First Lieutenant Georg Küster

Name ID 1282

See also

Spear, Thomas Mountain Farmers, Moral Economies of Land and Agricultural Development in Arusha and Meru
Page Number: 078
Extract Date: 1900-1916

Boma and Chiefs: 1900-1916

The boma that Meru and Arusha were forced to build in 1900 was a solid statement of the imposition of a new political and moral order. Set on a small hill at the base of Mount Meru, the fortress-like building faced out over the plains below. One approached along a 'fine wide road, equal to a well-kept highway in England', that was `carefully marked off in kilometres', the adventurer John Boyes noted on a visit in 1903.

"The road led to a place called Arusha, and as we approached it we came to our astonishment in sight of a truly marvellous building, erected in European style and surrounded by a moat....

The boma was a one-storey building of stone and mortar, with a huge tower in the centre and the whole glistened bright in the sunlight, like an Aladdin's Palace transported from some fairy-land and dropped down in the heart of the tropics. Emblazoned on the front of the tower were the Royal Arms of Germany, which could be seen nearly a mile off....

The station was walled off and, being furnished with a Maxim and a machine gun, made a formidable stronghold...."

Standing in the midst of the 'lush plantations of the Waarusha', one approached the fort along a wide straight path and entered through a heavy stone portal into an open courtyard, surrounded by stone walls, with a square, flat-topped tower in the centre and Swahili-type houses arrayed along the back wall. Boyes was impressed by the amenities:

"Water from neighbouring gullies was laid on throughout the building, and a plentiful supply was available for all purposes. Water-power was used for driving a lathe in the workshop, and the officer had a staff of trained Natives. The wood-work especially was particularly well done. Even the tiles on the roof were made by the Natives, and the building was made entirely from local material. The inside of the station was paved with stone; the living rooms were fitted with electric bells; and Herr Küster said he hoped to install electric light at an early date."

The town itself lay below the boma and consisted of some thirty Indian, Greek, and Arab shops selling cloth, trinkets, soap, enamelled plates and bowls, beads, and copper wire. One even had a sewing machine out front and produced jackets and trousers for the German soldiers and 'more progressive natives'. Boyes found:

"Everything about Arusha was equally surprising, the streets being well laid out with fine side-walks, separated from the road by a stream of clear water flowing down a cemented gullyway. We had discovered a real oasis in the wilderness. The township was spotlessly clean and we saw Natives with small baskets picking up any litter lying about, as though the place were the Tiergarten of Berlin and not the wild interior of the Dark Continent....

Attached to the fort was a splendid kitchen garden in which grew almost every kind of European vegetable, and next to that a coffee plantation)."

The German administration, like the boma, was built on solid military lines meant to impress. German military officers served as both local commanders and district officers, alternately administering and punishing their unruly subjects. Mount Meru had been administered, largely by means of punitive raids, by Captain Johannes from Moshi. With the completion of the boma in 1901, colonial troops were garrisoned in Arusha under the command of First Lieutenant Georg Küster, and Arusha remained under military rule until the general transfer to civilian administration throughout Tanganyika in 1906. Even under civil rule, however, district officers continued to wield considerable power in the exercise of their authority, and they did so largely free of troublesome constraints imposed by the central government. Few remained in Arusha long enough to gain much of an understanding of the local situation. Eleven district officers served an average of sixteen months each during the period of German rule from 1901 to 1916.

German officers ruled through local Arusha and Meru leaders, but in the aftermath of the mass hangings of 1900 they had difficulty identifying likely leaders and persuading them to serve. The Germans initially chose Masengye (1900-01), a son of former Mangi Matunda (1887-96), to replace his executed brother, Lobolu (1896— 1900), as Meru chief, but Masengye was deposed and imprisoned within a year for murder (see Table 4.1: Meru Mangi). Abandoning the royal Kaaya clan for a nominee viewed as a more reliable collaborator, the Germans then appointed Nyereu (1901-02) from the Nasari clan, but he too was soon imprisoned, allegedly for neglecting his duties and procuring girls for German soldiers. The Germans finally found the nominee they had been seeking when they appointed Sambegye (1902-25), a member of the Nanyaro clan and favoured neighbour of the missionaries newly re-installed at Nkoaranga. Sambegye prospered as chief, taking ten wives by 1905, and he continued as chief until 1925. He soon ceased being a mission favourite, however, and in 1905 Rev. Krause complained that his overt friendliness was but a mask for covert opposition: 'How could it possibly be otherwise! His friends are beer and women, and he knows these do not mix with the new teachings.'

Arusha, unlike Meru, had no tradition of chiefdom, so the Germans appropriated the tradition of regional spokesmen (laigwenak) that had first emerged during the warriors' raids of the 1850s, and called them Mangi after the Meru term for chief.15 Having hanged Maraai and Rawaito, the spokesmen from Boru (upper Arusha) and Burka (lower Arusha) respectively, however, they had to find replacements. The new Arusha spokesman for Burka was Ndasikoi, but the Germans also wished to reward their Afro-Arab ally, Saruni, and so they split Burka between the two men (see Table 4.2: Arusha Mangi/ Olkarsis). Both men remained in office for the duration of German rule. Sabaya (1900-11) was appointed in Boru and served until his death, when he was replaced by his eldest son Leshabar (1911-16). Arusha opposed Leshabar and burned down his home, however, forcing the administration to replace him with Lairumbe (1916-33), a wealthy cattle trader associated with the Lutheran mission.

The Germans also appointed local headmen to rule over individual districts below the chiefs. In Meru, these came initially from the ranks of local lineage or clan leaders (vashili), who normally were chosen by local clan members to mediate disputes among them and represent their interests with other clans and the mangi. Vashili became increasingly dependent on the administration, however, as they became encumbered with the unpopular tasks of raising labour and taxes.

In accord with differences in local Arusha politics, headmen were initially drawn from the ranks of local age-set spokesmen (laigwenak) chosen by their age-mates to mediate internal disputes and to represent their interests with other sets. As in Meru, however, their traditional legitimacy quickly broke down before the illegitimate nature of the tasks they were asked to assume by the authorities. Thereafter, headmen, like chiefs, increasingly became drawn from an emerging group of younger men associated with either the government or the mission.'7

While there is no direct evidence to assess the impact of these changes on the nature of local leadership in Arusha and Meru, we can place them within the context of Arusha. While neither society had a tradition of strong central authority, the military successes and increasing wealth of the warriors during the 1880s and early 1890s enhanced their status and power while eroding whatever authority the mangi in Meru or the logwenak in Arusha had possessed previously. German conquest and rule reversed this process, for not only did Talala's crushing defeat in 1896-7 damage their self-confidence and reputation, as shown by their disintegration in 1900 but, more critically, the warriors lost nearly all their cattle as well as the means to replenish them. As power and wealth shifted to chiefs and headmen appointed by the administration, the influence of the warriors continued to wane. No future Arusha age-set attained the fame of Talala; joint activities by Arusha and Meru warriors ceased; and Meru slowly withdrew from the Maasai age-set system altogether until they refused to join with Arusha to initiate Terito in the mid-1920s.

Chiefs and headmen appointed by the Germans after 1900 saw their potential power and influence increase as a result of their newly institutionalized authority, their support from the colonial administration, and their ability to use their new-found power to gain wealth. At the same time as power and status were shifting from the warriors to the chiefs, the means of attaining them were also shifting from criteria based on age, respect, wealth in cattle and bananas, and the size of one's following to those based on education, affiliation with the government and mission, and wealth gained from wages.

While the means of achieving power were changing, the ways in which it was deployed through wealth in cattle and social investments were frequently similar, thus obscuring the more fundamental changes taking place under the surface of Arusha and Meru social relations. Chiefs became known for their large cattle herds and number of wives and, following the bumper harvest of 1907, there was a spate of 'ox-hangings' around the mountain as wealthy men competed to see who could distribute the most meat to their friends and followers so that they might be 'lauded by the people'.° Such changes were gradual at first, scarcely noticeable during much of the German period, but they would become more prominent in the years to come.

Chiefs' newly-enhanced power and status did not come without costs, however. Chiefs and headmen were frequently unpopular with their followers as they became increasingly answerable to their German patrons, losing their own legitimacy in the process. Just as the Germans quickly abandoned appointing Meru chiefs from the royal Kaaya clan, so all chiefs came to owe their office to the whim of the government rather than to whatever influence or status they possessed locally. Increasingly, one's patrons became more important than one's clients, as chiefs came to have a share in the power of others, rather than exercising it on their own.

The German administration, like the conquest that had established it, was viewed as harsh and unjust by Meru and Arusha. They called Lt Küster Bwana Fisi', or Mr Hyena. The missionaries thought that his successor, Baron Ludwig Friedrich von Reitzenstein, was 'kindly' and 'well-disposed toward the natives', respected by them because he allowed `no idling or disobedience from his chiefs or their underlings', held court according to local custom while making 'sure it was not spoiled by the long-windedness of the natives', and successfully built roads without resorting to the feared kiboko (whip).'' The missionaries' notion of respect gained by the firm exercise of authority was not the same as that held by Arusha and Meru, however, who objected to the continued use of corvée (unpaid labour) for public works, the collection of taxes, the corruption of chiefs and, most of all, the seizure of precious land for South African and German settlers. In their exercise of unfettered power and their continued reliance on military force and coerced labour, German officials must not have appeared to be very different from the predatory trading chiefs who had preceded them elsewhere in the Pangani Valley.

Extract ID: 5653

See also

Spear, Thomas Mountain Farmers, Moral Economies of Land and Agricultural Development in Arusha and Meru
Page Number: 079
Extract Date: 1903

Arusha Boma and "Bwana Fifi" (Herr Kuster)

J Boyes, Company of Adventurers

Extract ID: 5649

See also

The starting point for the new face of Arusha
Page Number: 1
Extract Date: 1903

Origins of the Boma

"The road led to a place called Arusha, and as we approached it we came to our astonishment in sight of a truly marvelous building, erected in European style and surrounded by a moat", wrote English adventurer, John Boyes about the beginnings of the town he saw in 1903.

"The Boma was a one-storey building of stone and mortar, with a huge tower in the centre and the whole glistened bright in the sunlight, like an Aladdin’s Palace transported from some fairyland and dropped down in the heart of the tropics. Emblazoned on the front of the tower were the royal arms of Germany, which could be seen nearly a mile off."

"The Boma had been built on a small hill at the base of Mount Meru facing the plains. Below the town were about 30 Indian, Greek and Arab shops selling cloth, trinkets, soap, enameled plates, bowls, beads and copper wire. One shop even had a sewing machine and produced jackets and trousers for the German soldiers and "more progressive natives."

In this 1903 description of early Arusha, Boyes wrote that one approached the Boma along a "fine wide road, equal to a well-kept highway in England" that was "carefully marked off in kilometres.

"Everything about Arusha was equally surprising, the streets being laid out with fine side-walks, separated from the road by a stream of clear water flowing down a cemented gully-way. We had discovered a real oasis in the wilderness.

"The township was spotlessly clean and we saw natives with small baskets picking up any litter lying about, as though the place were the Tiergarten in Berlin and not the wild interior of the Dark Continent."

The German Boma was completed in 1901 and Arusha remained under rigid German military rule until five years later. It had been built as a military fort with a mounted Maxim machine gun. The first commander was First Lieutenant Georg Kuster derogatorily referred to in Swahili as "Bwana Fisi" meaning "Mr. Hyena".

Those "natives", as Boyes called the Waarusha and Wameru, had in fact been made to build the Boma as a punishment. Spears had been turned into digging tools; shields served as crude wheelbarrows. Swords were used to cut down trees, young women and children forced to carry thatching material, older men and women given the task of stamping barefoot on wet mud to join the stones during construction.

Extract ID: 3395

See also

Boyes, John (ed. Mike Resnick) Company of Adventurers
Page Number: 117a
Extract Date: 1903

Approaching Arusha

After leaving Kilimanjaro we were astonished to come upon a fine wide road, equal to a well-kept highway in England. Such a road as this, in the depths of uncivilized Africa, was the last thing one would expect to find. My men knew of it, and said fearfully that we were coming to the boma of Bwana Fisi, which means "Mr. Hyena," of whom they were evidently in great fear. We were not sure, being English, what sort of a reception awaited us, but we could not help admiring the man who had been able to build such a fine road, carefully marked off in kilometers. The road led to a place called Arusha, and as we approached it we came to our astonishment in sight of a truly marvelous building, erected in European style and surrounded by a moat. Everything about Arusha was equally surprising, the streets being well laid out with. fine side-walks, separated from the road by a stream of clear water flowing down a cemented gully-way. We had discovered a real oasis in the wilderness. The township was spotlessly clean and we saw Natives with small baskets picking up any litter lying about, as though the place were the Tiergarten of Berlin and not the wild interior of the Dark Continent.

Extract ID: 3604

See also

Boyes, John (ed. Mike Resnick) Company of Adventurers
Extract Author: Dinner at the Boma
Page Number: 118
Extract Date: 1903


After pitching our camp we went across to the boma and introduced ourselves to the officer in charge, who struck me as the living image of "Captain Kettle." He was a trim, dapper little man with a pointed red beard, who looked-and was-a stern disciplinarian. He had certainly accomplished wonderful results. The boma was a one-storey building of stone and mortar, with a huge tower in the center, and the whole glistened bright in the sunlight, like an Aladdin's Palace transported from some fairy-land and dropped down in the heart of the tropics. Emblazoned on the front of the tower were the Royal Arms of Germany, which could be seen nearly a mile off.

Lieutenant Kuster, as this officer in charge of the station was named, very kindly showed us round, and we were amazed at the ingenious devices adopted by this enterprising military pioneer. Water from neighboring gullies was laid on throughout the building, and a plentiful supply was available for all purposes. Water-power was used for driving a lathe in the workshop, and the officer had a staff of trained Natives. The woodwork especially was particularly well done. Even the tiles on the roof were made by the Natives, and the building was made entirely from local material. The inside of the station was paved with stone; the living-rooms were fitted with electric bells; and Herr Kuster said he hoped to install electric light at an early date. The station was walled off and, being furnished with a Maxim and a machine gun, made a formidable stronghold. Attached to the fort was a splendid kitchen garden in which grew almost every kind of European vegetable, and next to that a coffee plantation. A market was held not far from the boma, and in the town itself were about thirty Indian and Arab stores.

Lieutenant Kuster entertained us most hospitably and invited us to dinner, which was served in a very comfortable dining-room, furnished in European style with furniture made by the Natives. The various dishes were passed through an opening in the wall, and as each course was finished our host made a sign which was well understood by the Native servants who went about their duties without a word. Everything was done with military precision, and it was evident that the Natives stood in awe of their master, which accounted for the title he has earned of Bwana Fisi.

Extract ID: 3591

See also

Boyes, John (ed. Mike Resnick) Company of Adventurers
Page Number: 128a
Extract Date: 1903

Getting rid of Bwana Fisi

Next morning Natives brought the rather surprising news that Lieut. Kuster had left Arusha, and I quickly noticed the change in the manner in which they spoke of him. Little boys who had been afraid to utter his name before, now ridiculed him and boasted of how they had got rid of Bwana Fisi. They had been in terror of him, and they rejoiced at his departure.

Extract ID: 3607
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