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

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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!

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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.

Why the name Zanzibar?

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Map of Tanzania including Zanzibar (Wikipedia)

Zanzibar is one of the main archipelago of Tanzania, and actually the name Tanzania comes from combining the names Tanganyika and Zanzibar. It is situated on the Swahili Coast, adjacent to Tanganyika (mainland Tanzania). Located in the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar consists of many small islands and two large ones: Unguja (the main island, referred to informally as Zanzibar) and Pemba. The capital is Zanzibar City, located on the island of Unguja. Its historic center, Stone Town, is a World Heritage Site. So why the name Zanzibar?

The name Zanzibar comes from the Arabic Zanjibār (زنجبار), which in turn comes from the Persian Zang-bār (زنگبار), a compound of Zang (زنگ, “Black“) + bār (بار, “coast, land, country“), name given by Persian navigators when they visited the area in the middle ages. So, in essence, Zanzibar means the “land of the Blacks” or “the land of the Black people,” or “the coast where Black people live.”

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Cloves

Traders from the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf region of modern-day Iran (especially Shiraz), and west India probably visited Zanzibar as early as the 1st century. Zanzibar was used as a base for voyages between the Middle East, India, and Africa. In the olden days, the archipelago was known as Spice islands, and was world famous for its cloves (see the article I wrote So much for that clove in your food!) and other spices.

Vasco da Gama‘s visit in 1498 marked the beginning of European influence. In 1503 or 1504, Zanzibar became part of the Portuguese Empire. Zanzibar remained a possession of Portugal for almost two centuries. In 1698, Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultanate of Oman. In 1832, or 1840, Said bin Sultan moved his capital from Muscat, Oman to Stone Town in Zanzibar City.

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Zanzibar slave market

Malindi in Zanzibar City was the Swahili Coast’s main port for the slave trade with the Middle East. In the mid-19th century, as many as 50,000 slaves passed annually through the port. Many became rich through the slave trade, such as the notorious Arab slave trader and ivory merchant, Tippu Tib. Today, there are still vestiges of old slave forts in Stone Town.

Until around 1890, the sultans of Zanzibar controlled a substantial portion of the Swahili Coast, known as Zanj, which included Mombasa and Dar es Salaam. Beginning in 1886, Great Britain and Germany plotted to obtain parts of the Zanzibar sultanate for their own empires. Over the next few years, however, almost all of these mainland possessions were lost to European imperial powers.

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Sultan Sayyid Abd Allah ibn Khalifa

In 1890 Zanzibar became a protectorate (not a colony) of Britain. This status meant it continued to be under the sovereignty of the Sultan of Zanzibar. From 1890 to 1913, traditional viziers were in charge; they were supervised by advisors appointed by the Colonial Office. However, in 1913 a switch was made to a system of direct rule through British governors. The death of the pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini on 25 August 1896 and the succession of Sultan Khalid bin Barghash, whom the British did not approve of, led to the Anglo-Zanzibar War, known as the shortest war in history lasting 38 minutes.

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The Harem and tower harbor of Zanzibar ca 1890

On 10 December 1963, the Protectorate that had existed over Zanzibar since 1890 was terminated by the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom did not grant Zanzibar independence, as such, because the UK had never had sovereignty over Zanzibar. Rather, by the Zanzibar Act 1963 of the United Kingdom, the UK ended the Protectorate and made provision for full self-government in Zanzibar as an independent country within the Commonwealth. Upon the Protectorate being abolished, Zanzibar became a constitutional monarchy under the Sultan. However, just a month later, on 12 January 1964 Sultan Jamshid bin Abdullah was deposed during the Zanzibar Revolution. The Sultan fled into exile, and the Sultanate was replaced by the People’s Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba. In April 1964, the republic merged with mainland Tanganyika. This United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar was soon renamed, blending the two names, as the United Republic of Tanzania, within which Zanzibar remains a semi-autonomous region.

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Beach of Zanzibar (Zanzibar.net)

Today, Zanzibar is world-renowned for its great tourism, with Stone town showing remnants of the ancient Swahili kingdom, and the melting pot of cultures (Persian, Arabic, Bantus, European), and its cloves. Enjoy the video below, and whenever you visit Zanzibar, remember that it is the Land of the Black people!

Why the name: Dar es Salaam?

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Dar es Salaam

I always thought that the name of the Tanzanian city Dar es Salaam had something to do with peace, since it made me think of the Arabic greeting As-salamu alaykum which means peace be upon you .  Great was my joy when I found out that it was indeed true.  Dar es Salaam means ‘the abode of peace‘ or ‘the house of peace.’

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Flag of Tanzania

Formerly Mzizima or ‘the healthy town‘ in Kiswahili, Dar es Salaam is Tanzania‘s largest and richest city today.  It is a regional important economic center.  In the 19th century, it was a coastal fishing village on the periphery of the Indian ocean trade routes.  In 1865, Sultan Majid bin Said of Zanzibar began building a city near Mzizima, and named it Dar es Salaam or harbor/haven of peace with Dar in Arabic meaning house, and es salaam meaning peace.  Dar es Salaam fell into decline after Sultan Majid’s death in 1870, but was revived in 1887 when the German East Africa Company established a station there.  The town’s growth was facilitated by its role as the administrative and commercial centre of German East Africa and industrial expansion resulting from the construction of the Central Railway Line in the early 1900s.

Map of Tanzania
Map of Tanzania

As Germany lost  World War I, German East Africa was captured by the British and from then on was referred to as Tanganyika.  Dar es Salaam was retained as the territory’s administrative and commercial centre.  Under British indirect rule, separate European (e.g., Oyster Bay) and African (e.g., Kariakoo and Ilala) areas developed at a distance from the city center. The town’s population also included a large number of south Asians.  After World War II, Dar es Salaam experienced a period of rapid growth  including political development with the formation of the Tanganyika African National Union or TANU which will lead Tanganyika to independence from British rule in 1961.

Dar es Salaam, once the capital of Tanzania, lost its status of capital city to Dodoma in 1974. Please enjoy the singer Momba who sings Dar es Salaam, and feel at peace in this haven.