Kinjikitile Ngwale, the Tanzanian Spiritual Leader Who Was Hanged for Leading a Rebellion Against German Colonial Rule

Kinjikitile “Bokero” Ngwale was a spiritual medium, from the Matumbi ethnic group native to southern Tanzania that led an armed rebellion of Islamic and animist Africans against German colonial rule in German East Africa (modern-day Tanzania) in 1905.

Kinjikitile Ngwale

After the Partitioning of Africa among the major European powers at the Berlin Conference of 1884, what followed was Germany reinforcing its hold on several of its formal African colonies. Especially German East Africa (Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and part of Mozambique).

Germany levied head taxes in 1898 and relied heavily on forced labor to build roads and accomplish various other tasks. In 1902, the Germans ordered villages to grow cotton as a cash crop for export. Each village was charged with producing a quota of cotton. The headmen of the village were left in charge of overseeing the production, which pitted them against the rest of the population.

The German policies were loathed, as they had serious psychological and physical effects on the lives of local peoples. The social fabric of society was being changed rapidly. The social roles of men and women 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 in the community.

In 1904, triggered mostly by German Colonial policies designed to force the indigenous population to labor and grow cotton as cash crops for export, the then relatively unknown Kinjikitile Ngwale disappeared from his home in Ngarambe. He returned after a few days and said that he had been possessed by a spirit medium called Hongo, believed to take the form of a snake.

Ngwale began calling himself “Bokero” and told anyone who was ready to listen that the people of German East Africa had been called upon to eliminate the Germans.

Kinjikitile claimed to have communicated with the deity Bokera through the spirit Hongo. He encouraged his followers to overlook tribal and religious differences and unite against the Germans who were actively tearing apart the social fabric that held their society together.

Kinjitkile’s reputation grew rapidly, drawing followers from the entire territory of German East Africa. He told his followers that their ancestors had commanded him to lead a rebellion against the German colonial empire. This helped start the Maji Maji Rebellion in July 1905.

Kinjikitile gave his people ‘Maji’ a sort of holy water to protect them from German bullets.

The followers of Bokero’s movement were poorly armed with spears and arrows. However, their confidence was high because they were numerous and believed that they could not be harmed because the Germans’ bullets wouldn’t penetrate them.

Initially the insurrectionists attacked small outposts and only damaged cotton plants but on 31 July 1905, Matumbi tribesmen marched on Samanga and destroyed the cotton crop as well as a trading post and also attacked the home of a local official.

Kinjikitile was arrested by German troops afterwards and hanged for treason.

Before his execution, Kinjikitile declared that he had spread the medicine of the rebellion throughout the region and that his people won’t rest until they were rid of the Germans.

Kinjikitile’s brother continued Kinjikitile’s work and the rebellion continued until 1907, with over 100,000 or 200-300,000 Africans killed in the German suppression of the revolt.

Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.

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