Adzanumee and Her Mother

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African baby

THERE once lived a woman who had one great desire. She longed to have a daughter—but alas! she was childless. She could never feel happy, because of this unfulfilled wish. Even in the midst of a feast the thought would be in her mind—”Ah! if only I had a daughter to share this with me!

One day she was gathering yams in the field, and it chanced that she pulled out one which was very straight and well shaped. “Ah!” she thought to herself, “if only this fine yam were a daughter, how happy I should be!” To her astonishment the yam answered, “If I were to become your daughter, would you promise never to reproach me with having been a yam?” She eagerly gave her promise, and at once the yam changed into a beautiful, well-made girl. The woman was overjoyed and was very kind to the girl. She named her Adzanumee. The latter was exceedingly useful to her mother. She would make the bread, gather the yams, and sell them at the market-place.

L'igname (yam)
L’igname (yam)

She had been detained, one day, longer than usual. Her mother became impatient at her non-appearance and angrily said, “Where can Adzanumee be? She does not deserve that beautiful name. She is only a yam.

A bird singing nearby heard the mother’s words and immediately flew off to the tree under which Adzanumee sat. There he began to sing:

Adzanumee! Adzanumee!
Your mother is unkind—she says you are only a yam,
You do not deserve your name!
Adzanumee! Adzanumee!

The girl heard him and returned home weeping. When the woman saw her she said, “My daughter, my daughter! What is the matter?” Adzanumee replied:

O my mother! my mother!
You have reproached me with being a yam.
You said I did not deserve my name.
O my mother! my mother!”


With these words she made her way toward the yam-field. Her mother, filled with fear, followed her, wailing:

Nay, Adzanumee! Adzanumee!
Do not believe it—do not believe it.
You are my daughter, my dear daughter

But she was too late. Her daughter, still singing her sad little song, quickly changed back into a yam. When the woman arrived at the field there lay the yam on the ground, and nothing she could do or say would give her back the daughter she had desired so earnestly and treated so inconsiderately.

Source: Barker, William H. and Cecilia Sinclair. West African Folk-tales. Lagos, Africa: Bookshop, 1917.

King Mkwawa: the Trailer

King Mkwawa

Here is the trailer to the movie celebrating the life of King Mkwawa, the Hehe leader who inflicted the German Schutztruppe their first defeat on African soil. I salute King Mkwawa and the Hehe people who fought for their freedom and resisted the Germans for over 7 years. 17th August 1891 marks the first defeat of Germans colonial forces, and also the victory of King Mkwawa and the Hehe people. A lot can be said about a king whose people loved him dearly to the point that no one within his ranks were willing to betray him for money. The fact that the return of his skull was part of the Treaty of Versailles also denotes his great aura. This, however, makes us wonder how many more of our treasures, statues, and even skulls of our great warriors and kings may still be exposed or hidden in Western museums and galleries. We demand their return; these belonged to our ancestors, thus they belong to us and are a part of identity!  Enjoy!

King Mkwawa and the First German Colonial Forces’ Defeat in Africa

King Mkwawa

Have you ever heard about the German Schutztruppe‘s first stinging defeat in Africa? Have you ever heard about the African Chief whose skull was part of the Treaty of Versailles’ negotiation? Have you ever heard of the Hehe Rebellion of 1891 and the German defeat at the hand of the fierce Hehe King Mkwawa in Lugalo?

King Mkwavinyika Munyigumba Mwamuyinga (known as Mkwawa) was born in Luhota in Iringa in the south of modern-day Tanzania, and was the son of Chief Munyigumba, who died in 1879. He was the leader of the Hehe people in German East Africa (now mostly the mainland part of Tanzania) who opposed the German colonization. The name “Mkwawa” is derived from Mukwava, itself a shortened form of Mukwavinyika, meaning “conqueror of many lands“.

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A Hehe warrior

Mkwawa was the chief of the Uhehe who won fame by defeating Germans at Lugalo on August 17th 1891 and maintaining the resistance for seven years. August 17th 1891 marks the first defeat of the German colonial troops or ‘Schutztruppe’ in Africa, at Africans’ hands. The devotion of the Hehe people to their King was unconditional to the point that when the German governor offered 5,000 rupees for his capture in 1898, no Hehe accepted it!

Emil von Zelewski

After the Germans had managed to colonize the coastal area of Tanganyika (modern-day Tanzania), they started to move further inland. At that time the Hehe were also expanding towards the coast. Both sides tried some diplomacy to avoid war. However, all hopes were dashed, so the Germans decided the best way was to fight against Chief Mkwawa. In July 1891, the German commissioner, Emil von Zelewski, led a battalion of soldiers (320 askaris with officers and porters) to suppress the Hehe. On 17 August, they were attacked by Mkwawa’s 3,000-strong army at Lugalo, who, despite only being equipped with spears and a few guns, quickly overpowered the German force and killed Zelewski.

On 28 October 1894, the Germans, under the new commissioner Colonel Freiherr Friedrich von Schele, attacked Mkwawa’s fortress at Kalenga. Although they took the fort, Mkwawa managed to escape. Subsequently, Mkwawa conducted a campaign of guerrilla warfare, harassing the Germans until 1898 when, on 19 July, he was surrounded and he shot himself to avoid capture.

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Sir Edward Twining returning King Mkwawa’s skull in 1954

After his death, German soldiers removed Mkwawa’s head. The skull was sent to Berlin and ended up in the Übersee-Museum Bremen. In 1918 the then British Administrator of German East Africa H.A. Byatt proposed to his government that it should demand a return of the skull to Tanganyika in order to reward the Wahehe for their cooperation with the British during the war and in order to have a symbol assuring the locals of the definitive end of German power. The skull’s return was stipulated in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles:

ARTICLE 246. Within six months from the coming into force of the present Treaty, … Germany will hand over to His Britannic Majesty’s Government the skull of the Sultan Mkwawa which was removed from the Protectorate of German East Africa and taken to Germany.

The Germans disputed the removal of the said skull from East Africa and the British government took the position that the whereabouts could not be traced. However, after World War II, the Governor of Tanganyika, Sir Edward Twining, took up the issue again. After inquiries he was directed to the Bremen Museum which he visited himself in 1953. The Museum had a collection of 2000 skulls, 84 of which originated from the former German East Africa . He short-listed the ones which showed measurements similar to surviving relatives of Chief Mkwawa; from this selection he picked the only skull with a bullet-hole as the skull of chief Mkwawa.

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King Mkwawa’s skull in exposition at the Mkwawa Memorial Museum in Kalenga

The skull was finally returned on 9 July 1954, and now resides at the Mkwawa Memorial Museum in Kalenga, near the town of Iringa. Many believe that it is not King Mkwawa’ skull.

Here I salute King Mkwawa and the Hehe people who fought for their freedom and resisted for over 7 years. The defeat of the German colonial forces on 17th August 1891 in Lugalo, the destruction of the Hehe fort at Kalenga on the 30th of October 1894 and the death of Chief Mkwawa on the 19th of June 1898 were key events in the German colonization in East Africa. To learn more about this page of history, check out the website by King Mkwawa’s great-grandsonThe colonial wars of imperial Germany , and this article on King Mkwawa’s skull.

Quote by Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba during a concert

In the West the past is like a dead animal. It is a carcass picked at by the flies that call themselves historians and biographers. But in my culture the past lives. My people feel this way in part because death does not separate us from our ancestors.” Miriam Makeba

African Author wins Prestigious Literary Prize

Jennifer Makumbi
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

A Ugandan author based in Great Britain whose debut novel was initially rejected by British publishers for being ‘too African‘, has won one of the world’s richest literary prizes.

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, the winner of the 2014 Commonwealth short fiction prize from Uganda but now living in the UK, has won one of the Windham Campbell Prizes from Yale University in the US.

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‘Kintu’ by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

She will receive $165,000 (£119,000). The prize money is more than double the amount that the Booker Prize winner gets, and organizers say it’s the richest award dedicated to literature after the Nobel Prize. Makumbi’s debut novel Kintu was first published in Kenya four years ago after British publishers rejected it for being “too African”. It was finally released in the UK this January. In Ugandan culture, Kintu is a mythological figure who appears in a legend of the Baganda of Uganda as a creation myth. According to this legend, Kintu was the first person on earth, the father of all people. Although her book is not about this Kintu, it follows a family who believes that there is a curse on them which has followed them over several generations, spanning more than 250 years.

I loved Makumbi’s Commonwealth short story, and lived through the pain of her main character. Now I cannot wait to read her first book and regal in Ugandan history and culture.

Tutu, the African Mona Lisa?

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‘Tutu’ by Ben Enwonu (Source: CNN, Bonhams)

Tutu is what people have recently termed the African Mona Lisa. It is the portrait of a Yoruba princess made by the renowned Nigerian painter Ben Enwonwu. The brainchild of Enwonu, who created it during the aftermath of Nigeria’s bloody civil war, “Tutu” is the painting of an Ile Ife princess Adetutu Ademiluyi (“Tutu”); it is said that he met her as he was driving . It had disappeared right after being painted in 1974, and resurfaced over 40 years later in a flat in London.  On March 1st 2018, it fetched $1.6M in auction and has been celebrated by Nigerians around the world. The London auction house initially predicted a price tag of between £200,000 and £300,000 ($275,000 to $413,000), less than a quarter of the final bid. It sold for $1.6 million (£1,205,000), and has been dubbed the “African Mona Lisa.” So good to know that the princess whose painting it is, is still alive in Nigeria today, so maybe Mona Lisa may not be the appropriate name after all.

Please check out The Ben Enwonwu Foundation, and these articles on CNN (Ben Enwonwu’s ‘Tutu’ painting sells for $1.6M), BBC (Ben Enwonwu’s Nigerian masterpiece ‘Tutu’ sold at auction), and The Guardian (‘African Mona Lisa’ fetches £1.2m at auction in London). The Nigerian Booker prize-winning novelist Ben Okri said last month that “He [Ben Enwonu] wasn’t just painting the girl, he was painting the whole tradition. It’s a symbol of hope and regeneration to Nigeria, it’s a symbol of the phoenix rising.”

Equal Pay and the 2018 International Women’s Day

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Women marching in Spain for the International Women’s Day 2018 (Source: BBC)

Growing up, 8 March also known as International Women’s Day, was always a day of marches. Women will go on marches or parades wearing uniforms, celebrating women. But I never felt like there was a real follow-up to that day. It felt like just another day, or rather a day invented to act as if for once women’s issues were important. I don’t remember much, but it was always a colorful, happy day, with women parading, singing, even sometimes allowed a day off from work or house chores. I don’t remember men doing much except helping women celebrate that day with flows of alcohol in the evenings in bars, or some quick news flash about it, etc. So I was quite surprised and happy to see what the Spanish women did on 8 March this year: protesting and stopping work for the entire day throughout the entire country of Spain, protesting for equal payInternational Women’s Day: ‘Millions’ join Spain strikeMore than 5m join Spain’s ‘feminist strike’, unions saySpain grinds to a halt as millions of women join unprecedented strike. To me, it was beautiful! The entire country was crippled, with public transportation being affected, and even air flights delayed. In South Korea, I saw a picture of men marching alongside women demanding equal pay, and I was moved.

equal pay1The question of equal pay is a global or rather a human question. It does not just affect women, but men as well, and the entire society. Imagine a working couple with a family; imagine what that equal pay to the woman in that couple would do to that couple’s entire income? If women are paid 20% less than men, imagine what 20% more will do to the bills in a family, to the college funds for the kids, to the healthcare, and even to those long overdue family vacations? Now think about single household which are mostly held by women… 20% more is like a lifeline! It is everything! So we should all, men and women, fight for equal pay, instead of acting as if it was a female ‘thing’, because equal pay is a basic human need, and not doing it is an infringement on everybody’s rights out there! My salute to all those Spanish women, this is what International Women’s Day should be all about!