news of Cynthia Salvadori’s sudden death in Lamu, on Monday 27th
June, at the age of 76, will come as a sad shock to her many friends.
She will be remembered chiefly for her books about
the Asian Communities and the Asian pioneers in Kenya.
She chose to draw attention to these communities at
a time when their history had been largely ignored and their
contribution to Kenyan society was underrated.
Her book ‘Through Open Doors’, published
1983, opened the eyes of many to the intricacies of the various
religions and differing peoples that make up the Asian communities
The meticulous research and remarkable assembly of
facts made this book an essential reference book on the subject, which
would be hard to improve on.
She went on to collect the histories of the Asian
pioneers in a number of books ‘We Came in Dhows’, ‘Two
Indian Travellers’ and ‘Stories of the Punjabi Muslim
Pioneers in Kenya’.
Her hallmark was always exact research with plenty of
references, indexes and illustrations.
She was a perfectionist in her work and demanded it
from the publishers and editors, with whom she worked.
Besides her interest in the Asian communities she also
had a deep commitment to the nomadic peoples of the NFD, who lived on
the borders with Ethiopia in an area that is amongst the poorest and
least developed in Kenya.
She spent time in Marsabit and Moyale and was never
happier than when riding her mule and collecting anthropological notes
amongst the Borana people.
She later wrote a book about the Borana and also
helped com-pile a dictionary of their language.
She wrote an extraordinary number of books on a wide
variety of subjects.
She loved to write, contributing to magazines,
fascinating articles on subjects as diverse as sea urchins, the
mysterious graves at Ishakani, or Borana circumcision rites.
But as she often told me, she did not write for
money, she only wrote on subjects that interested her and because
she wanted to.
Her father Max Salvadori, also a prolific author and a
former professor at Smith College, Massachusetts, had told her that
important maxim for success as a writer, at a young age.
Cynthia had a great admiration for her father, but
also inherited an artistic talent from her British mother.
Cynthia had a deep love for Kenya and came from an
She was born in Kenya and was always particularly
proud of her mother’s ancestor Jack Haggard a former British
Consul in Lamu.
He was the brother of the famous writer Rider
Her father, who had been imprisoned by Mussolini for
his anti-fascist views, came to Kenya as an exile from Italy in 1932.
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, he
returned to Europe to fight, while Cynthia and her mother went to the
United States where they eventually settled.
But as soon as she could, immediately after finishing
university, she returned to her African roots.
Cynthia was a nomad who never liked to settle long
She loved to travel and needed the continuous
stimulus of a wide variety of people, cultures and religions.
She wore her erudition lightly, but was immensely
knowledgeable and well read on any number of subjects.
Amongst her passions could be listed cats and
horses, cross-word puzzles and detective novels.
She cared little about what she wore or luxuries of
any kind, and