Chief of the Ngoni Chabruma

Name ID 1554

See also

Map and Guide to Tanzania
Page Number: 06e
Extract Date: 1905

the Maji Maji Rebellion

Convinced by powerful witch-doctors (waganga), the people believed that special water from the Uluguru Mountains protected men with magic by turning bullets into water (maji in Kiswahili, hence the Maji Maji Rebellion). The best known mganga was Kinjikitile of Ngarambe and 'drinking stations' were installed all over to allow local populations to benefit from this magic medicine, which was in fact not so much drunk as sprinkled all over the body.

After the first assault, the Ngoni overran the Perarniho German Mission and burned down all the buildings, avenging the destruction of their huts. Sustained battles lasting three to four weeks went on all over but the Maji Maji leaders were repeatedly defeated since the Germans had no scruples in using machine guns against the fighters, who like the Pogoro and Mbunga tribesmen convinced that the Maji Maji was giving them immunity against bullets - massively attacked Mahenge in great strength, but were relentlessly mown down in dreadful numbers.

The biggest united fight against the Germans took place under command of Chief Chabruma of the Ngoni at Lumecha, ten miles east of the fortified German Boma (Administrative Headquarters) but he was routed. He started a protracted guerilla warfare but pursued by German officers and engaging in a last desperate fight in June 1906 he was badly wounded and crossed the Ruvuma into Portuguese territory to take refuge at the court of Chief Mataka of the Yao. Recovering from his wounds and planning yet one more attack he was assassinated by a pretender to his succession. Some actions lasted until 1907 around Songea but Chabruma's assassination marked the end of the incredibly violent rebellion which left between 120,000 and 135,000 dead.

The entire south German East Africa was completely devastated and the political power and economic structure of the Ngoni totally destroyed. District Commissioner Captain Richter applied a scorched earth policy and by confiscating food, provoked a two year-long famine and massive depopulation and emigration. His extreme policy came under severe criticism from those same missionaries who ten years earlier had been one of the main causes of the uprising and they now succeeded in having him relieved from his post.

Meanwhile and between March and September 1906, all the leaders of the Maji Maji Rebellion were hanged. Chief Songea, who gave his name to the town, was offered a reprieve from the death sentence because he had surrendered: he demanded to be and was hanged, fearing that his survival would be considered a treacherous act.

The Maji Maji War in Ungoni by 0.B Mapunda and G.P Mpagnala, published in 1968, documents this period with a wealth of detail and anecdotes.

Extract ID: 4027
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