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The Maji Maji Revolt in Tanzania 1905-1907

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The Maji Maji revolt occurred between 1905 and 1907 in German East Africa which is present day Tanzania. It was an early rebellion to colonialism in this area.

Early on, the explorer Karl Peters tricked and persuaded chiefs to sign treaties with him in 1884 which were backed by the German and British governments. The Anglo German Agreement of 1886 split East Africa into German and British areas of control. Karl Peters’ German East Africa Company received the charter to operate in Tanganyika. The German East Africa Company made quick profits by using forced labor on plantations, forcing farmers to grow cash crops and using vicious forms of punishment similar to slavery in the Americas.

They were several revolts against this brutal form of colonialism including:

  • Coastal people resistance, 1888-1890
  • The Heche revolt, 1891-1892
  • The Nyamweze revolt, 1892-1893
  • Boma Massacre, 1897

For a few years, there was little to no resistance until the Maji Maji in 1905. It was one of the most successful anti-colonial revolts. More than 20 ethnic groups came together during the Maji Maji and almost a quarter of the German East African colony was in revolt during this time. They Ngoni used standard battlefield warfare while the Matumbi used guerilla warfare. The Matumbi has been forced to work on cotton plantations for the German East Africa Company.

Maji was a drink of water mixed with millet given to the warriors by the Kinjikitile before they went to fight. Some chiefs like Chief Kuwanga opposed the Maji Maji because they benefitted from colonialism. The Germans used jumbes or local chiefs who had the conflicting role of implementing German policy and trying to protect their people. One tribe, acting alone was not powerful enough to defeat the Germans; unity would be required among the tribes.

The uprising began July 1905 when the Pogoro refused to pick cotton and tore the cotton plants. The Maji attacked all the German symbols of power including: plantations, administration, missions, military and some jumbes who were working with the colonialists. Some of the early successes included:

  • The coastal town of Samanga was captured and burned
  • In September 1905the Ngoni joined the Maji Maji
  • The German Catholic Bishop Cassian Spiss and other priests were killed at Luwale
  • In Dar-es-Salaam, crops were burned causing panic in the city
  • The akidas were driven out of Kibata

After several attacks, the warriors switched to guerilla warfare tactics such as ambushes and surprise attacks. Women, children and resources were kept in caves to protect them. They would harvest and hide food in caves to starve the askaris (military police). In retaliation, the Germans also used a scotched earth policy which created mass starvation in Tanganyika. It was ultimately the technological gap that caused the defeat of the locals. Many warriors in the Maji Maji used old fashioned guns acquired during the slave trade which could only fire one bullet every 3 minutes compared to German machine guns that fired several bullets a second. As a result, only fifteen mostly German missionaries were killed while several thousands of Africans were killed. The effects of the Maji Maji were felt throughout Tanganyika.

  • Average fertility of a woman reduced by 25%.
  • 15 Germans died, 73 Askaris (black mercenary troops), 316 auxiliaries (black helpers) died.
  • It is estimated that over 50% of the Matumbi people died, and 75% of the Pangwa people died.
  • Western educated men replaced the traditional leaders.
  • About 100 Ngoni aristocrats were hanged.
  • The German government began discouraging settlers and plantations that had fueled the revolt.
  • Many began to switch from traditional beliefs to Christianity and Islam.
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