Harold E. Lambert

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Harold E. Lambert
Born 1893
Pield Heath, UK
Died 1967
Alma mater Queens' College, Cambridge
Known for British linguist and anthropologist in Kenya

Harold E. Lambert OBE (1893–1967) was a British linguist and anthropologist in Kenya.

Born in Pield Heath, raised in Bournemouth, and educated at Queens' College, Cambridge (1912–1915), Lambert served as a platoon commander in the Gloucestershire Regiment during World War I, and was wounded at the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. A year later, the young Lieutenant joined the King's African Rifles in Nyassaland in the East African Campaign against the German army in Tanganyika.

After his demobilization in 1919, Lambert remained in East Africa and was appointed assistant District Commissioner on the southern coast of Kenya. During this period, he studied Swahili history and culture, becoming fluent in the language. Gaining indigenous respect and recognition, he became known as "Sheikh Lambert." His subsequent postings were as District Commissioner in Kiambu, Lamu, Embu, Kenya, Voi, and other places, where he gained an "outstanding" reputation as an administrator known for his "profound" knowledge of indigenous law and culture (especially Kikuyu). In 1939, the British Governor of Kenya successfully nominated Lambert as an Officer in the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and promoted him to Senior District Commissioner.

Lambert was married to Grace Firr, a trained nurse and daughter of Tom Firr, a famous Huntsman of the Quorn Hunt. After his retirement in 1950, the couple settled in Nairobi. He remained very active as a Swahili language scholar until his death in Nairobi, 1967. Many Africanists, anthropologists and linguists greatly benefited from H.E. Lambert's expert knowledge and generous assistance in the field and in their subsequent research.

Selected publications[edit]

  • The Use of Indigenous Authorities in Tribal Administration: Studies of the Meru in Kenya Colony. (1947, Cape Town: School of African Studies, University of Cape Town, Communications, New Series, No.16)
  • Land Tenure Among the Akamba. (1947, African Studies, Vol. 6(4), pp. 131–147, 157–175)
  • The Work of an African Chief. (Nairobi 1948)
  • The Systems of Land Tenure in the Kikuyu Land Unit. (Cape Town, 1949)
  • The Background to Mau Mau: widespread use of secret oaths in Kenya. (1952)
  • Kikuyu Social and Political Institutions. (Oxford U Press, 1956)
  • Chi-Chifundi: A Dialect of the Southern Kenya Coast. (Kampala, 1956)
  • Ki-Vumba: A Dialect of the Southern Kenya Coast. (Kampala, 1957)
  • Chi-Jomvu and ki-Ngare: Subdialects of the Mombasa Area. (Kampala, 1958)
  • Wimbo wa kiEbrania. (Arusha, 1959)
  • Diwani ya Lambert:Imehaririwa na Mathias E. Mnyampala (Nairobi, 1971)


  • Obituaries. 1967. East African Standard, 30: v: 8; Swahili Vol.37 (2):125.
  • Frankl, P.J.L. 1999. "H.E. Lambert (1893–1967): Swahili Scholar of Eminence (being a short biography together with a bibliography of his published work." In Journal of African Cultural Studies 12 (1):47–53.
  • Murray, Jocelyn. 1976. "The Church Missionary Society and the 'Female Circumcision' Issue in Kenya, 1929-1932. Journal of Religion in Africa. Vol.8:92–104.