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The Causes, Course And Results Of The Maji-Maji Rising In Tanganyika (1905-1907)

There is considerable debate with respect to the causes, course and results of the Maji-Maji uprising (1905-1907) in Tanganyika. Nevertheless this paper highlights, explores and evaluates some key aspects on the topic, which include the following:
a) The general causes of the uprising.
b) The timing of the uprising-July 1905
c) The role played by the spirit medium in organizing, motivating, and ideologising the uprising.
d) The aftermath of the rising i) on Africans
ii) on German administration
e) Its importance to African History.

It is interesting to note the earlier bias and distortion with regards to the causes of the Maji-Maji rising (1905-1907). The Germans viewed the rising as a conspiracy by the primitive, ultra-conservative elements of society: witchcraft and headmen.’ These were thought to have been concerned with the headmen.” These were thought to have been concerned with the need to restore their declining power and hence had instigated the ordinary people to rise against the Germans as a means of achieving their selfish ends. This conspiracy thereby viewed the rising as a ‘savage’ response to the progress and civilization introduced by European rule. This interpretation implicitly denies that a rational explanation to the risings was possible. However, this was official colonial dogma and misrepresentation of the facts. In fact, no evidence of a conspiracy was ever produced, and accounts from the areas which joined the rebellion in late August and September 1906 strongly suggest that the Africans had no prior knowledge that it would take place. Hence a more plausible explanation should be sought.

Henceforth, critics of the German colonial administration argued that the revolt was due to the resentment against forced labour and tax, and to the harsh treatment of the native inhabitants by the Germans and by minor Swahili and Arab officials. True, the above abuses could have caused the uprising in Tanganyika, but if this was the accurate explanation, it is surprising that the northern and central parts of the colony were not affected by the rising. W.O Henderson indicated that, an official German commission of inquiry enumerate 17 reasons for the uprising, but many of the grievances which were listed applied equally well to regions which remained loyal to the Germans. Further, since the abuses had existed for several years, (taxation had begun in 1898) there is no evident reason why resistance to them should have taken place in July 1905, and confined to the south of Tanganyika. Hence, these abuses of German administration should have been put into their proper historical context, that is, they generated an atmosphere of disgust and repudiation, but did not necessarily precipitate the outbreak of the war in Matumbi in July 1905.

What then, caused the outbreak of the Maji-Maji rising in1905? The outbreak of the rising in the Rufiji valley in Matumbi, in July 1905, seems to have been due, not so much to general misgovernment than it was to the bitterly resented cotton scheme in the south of Tanganyika. In fact, when Gotzen became Governor in 1901, Europeans were depressed in Tanganyika and government revenue was static. He, therefore, decided as an experiment, to introduce a scheme devised for the German West African colony of Togo, by which African cultivators would be induced to grow cotton as a ‘Volkskultur’ – a people’s crop. Since cotton experiments had failed in the north of the country, he decided to concentrate on the southern states. He believed that individual cultivators could grow cotton successfully and thus ordered that a plot be established at the headquarters of each village in the experimental area. The headmen’s adult male subjects were supposed to work for some 28 days a year on these cotton schemes. Peasant farmers automatically found their pieces of land condemned to cotton production at the expense of any other food crop. This scheme was later introduced into Dar es Salaam district in 1902 and subsequently into all the southern coastal districts, proving to be a disastrous failure. In fact Dereck S. and D.A. Wilson have accurately observed that, “the heart of the problem was the government’s attempt to force the people in the south to grow cotton,” in East Africa Through a Thousand Years: A History of the years AD 1000 to the Present Day.

It is important to note that the cotton scheme imposed severe demands on the people of the southern districts. In a letter to the German Reichstag, Dernberg indicates that, “Labourers were obtained under circumstances which could not be distinguished form slave hunts.” A similar observation concerning the extortion of African labour prevalent during the cotton scheme was made by Stahl “Although Britain had officially stopped the slave trade, the German traders imposed their will ruthlessly, placing the African under a new kind of bondage.” Hence the preponderance of forced labour was heightened in the southern districts to a level where it could not be withstood any longer.

Worse still, the sums paid to the workers were so small that some workers refused them in frustration. The work required soon far exceeded the amount planned, and this seriously interfered with the subsistence farming, thus causing starvation. In fact, G.C.K Gwassa comments that the cotton scheme threatened to “decimate the economy for the waMatumbi especially as has become extremely scarce and maximum labour had to be put into effective production of the means of livelihood” This indicates that the cotton scheme threatened African economies far more seriously than did any demands by European settlers in the north. Hence it seems sufficient explanation for the outbreak of violence.

However, it is important to remember that the cotton scheme provoked violence but does not necessarily explain why the Maji-Maji rising became a mass movement, encompassing nine communities (20 ethnic groups). Indeed, it is more important to be analytical and discern the specific reasons why the southern districts individually joined the rising. Yes, the cotton scheme was the networking grievances as well. It is important to note that loss of independence especially among the Ngoni former slave raiders, was one of their bitterest grievances against the German administration. Apart from the fact that the cotton scheme imposed severe physical suffering, the WaNgoni also viewed it as a symbol of foreign domination and indignation. They had formerly ruled and terrorized all other tribes but were now forced to do compulsory labour in cotton plantations, side-by-side with the Situ, their former slaves. Hence the Ngoni chiefs viewed the outbreak as a chance to expel the foreigners and restore their old splendour.

The WaNgindo on the other hand, had, in addition to the cotton scheme, been begrudged against the German mercenaries who abused their wives. Due to increased forced labour born out of the cotton scheme, the German mercenaries, akidas and Jumbes victimized and abused affront to Ngindo husbands. Adultery in Ngindo was punishable by war and/or death against the offenders. Thus the Ngindo viewed the war as a crusade against the oppression, Ill-treatment by Swahili overseers and abuse of their women.

More important to note among the causes were, the effects of hut tax. As from 1901 the new German colonial decrees gradually brought matters to a head: the hut tax of three rupees a year, had to be paid in cash instead of in kind as, hitherto, Africans were thus convinced that payment in rupees meant a higher tax. However, as has been argued elsewhere in the paper, the levying of hut tax might not be directly linked with the timing of the war. But what is important to note for the southern districts is that the bitter effects of hut tax were inseparably linked with the cotton scheme in area. This was because the compulsory cotton scheme had become the Africans main mode of capital accumulation. Yet the product fetched such a deplorably low price that this resulted in bitter resentment and frustration. Worse still, the over-zelous akidas and jumbes often used corruption and brutality in the collection of the tax. W.O. Henderson argued that, “It was not so much the existence of tax or forced labour caused discontent as the way in which local officials collected the tax and set the Africans to work.” Hence, it is crystal clear that the resented cotton scheme was at the centre of the crisis whilst other colonial abuses such as forced labour, ill- treatment, hut tax, abuse of African women and misgovernment of the local officials assisted in fanning that crisis. Cotton became a grievance which united precisely those people who rebelled when the 1905 picking season began. In fact, several rebel leaders were headmen who had suffered from the scheme, and one of their first actions in all the areas affected by the Maji-Maji was to pull out and burn the cotton crop as a declaration of war.

Having said this, it is important to note that even though the cotton scheme provoked violence, it does not explain the form and ideological content which the violence took. The explanation of the ideology and organisation for the rising can be attributed to the religious priests such as Kinjikitile Ngwale, also nicknamed Bokero,’ a brother-in- law of Bokero, Abdulla Mpanda, the elephant hunter as well as Chaburuma, one of the disgruntled, Ngoni chiefs. As T.O. Ranger has demonstrated, the essence of mass rebellion during this period was characterised by an attempt to organize in a new way in order to fight more effectively than the purely tribal resistances to European invasion.

Henceforth, the Maji-Maji or water-water’ obtained its name from Kinjikitile Ngwale who preached that the snake god called Kalelo which lived in the Pangani Rapids of the Rufiji River had brought ‘Maji’ (water) which could protect man against black magic. The belief slowly and secretly developed that water, strong enough to break black magic, must be strong enough to break European magic; bullets could turn into water! Kinjukitile was believable because he had been acting as a consulting centre for the Maji-Maji’ water on their persons in small containers cut form millet or maize stalks. They were to drink a little at a time, and sprinkle it four times on the head, chest and feet. With this promise of immunity form German bullets, Africans embraced the dogma with vigour and fanaticism, a factor which explains their blind courage in the face of a hailstorm of German bullets. Consequently, in mid-July 1905 the Africans in the Matumbi district, the home of Bokero, defied akida Kibata’s ordered to pick cotton by forced labour. Instead of obeying they went to Kinjikitile Ngwale or advice and this resulted in the uprooting and burning of cotton stalks on the Matumbi hills. Kibata fled for his life and his home was besieged by the fighters. The rising had started. It quickly spread to the north of southern Tanganyika, Kitope and other districts. In this area, traditional doctor Ngameya, a brother-law of Kinjikitile Ngwale boasted of having saved a young man from a lake five days after he had vanished into it. This gave him credibility to distribute sacred water. He further ordered the Africans to rise against all foreigners, and they ruthlessly killed dispersed Europeans, Arab-Swahili akidas and jumbes who were off-guard. Africans also killed the local German collaborators and looted shops. The rising now spread like a bushfire.
In the centre of southern Tanganyika the leader of the rising was elephant hunter Abdulla Mpanda who went to Bokero to obtain the sacred mainly because the Germans had failed to make him a jumbe. On his way back to Liwale, Mpanda visited two German askaris as a friend, drugged them and carried them into the bush where he slit their throats. By this act, he set the war drum throbbing and the next morning the rising broke out at a caravan halting place 14 miles from Liwale. All former German askaris and traders were brutally murdered.

The German response to this wave of warfare was ruthless. On of the turning points of the revolt was proof that ‘Maji-Maji after all did not turn bullets into water. Hence, Africans died in tier thousands. Some cried. “We‘ve been cheated,” but others rushed forward screaming even louder, “those killed have slept with as woman!” German response became even more brutal after the under of bishop Cassian Spiss of the Benedictine Order. Gotzen cabled to Berlin for reinforcements. Two cruisers and a company of marines were sent of immediately and it led to the ultimate suppression of the revolt. The leaders of the rising such as Bokero, Chaburuma and Abdulla Mpanda were either captured or they fled for their lives. Bokero was executed but he never gave in, and his last words were, “My death will make no difference, for my teaching has spread far and wide,’ and indeed it had.

More striking to note is the fact that as the movement expanded, and failure of the Maji to provide immunity was realized, the character of the uprising changed. There was a shift from the blind idealism and wishful thinking to the established patterns of ethnic guerrilla warfare. These modifications were however, unsuccessful and Africans succumbed to defeat in large numbers.

Predictably, the aftermath of the rising was a sharp population decline. Massive deaths were either caused by German bullets or by a famine which covered the southern areas. The Germans doubly used the scorched earth policy to exhaust the Africans, as well as forcibly grab African reserves. This was the case in Songea where Captain Richter prevented cultivation and appropriated all the food for his troops, and further boasted that, “the fellows can just starve.” Moreover depopulated due to both war and starvation, an Uvidunda was thought to have lost half its population: “What shall I rule?” asked Chief Ngwira when he returned from prison. On the other hand, Gotzen estimated that more than half of the Matumbi had died in the uprising whilst a missionary reckoned that more than three –quarters of the Pangwa perished. But famine had worse long-term results on the surviving women. A careful study of the rebel areas made in the 1930s revealed that, “famine reduced the average fertility of the surviving women by over 25%. Hence famine almost put a death knell on the southern districts of Tanganyika. On the whole, Dr Gwassa estimates the total number of people who died during the war at 250,000- 300, 000 or perhaps one-thirds of the whole population of southern Tanganyika. In return the Africans killed 15 Europeans, 73 askaris and 316 auxiliaries.

Politically, the uprising resulted in major changes after the war, with loyalist groups inheriting power whilst former aristocrats, especially among the Ngoni were de-stooled. Maji- Maji destroyed the Ngoni military society. Nearly 100 Ngoni military aristocrats were hanged in Mputa and Songea, dashing any hopes of recovering their original splendour. Elsewhere, loyalists were rewarded and this was the case of the Kalimato who had betrayed the Mbanga in the uprising. Kaliamto became a leading chief of Umbunga and married a sister of Mlorere, the most prominent Pongoro loyalist. Loyalty also rehabilitated the Hebe who regained control of Usagara and parts of Usangu and the Ulanga valley.

More striking to note is the fact that the failure of the Maji sacred water, destroyed the foundations of indigenous faiths. Consequently, many Ngoni chiefs accepted baptism before their execution. Moreover, just after 1907, 500 people attended the returning missionary’s first service at Milo in Ungoni and southern Highlands. However, some societies turned to Islam due to the lasting barrier between themselves and the missionaries. This was the case with the Nindo, the Mwera, the Ndendeveni and the Zaramo. But since the prophetic religious leaders preached a new faith which superseded old rivalries, the Maji- Maji rising therefore instilled the lesson of the importance of unity.

The Maji-Maji rising importantly caused the German colonial policy to reform. Soon after the war, Dr Bernhard Dernberg was hurriedly sent to Africa to investigate the causes of the Maji-Maji war. His recommendations led to three major changes: he ordered the officials, Planters and traders to put away the lash and to rely on common sense. Until then, hardly a German was to be seen in the colony without a whip which he resorted to freely. Secondly, he introduced labour guidelines which sought to safeguard Africans against exploitation at village level. The working hours were clearly defined. Moreover, African education was also widely promoted and by 1914, 99 schools has been set up, enrolling 8, 494 pupils. At the same time, there were 1,852 mission schools with 108, 550 pupils. Noteworthy, however, is the fact that German colonial education aimed at producing stereotyped Africans merely capable of carrying out administrative orders.

The foundations for economic development were also set up immediately after the uprising. Roads, bridges, and railways such as the Tanga-Moshi line, 352 km long; the Dar es Salaam to Kigoma line, 1, 252 km long; were both completed by 1914. It is also notable that plantation agriculture had a lot of money allocated for its research and development. In this vein biological and horticultural research institutes were set up.

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