February 27 is memorable to the people of Songea, Tanzania, as it is on this day that German colonial rulers executed the leaders of the Maji Maji Rebellion one of Africa’s greatest wars of resistance, that was fought between 1905 and 1907.
The Maji Maji Rebellion went into the annals of history for the strategy and organisation of African fighters who believed in the superiority of their mystical powers against a heavily militarised German force. The fighters, drawn from the Songea people of southern Tanzania, also had fighters from the Ngoni, who had migrated north from southern Africa.
Though the resistance against the Germans began as early as July 1905, with leaders such as Abushiri of the Pangani, Mkwawa of the Uhehe and Sina of Moshi, the Maji Maji Rebellion was the last and the most memorable. The rebellion broke out in the Matumbi Hills, northwest of Kilwa, in 1905.
Today, the war memorial is found in a museum in Songea district, Ruvuma Region, 953km south of Dar es Salaam.
Just a kilometre from Songea city centre are the gallows at Mathenge Mashujaa village, five kilometres from the Songea airstrip, where the Ngoni fighters were hanged.
Besides the gallows is a raised stone with plaque inscribed with the names of the dead. There are 33 names of chiefs, sub-chiefs, headmen and ordinary citizens. It is believed that most of them were forcefully baptised prior to their execution, which explains the Christian names.
A few metres from the gallows, is the Makumbusho Museum, where one can see archived artefacts and other documents explaining the resistance.
Songea derived its name from chief Songea Lwafu Mbano, a Ngoni who led the resistance.
At the museum entrance in Mathenge village, a welcome sign reads “Karibu Makumbusho Ya Maji Maji” (welcome to the Maji Maji Memorial site). The entrance fee is $0.44 for Tanzanians and $1.12 for foreigners.
The two-storey building holds important historical documents, with the ground floor is taken up by Chief Kawawa’s memorial, holding an exhibition of his political life.
The Maji Maji exhibition is on the first floor, displayed in a series. Through a photography display, one learns of this great rebellion.
The old photographs tell a story of one of the root causes of the great rage, that sparked the Maji Maji resistance. For instance, for transport, the Germans used grown African men to carry them around in hammocks, however long the distance.
Also on display are images of the protagonists: Dr Karl Peters, Dr Karl Juhike and Joachim Graf, the key initiators of colonial rule.
Some of the portraits of the Maji Maji captives show how brutally they were treated. For instance they had huge iron rings attached to chains cuffing their necks and arms. The display further shows ruins of buildings, including churches, that were demolished during the war of resistance.
The exhibition also features weaponry used in the rebellion: The kinjenje (an axe), upinde na mshale (bow and arrow), chibonga (a club. There is an interesting collection that belonged to Masoudi, one of the Arab rulers then, and among the items are a rosary, an amulet, a snuff container and a bell. These items are believed to be over a century old.
In the gardens just outside this building is a mass grave, where the executed fighters were buried following two months of torture.
The grave holds over 68 bodies. A hundred metres away from this mass grave is that of Chief Songea Mbano. Unlike his fighters who were hanged, this Ngoni leader was tortured to death.