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Kinjeketile and the Maji Maji rebellion

April 23, 2018

Kinjeketile Ngwale claimed to be a spirit medium. He defied the German colonialists in Tanganyika, unleashed an uprising and gave the people with 'sacred water' which they believed would keep them from harm.

Illustrationen of Kinjeketile
Image: Comic Republic

Kinjeketile and the Maji-Maji rebellion

When did Kinjeketile live? Little is known about Kinjeketile's childhood and upbringing. Although there is uncertainty about his year of birth, we know that he was born in Ngarambe, Matumbi in Tanganyika, now part of Tanzania. He was hanged for treason in August 1905 by German colonial officials.

What is Kinjeketile famous for? He is said to have been possessed by a spirit known as Hongo. According to the legend, Hongo appeared in the form of a snake which dragged Kinjeketile under water. When he emerged 24 hours later he was not wet at all. From this moment on, he started prophesying.

Kinjeketile's biggest achievement was uniting different ethnic groups in and even beyond the region against a common enemy, the German colonial administration. He thus stirred the first embers of nationalism in Tanganyika.

He is seen as the initiator of the Maji Maji war, even though he himself died shortly after the uprising started. The Maji Maji war lasted from 1905 until 1907 and was one of the biggest wars against colonial powers in Africa.

Kinjeketile and the Maji-Maji rebellion

What is Kinjeketile criticized for? He is blamed for leading the people to their death by telling them that the sacred water, or maji in Kiswahili, he discovered would protect them from the bullets of the Germans, which it didn't. It is estimated that between 180,000 and 300,000 people died during the Maji Maji war as a result of the fighting and hunger, partly caused by the destruction of crops and farmland by the colonialist. The local population was reduced by a third.

Who was inspired by Kinjeketile? In 1969, the Tanzanian playwright Ebrahim Hussein published his play "Kinjeketile" based on the historic figure and the Maji Maji war. He was one of many who hailed Kinjeketile's spirit of uniting the people against oppression.

James Muhando, Hawa Bihoga and Gwendolin Hilse contributed to this package. It is part of DW's special series "African Roots," dedicated to African history, a cooperation with the Gerda Henkel Foundation.