Wednesday, March 30, 2011


The Origins of The Majimaji Rebellion

  • Wednesday, March 30, 2011
  • Samuel Albert

  • By A. R. W. Crosse-Upcott
    Source: Man, Vol. 60 (May, 1960), pp. 71-73
    Published by: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland Stable

    Several theories have been advanced to explain the sinister and dramatic Majimaji rebellion of 1905, which engulfed the entire southern half of the Deutsch-Ostafrika territory, then barely a decade old. Yet, none of those that have come to my notice seems to me to ring altogether true. For a start, the official German hypothesis of a planned conspiracy has been effectively demolished by R. M. Bell's excellent account (1950) of the nuclear outbreak; and indeed, common sense alone would render such a notion suspect, in view of the prevailing aftermath of a chaotic slaving and tribal-war era.
    Maji maji Rebellion impi 

    The associated claim that Islamic elements were behind the revolt has more cogency, but here again my own researches on the spot show little more than connivance or subordinate participation on the part of local Muslims. True, the Ngindo instigators of the trouble embraced the Mohammedan faith along with the magic water (from which the movement derived its name 'Majimaji' or 'Water-water' in Kiswahili); but, even though by a paradox it is Islam which has persisted among the Ngindo tribe, initially the pagan Majimaji cult seems to have had the upper hand. The intriguing question of the degree to which Islam can be made responsible for the revolt is one which I intend to discuss in a separate essay.

    Maji Maji 'rebels'
    Another explanation, that of J. H. Driberg (1931), holds that Nubian mercenaries from the Sudan imported the idea of immunity from rifle fire conferred by mystic water. Whilst this is possible, the evidence that I shall bring in support of an indigenous water cult anterior to the German occupation makes it unlikely that the Nubians should have contributed much to the Majimaji unrest. If anything, their contribution would have been to arouse discontent through provocation, as they won evil fame for  atrocities against the native population. This introduces the controversial hobby horse of German oppression, roundly condemned by Bell. Whilst I would not seek to defend the regime I am undecided about the alleged intolerable conditions in the area in question, namely Liwale, if only because the German personnel were too few in number and insufficiently mobile to mount a thoroughgoing reign of terror. Granted, the authorities were not popular; but this alone can scarcely account for the widespread and violent Majimaji reaction. In this connexion the Ngindo, who are by no means unintelligent, seem to have been well aware of the probable outcome of German defeat, that is, Ngoni resurgence; raiders of the Ngoni tribe, thought to be of Zulu extraction, had pulverized the region from Lake Nyasa right to the coast for more than a generation before the Germans took over. And there can be few who would opt for Ngoni frightfulness in preference to German discipline. However, the wizards who preached the Majimaji cause seemingly met this objection by promising to send wild beasts to drive any invaders back!

    Almost half-a-century before the Majimaji cataclysm, the explorer Sir Richard Burton ascended the Rufiji valley on his way to the interior. Not many marches inland from the coast he made the following observation:

    Certain 'hill tribes . . . have a place visited even by distant Wazaramo pilgrims. It is described as a cave where a P'hepo or disembodied spirit of a man, in fact a ghost, produces a terrible subterranean  sound, called by the people Kurero or Bokero; it arises probably from the flow of water underground. In a pool in the cave, women bathe for the blessing of issue, and men sacrifice sheep and goats to obtain fruitful seasons
    and success in war' (Burton, I857, p. 88).

    Now, Bokero is the title commonly assigned to the originator of the Majimaji cult. In and around Liwale I myself always encountered the variant Bokera, but one has good authority (Bell) for the pronunciation Bokero. Eye witnesses of the rebellion speak of bogus seances held in a cave by this same Bokero, who was in addition associated with a pool called Ndagalala, said to be situated at the confluence of the Lihenge and Ngarambi rivers, some distance north of Liwale (Liwale District Book). People were attracted thither by the rumour that their ancestors, whose spoken answers to questions would be boomed through tunnels in the cavernourso ck,were to be seen reflected in the pool's surface. Actually Bokero is a term loosely applied to several witch-doctors who achieved prominence in launching the Majimaji campaign; and the primary Bokero's real name was Kinjiketire Ngwale. He was hung by the Germans in the early stages of the revolt.

    Maji Maji prisoners
    The hill tribes to which Burton referred in his journal appear to have been the 'Waruguru' (Burton), otherwise known as Lugurua, group inhabiting the mountains of Uluguru well to the north of the Rufiji. I have no first-hand knowledge of these mountains having seen them only from a distance  but people familiar with the area tell me that they are without caves of any size. A comprehensive article on Luguru religious beliefs (Scheerder
    and Tastevin) contains no allusion whatever to any cave; and a German s oldier-official who spent years in Uluguru before the turn of the century, though he dwells on the 'wonderful mountains (' Von Prince), mentions neither cave nor shrine.The apparently complete absence of written corroboration or factual proof to bear out Burton's story leads me to suspect hat he may have been mistaken as to the scene of this earlier cult. His informants may have been speaking from hearsay probably through an interpreter and there is every likelihood that inaccuracies might occur. My own supposition is that, hearing of the mountainous surrounding of the sacred pool, Burton guessed the known Luguru range to be the locality his informants meant; whereas he would have no knowledge of the unexplored country lying to the south of the Rufiji. Neither Burton, who had already tried to do so without success nor any other explorer excepting the ill-fated Roscher and Von der Decken, had managed to penetrate the hinterland of Kilwa, to the south, owing to the hostility of the slave-traders. So nothing was known about mountains or any other geographical features southwards.

    In point of fact, the Matumbi region not far south of the Rufiji contains both caves and mountains. An article on the geology of the Rufiji basin (Stockley) includes a significant discussion of caves in the Mtumbei valley,a bout 30 miles inland from the port of Samanga. According to this source the principal cave thereabout Nsangoma, runs to truly gigantic size. A Roman Catholic priest from the nearby Kipatimu mission, Father Ambrosius Mayer,  visited Nangoma shortly after its discoveryby the authorities in 1910. He estimated that 5,000 people could have camped unseen in its 'enormousv estibule(' ibid.) where he found the traces of numerous earth fires. This then, would seem to account for the local reports of villages mysteriously deserted during the Majimaji operations.  Another feature of Nangoma cave which Father Ambrosius noticed makes the analogy with Burton's account startling namely' an unruffled still pool of water which appeared to be of considerable depth'( ibid.). A. successor at the Kipatimu mission, Father Hilmar, who contributes a section on this subject to form part of Stockley's article, observes: 'the natives state that this stream never dries up even in the driest dry season.' Further he specifically declares that the Majimaji subversion 'originated from this place,' though unfortunately without giving details or citing the grounds for his assertion.

    One cannot therefore be certain that the rebellion did have its genesis at Nangoma. Nevertheless from the foregoing, a strong presumption  exists that the original magic water, or perhaps simply the idea of magic water, emanated from it. Also, the evidence from Ngindo survivors of the revolt points consistently to Ngarambi (Ruhingo), like Mtumbei a part of Matumbiland, as the heartland focus of Majimaji propaganda; note that the Ndagalala pool at Ngarambi, mentioned earlier,  is stated to be surmounted by a hill called Bwengi (Liwale District Book). Inevitably, some confusion has arisen in the recounting of these almost legendary events, but all the versions volunteered to me by local inhabitants agree in placing the origin in that general vicinity. For instance Ngameya, the witch-doctor who assumed Bokero's mantle and wielded the greatest influence during the victorious phase of the militant cult, operated in the Kitope area of Matumbiland. An old map of the Rufiji (Beardall) marks 'Kitopi Hill' no great distance inland from Samanga, i.e. to the east of present-day Kitope; and one is tempted to think that this individual lived fairly near to Nangoma cave and had access to it; certainly the home of Bokero himself, to whom Ngameya was related by marriage, lay close by at Ngarambi. Once the Majimaji conflict had broken out in earnest, Ngameya transferred his headquarters to another hill farther to the west, Nandanga; and it was to Nandanga that almost all the 'pilgrims' whom I interviewed went in search of 'the water.' Minority opinion favours a source on the Rufiji river itself at Mpanga (Bell), not far from which a water spirit called Nyangumi (literally 'whale' in Kiswahili) was thought to haunt the Pangani rapids. It is curious that Bokero's younger brother, Njugumaina Ngwale, should have adopted the title 'Nyangumi' (ibid.), and that one authority should have regarded Nyangumi as the prime mover in the revolt . . . the people allegedly believed that 'a great medicine man lived in the Rufiji river in the form of a water monster, and that this supernaturalc reaturec ould dispense medicine' (Sayers). Evidently, like the other sources of magic water, Mpanga has its characteristic hill; for Beardall (1881), surveying the Rufiji for the Sultan of Zanzibar in i 88o, claims to have climbed it.The truth may be that, as the revolt developed, the distributing centres for magic water multiplied and spread far afield; thus in central Liwale it is said that a container filled initially at Ngarambi could be replenished anywhere in Ngindoland. Moreover, Ngindo cynics of today invariably ascribe the entire rebellion to the greed of the witch-doctors, intent on amassing more and more wealth from the lucrative fees charged for the magic water!

    Hence the birthplace of the revolt can be taken to be somewhere in the Matumbi area immediately south of the Rufiji river, most probably at Nangoma cave itself. Furthermore the historical material which I quote indicates the probable existence of a water cult at Nangoma at least half-a-century before the Majimaji upheaval. My tentative reconstruction of the cult's evolution is this. For a lengthy period, perhaps even for centuries, the awesome setting of Nangoma had given rise to mystical beliefs associated with water. Though widely known, as the allusion to 'distant Wazaramo pilgrims' shows (Burton; the Zaramo then occupied the Dar es Salaam coast and its nearby hinterland, much as they do now), the water's magical properties seem to have been mainly peaceable until the opening years of the present century; Burton does mention success in war as one of its attributes, but the sort of irregular skirmishing of the time between minor tribal segments, set against a background of sporadic and disruptive slave raiding, lacked the systematic character of true warfare; in Burton's day the wholesale pillage and slaughter of the Ngoni raids from the west had yet to impinge seriously on the coastal belt. Whilst the German occupation put an end to this instability, considerable tensions remained unresolved. The rancour of the Islamic coast, expressed in the formidable Bushiri rising of 1888 which had all but annihilated the German chartered company and had prompted direct imperial intervention, still lingered; and the authorities had been obliged to put down a whole series of local outbreaks in the turbulent interior, notably in the desperately fought Hehe campaign of 1890 to I894. Any general appeal to violence would therefore have found support in a number of apparently disparate quarters.

    Just such a general appeal to violence, as yet latent, existed ready-made at Nangoma. Though the first reported incidents in the Majimaji rebellion occurred at Samanga and Kibata, in the vicinity of Nangoma (Bell), not a few of my Ngindo informants consider that the water cult had next to no warlike content before the advent of Abdalla Mpanda, the most ferocious of the rebel leaders in Liwale, who is alleged by them to have twisted a largely neutral panacea in to a 'war of liberation,' using the threat of reporting the local headmen to Liwale boma for failing to give warning of the impending onslaught. Whilst this is manifestly an exaggeration, there are grounds for believing that the movement was not in the least aggressive in its inception; it is noteworthy that according to Bell's chronology Kinjiketire   Ngwale, the prototype Bokero, was already in his grave ten days before Liwale boma foundered. Rather, it was only by degrees, and aided by bureaucratic inaction on the part of the imperial German government, that the revolutionary elements gained the upper hand. Perhaps the shift of Ngameya's base to Nandanga hill marked the decisive swing to a belligerent policy; for it was from this centre that for the first time the Majimaji  armies' took the  field. Henceforth the contagion of Majimaji defiance spread rapidly, until the feeble detonation of Nangoma was lost in the vast explosion of war.


    Beardall, W., 'Exploration of the Rufiji,' Proc. R. Geog. Soc., 188I, pp. 640ff.
    Bell, R. M., 'The Majimaji Rebellion in the Liwale District,' Tanganyika N .  R., No. 28 (1950), pp. 38-57.
    Burton, Sir R. F., The Lake Regions of Central Africa, Vol. I.
    Driberg, J. H., 'Yakan,' J. R. Anthrop. Inst., Vol. LXI (193I), 413-20.
    Liwale District Book (Official).
    Sayers, G. F., Handbook of Tanganyika (1930).
    Scheerder and Tastevin, Revd. Fathers, 'Les Wa lu guru,' Anthropos,Vol. XLV, Parts I-3, pp. 241ff.
    Stockley, G. M., 'The Geology of the Rufiji District,' Tanganyika N. & R., No. i6, pp. 21-24.
    Von Prince, T., Gegen Araber und Negern.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011


    Angoni - Quotable Quotes

  • Tuesday, March 15, 2011
  • Samuel Albert

    Henry Morton Stanley was a Welsh journalist and explorer famous for his exploration of Africa and his search for David 
    Livingstone. Stanley is often remembered for the words uttered to Livingstone upon finding him: "Dr. Livingstone, 
    I presume?" He said the following about the warlike Angoni.
    These so maintained the war-like reputation of their breed, that even Stanley could not cross the continent, as far away 
    as the equator, without becoming nervously cognisant of the fact. 'No traveller,' he says, 'has yet become acquainted with a wilder race in Equatorial Africa than are the Mafitte or Watuta (as he calls the abaNgoni wanderers). They are the only true African Bedawi; and surely some African Ishmael must have fathered them, for their hands are against every man, and every man's hand appears to be raised against them. To slay a solitary Mtuta is considered by an Arab as meritorious, and far more necessary than killing a snake. To guard against these sable freebooters, the traveller, while passing near their haunts,has need of all his skill, coolness and prudence. The settler in their neighbourhood has need to defend his village with impregnable fences, and to have look-outs night and day; his women and children require to be guarded, and fuel can only be procured by strong parties, while the ground has to be cultivated spear in hand, so constant is the fear of the restless and daring tribe of bandits.'2
    Sir Harrry Johnstone 

    Harry Johnston was instrumental in having Nyasaland (today's Malawi) declared the British Central Africa Protectorate after negotiations with the Portuguese in Mozambique who were also interested in having this land as theirs, and he was made its first commissioner in 1891.
    The following quotation is taken from his article entitled, 'Livingstone as an Explorer.'

    Source: The Geographical Journal, Vol. 41, No. 5 (May, 1913), pp. 423-446
    Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)
    "The evidence of Livingstone and other travellers of the fifties, sixties, and seventies, brings home to us the widespread devastation caused by bands of Angoni-Zulus. These Zulu raids over East-Central Africa during the nineteenth century were one of the greatest disasters of its history. They had their origin in the convulsions caused in Natal and Zululand by the conquests of Chaka the Destroyer, and their effects long remained written on the surface of Nyasaland, Northeast Rhodesia and German East Africa. 'It was wearisome to see the skulls and bones scattered about everywhere; one would fain not notice, but they are so striking that they cannot be avoided," is an extract from Livingstone's journal as he comes in contact with the Angoni raids in South-west Nyasaland."
    Inkosi M'mbelwa II
    Inkosi Mmbelwa II
    In his memorandum to the Royal Commission on closer union headed by Lord Bledisloe in 1938, Inkosi Mbelwa II made, inter alia, the following submission:

    'Before the European advent in this country my grandfather Inkosi Mbelwa's kingdom extended as far as Lwangwa Valley, covering the following districts: Karonga, Kasungu, Chintechi and Lundazi or Sengaland, Mzimba being its centre. His mode of rule was not to root off people from their countries, but left them to rule over their people under him according to their custom and creed. He only collected young men who were trained as warriors, who after they were trained made some revolts and in most cases they were got back and to be got back; but the missionary intervened by preaching the Gospel which made peace for all'.

    'Long ago in the time of my father before the Government took over my district there came a European from Northern Rhodesia who had to shoot, and rob people their property, and did all sorts of evil and damages to man and property, we were protected by the Nyasaland Government; this is one of the reasons that my father willingly placed himself under the Imperial Government Rule because the Deputy Commissioner, Mr. Pearce, had displayed justice and shewed great protection by fining that European and making him to pay all damages made to people. The second reason was that on occasions the Commissioners visited his country, they promised him that his kingdom will be as that of Khama and the Prince of Zanzibar, and that no European will have power over his country and over him, also that Her Majesty Queen Victoria will send a Consul to help him and to strengthen his power and that his people will pay taxes to him and not to Her Majesty the Queen. In course of time after Her Majesty the Queen died, Sir Alfred Sharpe came with the question of collecting taxes, this was refused at many times until 1904 when a treaty was made, and it was more favourable to us than it appears on the attached extract printed by missionaries at Livingstonia Mission.


    Chidiaonga allegedly pronounced the Maseko Ngoni chieftainship  shortly before his death around 1876.

    "Now I leave this country in the hands of the owner, because I was only appointed to keep it for him. This is your leader". He sent for Cikusi and gave him his father's spear, saying to him. "This country is yours". He said to Cifisi his own son, "You, my son, do not struggle with Cikusi. He is the only paramount here".'

    Ng'onomo Makamo, General of Northern Jele Ngoni Armies (impi)

    Ng'onomo is reported to have said the following in 1901 about the influence of the white colonisers and missionaries
    'You have just come from Marambo. The people there were once mine. There at Kasungu you see the people running to "the Consol" with tusks which should have been brought to me as of old. You have caused me and my country to die.'


    Saturday, March 12, 2011


    The Birth of A Ngoni Child

  • Saturday, March 12, 2011
  • Samuel Albert
  • Author: H. F. Barnes
    Source: Man, Vol. 49 (Aug., 1949), pp. 87-89,
    Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland

    The following is an account, almost as I wrote it down at the time, of the birth of a baby amongst the Fort Jameson Ngoni living in the Eastern Province of Northern Rhodesia. I have added some notes on the relationships of the people concerned and some comparisons with other births which I attended among the same people.

    The mother, Mwanijinga,1 was a young primipara living in the village of her husband's mother's father. Puberty had occurred twenty-three months previously in June, 1945, and shortly afterwards she had married. Her husband worked at a tobacco factory about ten miles away and visited the village only at weekends.

    Some Notes on the Ngoni by James Stewart

  • Samuel Albert
  • Excerpts From: Lake Nyassa, and the Water Route to the Lake Region of Africa
    Author: James Stewart
    Source: Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography,New Monthly Series, Vol. 3, No. 5 (May, 1881), pp. 257-277
    Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute ofBritish Geographers)
    (Read at the Evening Meeting, March 14th, 1881.) Map, p. 320.

    The Language of West and North of Lake Nyassa (now Lake Malawi)

    The language which is now most widely disseminated through the country to the west and north of the lake is the Kafir language (i.e. ngoni language). It is not, however, the most generally spoken. The Kafir or Mangone invaders have wandered over the whole of the district, and wherever they have been, they have left a knowledge of their language among the residents of the country, many of whom they had subjugated and enslaved during the period of their occupancy. Such men were frequently my interpreters in the highlands of Mambwe and Maliwandu. This language has for years past been reduced to writing. The Scriptures and other books have been translated into it, and newspapers are now published in it, at the Missionary Institution at Lovedale. This fact facilitates our work among them very greatly. None of the other languages,


  • Samuel Albert
  • Below is an account of the experiences of one of the early Livingstonia Missionaries which helps to shed light on some few aspects of life in Ngoniland  after they accepted christianity.

    PUBLISHED IN 1919.

    No man is entitled to be called an experienced traveller who has not had experience of travelling by machila. The recipe for a machila is as follows : a stout bamboo pole, with a hammock slung below it, and a team of a dozen high-stepping, quick-trotting natives to shoulder the pole, two at a time. It is true that the Portuguese down on the coast use four carriers at a time, who jiggle along with short, mincing, irregular steps, in the most ridiculous and effeminate way. But this is a refinement of luxury not to be looked for in the interior, any more than the quiet amble of a lady's pony is to be expected of a broncho. The raw native, who sees the Portuguese jelly-fish trot for the first time, is convulsed with inextinguishable laughter, and, on his return home,will entertain his village to a daily pantomime.