Monday, November 26, 2012


This is a short history of Mtwa Mkwavinyika Munyigumba Mwamuyinga (1855-19th July 1898)

The Tanganyikan interior in the latter half of the nineteenth century was in a state of chaotic flux. Incursions by
Arab slave traders from the coast had disrupted the balance of power between clans and tribes, while the militaristic Ngoni tribe's invasion in the south had triggered several mass migrations. This uncertain climate provided ideal soil on which opportunistic leaders such as Chief Mirambo of the Nyamwezi could plant their own personal kingdoms.

Another leader who emerged triumphantly from this confusion was a Hehe chief named Mtwa Mkwawa Mwamnyika ("Conqueror of Many Lands"), better known as
Chief Mkwawa. Born near Kalenga in 1855, Mkwawa's ambitious character was well suited to his time. By 1889, he had become undisputed leader of the Hehe, whom he made the region's dominant tribe by uniting – though force or diplomacy – more than one hundred clans and smaller tribes. It was not just numbers, but regimented military organization that formed the basis of Hehe power, and which gave Mkwawa the ability to stem the hitherto inexorable southward advance of the Maasai. Mkwawa also began to threaten Arab control over the lucrative slave and ivory-carrying caravan routes that passed through his territory, though declining Arab power meant that it was not against the sultans of Zanzibar that the showdown eventually came, but against the German colonial war machine.

At first, Mkwawa tried to secure treaties with the Germans, but when they refused, the Hehe turned their arms against the arrogant newcomers. On August 17, 1891, a year after the Germans had placed a garrison in Iringa, Mkwawa's troops surrounded and ambushed a German expeditionary force led by Lieutenant Emil von Zelewski in the
Lugalo Hills east of Iringa, killing nearly five hundred soldiers and capturing a vast quantity of firearms and munitions. Only two German officers and fifteen men escaped.

This is one story that has not been properly retold.

Chief Mkwawa lured Zeweleskis troops that were advancing on Mkwawas villages, pillaging,torching village huts and killing resistant young warriors.

A perfect pincer movement, whereby a retreating warrior force attracted a well armed German regiment under Zeweleski.

To the surprise of the German force the warrior force as if by instinct came o a stand still and started to fight back while two flans of spear wielding warriors attacked on the main body of the German force. And it worked.

On the 17th August 1891 the German force was annihilated, ten German officers lay dead including the commanding officer Lt Emil von Zeweleski.

Mkwawas forces gave chase, about 300-400 crack warriors, and the Germans did not stop until after covering over 400km and rested at Kondoa.

Mkwawa was no fool, and anticipated German revenge – by building a thirteen-kilometre, four-metre high wall around his palace and military base at
Kalenga. The Germans took their time to reorganize, and it wasn't until October 1894 that they made their move, establishing themselves on a hill overlooking Kalenga, now the site of Tosamaganga, and beginning a two-day bombardment of Kalenga (the name tosamaganga means to "throw stones"). On October 30, 1894, the Germans under Tom von Prince stormed and took Kalenga with relative ease. The extent of Mkwawa's wealth can be gauged by the fact that it took four hundred porters to carry all his ivory away. The Germans also found 30,000 pounds of gunpowder, which they used to level the town. For Mkwawa, the loss of Kalenga was a double tragedy, since his mother – who had been told that her son had been captured – committed suicide.

In fact, Mkwawa escaped into the forests west of Kalenga, from where he waged a four-year
guerrilla war against the Germans. He was finally cornered in 1898, having been betrayed by informants attracted by a five-thousand-rupee reward. Rather than surrender, he shot his bodyguard, and then himself. The Germans, arriving on the scene shortly after, placed another shot into Mkwawa's head just to be sure, then severed it. The chief's headless body was buried by his family at Mlambalasi, 12km south of the road to Ruaha National Park, while his skull was sent on to Berlin and then on to the Bremen Anthropological Museum. There it remained until 1954, when it was finally returned to the Hehe – it's now the star exhibit of Kalenga's Mkwawa Memorial Museum.
Mkwawa's death marked the end of two decades of resistance to German rule across Tanganyika, and the end of the Hehe Empire, but the ensuing peace was short-lived. Seven years on, the Maji Maji Uprising erupted.

This year about 111 years ago, Mtwa Mkwawa must be remembered as a hero worth emulating