The psychology of colonialism is a subject which has received mostly speculative treatment in the form of large generalizations derived from suggestive but unsystematic observations. Stimulating as such contributions can be, there is a need for close empirical studies, conducted so far as possible without theoretical bias, of the reactions of European colonialists to those who were being colonized. It will undoubtedly happen that in the course of such detailed studies many easy assumptions will have to be discarded and grand theories dismantled. What follows is offered as a tentative contribution to a more complex appreciation of what went on in the minds of Europeans when they found themselves in intimate contact with an African people.
The subject of this paper is British attitudes toward the Masai as they were expressed in the context of administration. The Masai were chosen because there is a large body of conventional wisdom on the subject of British attitudes toward them which invites critical analysis. Stated crudely, the conventional belief, which has been pressed into service many times to explain why the Masai hardly changed at all during the half century of British rule, is that the British were so charmed by them that they hated to see them enter the twentieth century. A number of social scientists have considered the phenomenon of Masai resistance to change (Merrill, 1960; Gulliver, 1969; Tignor, 1976) and they have all concluded that there are more powerful reasons for it than the attitudes of administrators; but no one has investigated systematically what these attitudes were and how they were related to administrative behavior. It is simply assumed that the Masai were favorites of the British, and the relation of attitudes to action seems to require no further elucidation. A glance at the evidence shows that things were not so simple. A range of attitudes toward the Masai existed among administrators—though the modal response was certainly positive rather than negative—and the relation of attitudes to the policies recommended or pursued was not straightforward. Without making exaggerated claims for the kind of exercise which follows, it can be argued that closer scrutiny is warranted, at the very least to clear away accumulated misconceptions. At this local level, where the human characteristics of administrators stand out against a rather remote background of metropolitan policymaking, a social psychologist can perhaps contribute a useful perspective on the written records and oral traditions of those involved.