during the same year, the film seemingly pre-dates this scheme. Documentary Newsletter listed the film’s release as June 1946, which according to Colonial Cinema, was four months before the Unit sent Kingston-Davies and Stewart McAllister, the renowned editor of Humphrey Jennings’ wartime documentaries, out to Africa to begin work on the ‘East Africa’ project. Yet the comments on this project by Kingston-Davies, who had already spent several years filming in Africa, offer insights into his approach to filming in Africa.

‘Our aim’, Kingston-Davies stated, ‘is to do the job which only films can do: to bring out in human terms the detail of everyday life and the effect upon it of the transition from African to Western civilisation. We hope our films will show that Africans have much the same interests and ambitions as the people of other countries’ (Colonial Cinema, June 1947, 39). Monthly Film Bulletin was unimpressed with the final results though, labelling The Story of Omolo ‘a very disappointing film’. The film was intended primarily for non-theatrical distribution within Britain through the Central Film Library, but the Agricultural Films Viewing Committee failed ‘to see how this film could be instructively and successfully used’. It criticised the commentary for leaving a ‘a great many questions unanswered’, as well as the photography, the music and the narrative itself. The review suggested that the film would have been much improved if ‘it had described in detail the work of the Government Training Centre and what preliminaries are necessary before the native is accepted on one of these courses’ (Monthly Film Bulletin, August 1949, 149).

In 1946, the Bukura School of Agriculture was headed by a European Assistant Agricultural Officer, Mr E. L. Bradford, with two African teachers leading the classes. The school housed 31 senior and 30 junior apprentices and three teacher trainees, instructing them in subjects such as animal husbandry, botany, soil conservation, and also, on two nights a week, English and arithmetic. The school also housed a spinning and weaving centre, which was attended by an average of 34 pupils, ‘including the wives of other trainees’. This was housed in a new permanent building constructed during the year. The annual report for the school noted though that ‘Bukura is not a healthy place’ with ‘much malaria and “Bukura Lumbago”’. It also explained that the school often housed open days – for example a Farmers’ Day was attended by over 500 people – for chiefs, farmers and schools (Annual Report, 1946, 195). 



Robert Kingston-Davies argued that his films in East Africa were intended to show the ‘transition from African to Western civilisation’ and in particular the effect of this transition on ‘everyday life’ (Colonial Cinema, June 1947, 39). For the most part, The Story of Omolo appears to follow this formula, creating a clear division between African and ‘Western civilisation’ and emphasising the necessary ongoing role of the British within Africa.

First, the film sets up a complete contrast between Omolo’s village – unenlightened and outdated – and the modern methods of the Bukura school. The British commentary highlights the lack of change or development within Omolo’s village – the Bantu people farm ‘as they have always done’, Omolo ‘works on his land as his father did, using the same tools, the same methods’. Likewise, the commentator further emphasises their ignorance of, what the films presents as, routine British methods – the local people have ‘yet to learn’ about sanitation and ‘know nothing of proper pasturing’. The film stresses the physical distance between the ‘remote and isolated’ village and Bukura – they walked for ‘many miles’ – almost mythologizing Bukura as the commentator explains that the headman of the village ‘had heard that there is a farm’ provided by the government. On his arrival, Omolo immediately sees the ‘neat, and strong and inviting’ white houses, which are compared to those of the village – he sees houses ‘he has never seen before’ – and discovers new ploughing methods that are ‘much better than anything Omolo knew at the village’. In contrast to the African village, Bukura is represented as a British initiative, as a European officer initially welcomes Omolo, who again speaks to a European man when he later seeks ‘expert advice’.

Monthly Film Bulletin complained that the film was less clear in outlining the specific details of the scheme, but as a film seemingly intended primarily for British audiences, the specific details were less important than the general rhetoric of British development within the African colonies. In showing the work of the Bukura school, the film represents British development in familiar terms. The Europeans provide ‘good health’ – although the annual report suggests otherwise – teach modern farming methods and provide classroom instruction. Indeed the film combines many of the subjects addressed in other Crown and Colonial Film Unit productions, such as demonstrating the building of new brick houses. These houses are ‘bright and clean and good to live in’ as the film again promotes the role of the British in bringing sanitation and cleanliness to Africa.

The British commentary ensures that this message of continued British supervision and instruction permeates the film. This is achieved not only through the script, but also through the mode of address, as the commentator talks directly at the characters within the narrative, instructing and warning them: ‘Quickly, quickly Omolo, your house and all your possessions are burning’. However, the film does ensdorse a message of gradual change and self-development within Africa. The commentator remarks that the students at Bukura ‘would one day become teachers’ and, in showing African teachers, acknowledges a move towards self-government. Yet this move is a very slow one. At the film’s conclusion, the commentator states that in most of East Africa ‘ignorance and disease still live unchallenged in the mud huts and impoverished fields’. Such a representation of an undeveloped ‘primitive’ Africa serves to validate the ongoing British presence in the area, as the film staunchly proclaims the primacy of the British methods and concludes that ‘every opportunity must be given for the people to learn the new ways of life’.

Tom Rice (September 2008)


Works Cited

‘Film Plan for East Africa’, Colonial Cinema, June 1947, 38-40.

Documentary Newsletter, Aug-Sep 1947, 123.

Film User, April 1949.

Kenya, Department of Agriculture, ‘Annual Report’, 1946.

‘The Story of Omolo’, Monthly Film Bulletin, August 1949, 149.




Technical Data

Running Time:
9 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
803 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
DAVIES, Robert Kingston
Colonial Office
Ministry of Information
VINTER, Gilbert
Production Company
Crown Film Unit