Majimaji uprising was called so because of the magic water (Maji ya Uzima in swahilli) used by the army which was believed to neutralise German bullets. Majimaji uprising has been considered by historians as the largest uprising against German colonial rule in Tanganyika. Maji-Maji is a Swahili word which loosely means magic water.
At first the water was believed to neutralise the bullets. It was commonly used by Prophet Kinji Kiteli of the Matumbi. He had a belief that if the Africans sprinkled their bodies with magic water, it would turn German bullets harmless. This inspired people to rise up against the bad German administration.
Maji-Maji uprising started among the people of river Rufigi valley but later it spread southwards from Songea to Lindi and from Dar-es-salaam to Kilosa in the North. The most active societies included the Matumbi, the Wangindo, the Ngoni, Uluguru, the Kichi, people of Lukuledi valley, Mahenge plateau, Kilombero valley and Uzaramo. Some societies which had already experienced uprising and defeat like the Hehe, the Chagga and Nyamwezi did not join the fighting.
Causes of the Maji-Maji uprising
Organisation of the Maji Maji uprising
- Colonialism was one of the major causes of uprising. People of Tanganyika hated the German administration and therefore wished to regain their lost political independence.
- Heavy taxation policy was one of the causes of the uprising. The people of Tanganyika generally hated the German imposition of heavy taxation policies.
- This was worsened by the harsh and brutal methods of tax collection for example those who failed to pay were severely tortured, imprisoned and their property was confiscated. Men were forced to move long distances looking for ivory, rubber, honey, wax to pay taxes.
- Loss of fertile Land also led to the uprising. The Africans wished to regain their better-lost lands. The Germans had grabbed the better lands in Rufigi valley, Kilombero, Lukuledi, Mahenge plateau hence the Africans had been pushed to remote and unfavourable areas.
- Majimaji uprising was also caused by forced labour. The Africans were forced to work on German construction projects like buildings, road, and railway networks as well as crop plantation. Therefore the people of Tanganyika hated these forced labour policies. The methods of supervision were even too harsh for example they worked for long hours and they were paid little or no wages and could become severely beaten for not working.
- Use of foreigners caused the Majimaji uprising. The Germans used the Akidas and Jumbes who made their system so unpopular among the Africans. These were Arabs and Swahili chiefs who were imposed on the Africans communities to collect taxes and to mobilise labour for the Germans. These people were too harsh hence mistreated the Africans.
- The need to maintain traditional customs resulted into the Majimaji uprising. The German colonial administration did not have respect for the African traditional religions. Above all, the Matumbi and Wagindo blamed the German mercenaries and house-boys for raping their wives and daughters. This behaviour was abominable in African culture where parents valued the good discipline the families.
- The effective leadership and organisation abilities of prophet Kinji kiteli inspired the Matumbi and the Wagindo to rebel. He even inspired high morale and fighting spirit in his followers by sprinkling magic water on people’s bodies before going to war.
- The Maji-Maji uprising was also sparked off by the establishment of the large white cotton schemes in southern Tanganyika. People were forced against their will to work on the plantations yet under poor conditions and even the soils were not good. Hence forth, people were discouraged by the poor harvest.
- Heavy and corporal punishments also caused the Majimaji uprising. People hated harsh punishments the Germany administrators inflicted on them for example public flogging was considered disrespectful especially to the grown ups and men of integrity in the presence of their wives and children.
- Africans were forced to grow cotton, people disliked it because of the following reasons: Firstly, cotton picking was too tiresome and boring as it had to be protected from wild pigs and birds. Secondly, cotton took long to grow so people took long to get the benefits and because of that people failed to produce foods hence famine occurred. Thirdly, Africans were paid poorly for their cotton harvests.
- The cotton crop in 1905 registered poor harvest and people were not paid at all for their labour. This created discontent.
- The coastal people hated competition with the Germans over trade in ivory and other goods.
- Africans hated Christianity which conflicted with the traditional customs. The colonialists introduced Christianity that appeared more
- Presence of magic waters gave a lot of false confidence to the Africans to declare an uprising.
- Finally, German leaders forcefully took African women and girls as their wives. Women contracted Sexually Transmitted Diseases from Germans. This was absolutely disgusting to African men.
Consequences of the uprising
- The war involved a diversity of tribes and a large area stretching from Dar-el-salaam to Kilosa in the North and from Lindi to Songea in the south. The Maji-Maji uprising began in 1905 and ended in 1907. The leadership and organisation of the Africans was centred on the efforts of prophet Kinji kiteli Ngwale of Kolelo Snake cult.
- This prophet started being prominent in 1904. He had his base at Nagarembe. There was a pool on a tributary of the river Rufigi. The prophet was possessed by a spirit called Hongo that lived in the pool. They started to distribute maji ya uzima – water of life as it was the medicine among the Pogoro, Matumbi, Zaramo and Ugoni.
- The prophet started teaching people near his home area Ngarambe about the use of magic water. Eventually his teachings spread among the people living around the Rufigi valley and taught people about the use of a secret communication from one person to another at Ngarambe. This was a whispering campaign called “Njwiywilla” or “Jufila”. He also convinced the people that the ancestral spirits had not died. Hence they would protect the people during war.
- By early 1905, people were making pilgrimages to Ngarambe where Prophet Kinji Kiteli gave them the medicine against German guns and committed them to war. The medicine consisted of a mixture of millet flour in water and was smeared on the forehead of each fighter.
- The uprising was started by the chief and medicine men of the Pogoro and Gindo. Later, it spread to other areas like from Dar-es-salaam to Kilosa in the North. This was sparked off by the establishment of the cotton plantation schemes. It took the Germans by surprise and a lot of property was destroyed.
- The worst uprising was began by the Matumbi on 31st July 1905. The people rose against the Akidas and all the foreigners of the district.
- On 2nd August, 1905 the coastal town of Samanga near Kilwa was burnt to the ground. Many traders and government employees were murdered in many areas.
- The uprising spread quickly east wards and Northwards. Soon the Matumbi were joined by other tribes namely the Bena, Ngoni, Mpuga, Pogoro, Zaramo, Luguru, Wagindo and other small communities against the Germans.
- On 30th August, there was a series of joint African attacks on the German fort at Mahanga but the Africans were driven off with heavy losses. In September 1905, the German imperial government sent re-enforcement. The German military techniques and machine guns weakened African resistance. Maji-Maji soldiers turned to guerrilla tactics of fighting.
- With German further re-enforcement, the African unity was broken down area by area and the uprising was finally suppressed in 1907. Many of its leaders such as Kinji-kiteli and Mputagama were executed
The consequences of the Maji-Maji uprising were social, political and economic in nature. Some of them were positive but generally many of them were negative.
- MajiMaji led to heavy depopulation of southern Tanganyika. Many people lost their lives during and after the uprising while others were crippled permanently. About 75,000 people were estimated dead.
- A lot of property was destroyed during the uprising for example cotton plants on German farms were uprooted and destroyed. A lot of buildings occupied by Germans in coastal town of Samanga were burnt to the ground. The Germans also burnt the villages of the Matumbi, Wagindo and the Ngoni.
- Insecurity disrupted economic activities in southern Tanganyika. Trade and commerce could not prosper anymore. People deserted their homes and agriculture. It eventually led to severe famine and increased death rates.
- Confidence in African traditional chiefs was lost especially the medicine-men and prophet Kinji Kiteli because their tactics had failed. Many Africans lost lives because the magic water could not protect them against the German bullets.
- The German colonial government learnt a lot from the uprising. A new Governor Rechenburg was appointed to Tanganyika. He introduced administrative and economic reforms such as abolishing forced labour, relaxed taxes and appointed Africans to administrative posts.
- The Africans equally learnt a lot from the uprising. They realised that the Germans were better organised and militarily superior to them. They discovered the mistakes in their organisation hence rather than fight, they resorted to use of diplomacy and negotiations with the Germans. It took long before Africans picked up arms to fight the Germans again.
- The Africans generally lost in their wars of resistance to the Germans. The German colonial administration reinforced its military force for effective security, law and order. Thus African societies were finally colonised.
- The uprising also gave birth and inspired future nationalism in Tanganyika. The mistakes of the early revolutionary leaders and the poor methods of organisation were later corrected to give the people of Tanganyika more effective leadership for example leaders like Julius Nyerere gained a lot from the failure of Maji-Maji uprising. He used these lessons to form a national political party called TANU. It was this TANU that finally led Tanganyika to independence.
- Also the scotched earth policy used by the Germans caused permanent destruction of civilian farms and livestock.
- The Germans proved winners because of their superior weaponry.
- Other changes such as abolition of public flogging granting freedom of Africans were introduced. Taxation policies were relaxed, schools were built for Africans and many native chiefs were encouraged to send their children to school.
- Germans started to use a system of indirect rule that was similar to that of the British. The African chiefs were allowed to rule their people with the advise and supervision from the Germans.
- Many leaders of the uprising were hanged and those who managed to escape ran to Mozambique