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Maji Maji revolt

Years: 1905-1906
Battle deaths: 8,840 [1]

Nation(s) involved and/or conflict territory [note]
Germany, Tanzania

Published prior to 2013 | Updated: 2014-03-04 15:00:11
As a result of the so-called Scramble for Africa among the major European powers in the 1880s, Germany had ended up with several colonies on the "Dark Continent". These were German East Africa (currently Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and part of Mozambique), German Southwest Africa (present-day Namibia), Cameroon, and Togoland (today split between Ghana and Togo).

They had a relatively weak hold on German East Africa, but they did maintain a system of forts throughout the interior of the territory and were able to exert some control over it. Since their hold on the colony was weak, they resorted to using violently repressive tactics to control the population.

They began levying head taxes in 1898, and relied heavily on forced labour to build roads and accomplish various other tasks. In 1902 the governor also decided to force villages to grow cotton as a cash crop. Each village was charged with producing a common plot of cotton. The Headmen of the village were left in charge of overseeing the production; a position that left him vulnerable to criticism and rage from the population. The use of regular villagers, who had other things to do, to produce cotton was extremely unpopular across Tanzania. In many places the villagers simply refused to work the land, or refused payment.

These German policies were not only unpopular, they also had serious effects on the lives of Africans. The social fabric of society was being changed rapidly. Gender and social roles were being changed to face the needs of the communities. Since men were forced away from their homes to work, women were forced to assume some of the traditional male roles. Not only that, but the fact that men were away strained the resources of the village and the peoples’ ability to deal with their environment and remain self sufficient. These effects, combined with Germany’s violent forays into the area combined to create a lot of animosity against them amongst the people of the future Tanzania. In 1905 a drought threatened the region. This, combined with the animosity to German agricultural and labour policies, led to open rebellion against the Germans in July.

Some historians believe that Africans turned to magic to drive out the German colonizers and used it as a unifying force in the rebellion. A spirit medium named Kinjikitile Ngwale claimed to be possessed by a snake spirit called Hongo. Ngwale began calling himself Bokero and developed a belief that the people of German East Africa had been called upon to eliminate the Germans. He gave his followers war medicine that he said would turn German bullets into water. This "war medicine" was in fact water (maji in Swahili) mixed with castor oil and millet seeds. Empowered with this new liquid, Bokero’s followers began what would become known as the Maji Maji Rebellion. However, some historians believe that the use of maji water was in fact more agriculturally related, and that German observers misinterpreted its significance.

The rebellion

The followers of Bokero’s movement armed themselves rather poorly, fighting only with cap guns, spears, and arrows. However, wearing millet stalks around their foreheads, they started from the Matumbi Hills in the southern part of what is now Tanzania and attacked German garrisons throughout the colony. Nonetheless, the Germans used their superior firepower to their advantage. At Mahenge, several thousand Maji rebels (led by another spirit medium, not Bokero) marched on the German cantonment there and hundreds were cut down by machine gun fire.

While this was the apex of the Rebellion, the Ngoni people decided to join in the revolt with a force of 5,000. German troops, armed with machine guns, departed from Mahenge to the Ngoni camp, which they attacked on 21 October. The Ngoni soldiers retreated, throwing away their bottles of war medicine and crying, "The maji is a lie!" The Germans had succeeded in quenching the revolt.

Aftermath and interpretation

The Maji Maji Rebellion was the greatest affront to German colonial rule in Africa. The violence and ruthlessness of the German suppression changed the history of southern Tanzania. The native Africans had not previously seen such upheaval as occurred after the revolt. Tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people died or were displaced from their homes. In the wake of the rebellion, the imperial government instituted important administrative reforms.

Source: Wikipedia, published under the GNU FDL. Retrieved [dat]


Notes on fatalities

[1] Battle deaths: Correlates of War, Extra-State War Data v4.0. Matthew White: ~175,000 (excess deaths?)

More about sources


NOTE! Nation data for this war may be inconlusive or incomplete. In most cases it reflects which nations were involved with troops in this war, but in some it may instead reflect the contested territory.



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