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The Execution of Kinjikitile Ngwale: The Tanzanian Leader Who Fought Against German Colonialism


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In 1905, Kinjikitile Ngwale, a spiritualist from the Matumbi ethnic group of southern Tanzania, led an armed uprising of Islamic and animist Africans in German East Africa (current-day Tanzania) against German colonial control.

Following the partitioning of Africa among the major European powers at the Berlin Conference in 1884, Germany strengthened its hold on a number of its recognized colonies in Africa, in particular German East Africa (Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and part of Mozambique).

Germany started collecting head taxes in 1898 and used a lot of forced labor to construct roads and complete other jobs.

German authorities mandated that cotton be grown in villages in 1902 as a cash crop for export. A certain amount of cotton production was required from each community.

The management of the production was placed in the hands of the village headmen, pitting them against the majority of the people.

Because the German policies had such negative psychological and physical impacts on the lives of the local population, they were despised.

The socioeconomic structure of society was rapidly changing. In order to meet the requirements of the communities, the social roles of men and women were being modified.

Women were compelled to fill some of the traditional masculine duties in the community because males had to leave their houses to work.

The disappearance of the then-relatively unknown Kinjikitile Ngwale from his home in Ngarambe in 1904, which was mostly caused by German Colonial policies intended to compel the indigenous population to work and grow cotton as cash crops for export, was a result of this policy.

After a few days, he returned and claimed to have been possessed by the ghostly medium known as Hongo, who is thought to take the shape of a snake.

Kinjikitile Ngwale adopted the moniker “Bokero” and began claiming that the inhabitants of German East Africa had been ordered to defeat the Germans.

Kinjikitile Ngwale asserted that he had spoken to the god Bokera via the ghost Hongo.

In order to stand against the Germans, who were aggressively pulling apart the social fabric that kept their community together, he urged his followers to set aside distinctions in tribe and religion.

As Kinjitkile’s fame spread quickly, admirers came from every corner of German East Africa.

He claimed to have received orders from his followers’ ancestors to organize a revolt against the German colonial power. In July 1905, the Maji Maji Rebellion was sparked in part by this.

In order to shield his people from German bullets, Kinjikitile gave his people “Maji” a kind of sacred water.

The spears and arrows the movement of Bokero’s adherents carried were inadequate. They were numerous, though, and were confident that the Germans’ bullets couldn’t pierce them, so they didn’t think they could be hurt.

At first, the insurrectionists mainly attacked tiny outposts and damaged cotton plantations, but on July 31, 1905, Matumbi tribesmen marched into Samanga and attacked the home of a local official in addition to destroying the cotton crop and a trading post.

After that, German troops apprehended Kinjikitile and had him hanged for treason.

Before being put to death, Kinjikitile proclaimed that he had disseminated the rebellious spirit throughout the area and that his people would not stop fighting until the Germans were eliminated.

Kinjikitile Ngwale role in Maji Maji Revolt

An important turning point in the history of early colonial Tanzania was the Maji Maji Revolt (1905–1907).

The uprising marked the beginning of an organized, interethnic resistance against colonial control in Africa.

Despite the rebellion’s failure to drive the Germans out of East Africa, it prompted the colonial government to introduce a number of changes.

During the nation’s contemporary nationalist era in the 1950s, the Maji Maji Revolt contributed to the development of a proto-nationalist tradition.

Germany acquired a number of colonies in Africa after the Berlin Conference (1884–1885), including the modern nations of Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and a portion of Mozambique.

Germany sought to maximize the economic potential of its colonies in Africa, like other colonial powers. German repressive forces used force to maintain authority in East Africa.

In 1898, they enacted a head tax on adult males to generate funds for their administration. Germany used forced labor to construct its roads and other infrastructure, just like many other colonial powers.

Tanzanian people were instructed to produce cotton as a cash crop in 1902 by Count Adolf von Götzen (1866–1910), the governor of German East Africa.

Also read: From Captivity to Freedom: The Story of the Oromo Slaves from Ethiopia to South Africa

The arduous labor required for cotton farming was one of the reasons Tanzanians disliked this edict so much.

Some locals refused to work the land or pay taxes because of these harsh German regulations.

German policies also disturbed social and economic relationships in Africa since they caused many males to leave their homes to work and rural women to take on new responsibilities and make greater subsistence contributions.

A drought that threatened the area in 1905 made the terrible living conditions that the Indians faced even worse.

These conditions, along with the repercussions of the government’s labor, agricultural, and forestry policies, resulted in an outright uprising in July 1905.

To force the Germans out of Tanzania, the local Tanzanians turned to African spirituality and sorcery.

A spirit medium by the name of Kinjikitile Ngwale (d. 1905), who went by the moniker Bokero and claimed to be controlled by the serpent spirit Hongo, was the leader of the uprising.

Bokero started to promote the notion that the locals had been tasked with getting rid of the Germans. The uprising was given its name after a supposed African fighters’ immunity to German bullets, known as maji.

The emergence of the maji ideology sent a message of shared opposition and resistance to German colonial control, even though this so-called “war medicine” was nothing more than water mixed with castor oil and millet.

With this medicine, Bokero’s supporters felt invigorated and the Maji Maji Revolt was born.

They left the Matumbi Hills in southern Tanzania to attack German garrisons all around the colony, armed with cap guns, spears, and arrows, and wearing millet stalks around their heads.

The Mbunga, Kichi, Ngoni, Ngindo, and Pogoro joined the uprising in German East Africa alongside the Matumbi.

Even though they were fewer, the German forces of European and indigenous soldiers were more effective with their superior weaponry, and several thousand Maji rebels were put to death by machine gun fire.

They believed that the mystical water would shield them from the German weapons, but it didn’t work. But the conflict was particularly intense in some places.

After German soldiers killed Kinjikitile Ngwale on August 4, 1905, another spirit medium took over as the leader of the uprising.

The Ngoni people joined the uprising with a force of 5,000, but when they were attacked by German weapons, they were no match for them. As a result, the uprising persisted.

According to estimates, 250,000 people died from famine as a result of the Germans’ scorched-earth campaign, which involved the destruction of villages, crops, and other food sources used by the rebels.

Any meaningful resistance came to an end after the Ngoni were defeated. The southwest of German East Africa was under control by April 1906, but the revolt was not completely put down until August 1907.

Before the area became British control at the end of World War I in 1918, the effects of the Maji Maji Revolt had a significant impact on German rule.

The revolution, which resulted in thousands of deaths and evictions, posed a significant threat to German colonial rule in Africa.

Following the revolt, the colonial authority implemented significant administrative reforms. The insurrection sparked a nationalist awareness in the local Africans that was needed for the decolonization process.


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