Where evidence of German colonial brutality is buried

Saturday November 25 2023

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laying a wreath of flowers at the grave of the hanged Maji Maji fighters. PHOTO | COURTESY


In October, Germany President Frank-Walter Steinmeier toured Tanzania and part of his itinerary was a visit to the Maji Maji Memorial Museum, the burial site of locals executed by Germany colonial agents in Songea during the famous Maji Maji Rebellion.

The German leader asked for forgiveness for the killings, torture and atrocities of the colonial administration in Tanzania.

Some 66 local chiefs and men opposed to the rule of German East Africa, as the Tanzania colony was known then, were hanged on February 27, 1906 then buried in a mass grave.

"I would like to ask for forgiveness for what Germans did to your ancestors here," Mr Steinmeier said at the museum, where he laid a wreath.

Read: German president faces colonial past on Tanzania trip

The Maji Maji Museum has preserved the brutal history of colonised Tanzania. It takes 14 hours to travel by bus from Dar es Salaam to Songea, covering about 1,100 kilometres through the southern route via Lindi, Masasi, Tunduru and Namtumbo. It costs Tsh 62,000 ($25) one way.


Novatus Komba, a guide at the museum explains to visitors how German soldiers shot people just to show how powerful their guns were.
Among the local fighters buried there was a woman, Khadija Mkomanile. Apparently, the hangman had to be forced to kill her by his superiors who convinced him she was one of the local leaders (Nduna) who organised attacks against the Germans.

Mr Komba says the Germans baptised her and named her Hyasinta before she was hanged, just like the men, some of whom were even Muslim.

The spread of Christianity and education was part of the German agenda in the southern highlands of Tanzania and other areas they settled but they faced attacks from the locals, who were partly sponsored by Arab slave traders from the Coast.

Read: OBBO: Visiting Germany, UK, confronted but didn’t slay colonial monsters in EA

On August 14, 1905, Maji Maji fighters attacked a small party of German missionaries walking from Kilwa to Ruvuma on a mission to spread Christianity. The missionaries were on their way from Kilwa to their newly established Catholic Mission at Peramiho. Among the dead were Reverend Cassian Spiss, the first Roman Catholic bishop of Dar es Salaam, a brother and four sisters.

Bishop Spiss was the founder of the present Peramiho Mission in Songea, where he had arrived from Zanzibar at the end of July 1898 to establish a Catholic church, the first Christian faith house in Ruvuma region.

As a result, the Germans rounded up the leaders and their fighters and hanged 66. The principal sub-chief, Songea Luwafu Mbano, from whom Songea town derives its name, went on the run but was captured later, then hanged and buried in a separate grave at the same site, making the victims 67.

Locals had guided the German soldiers to the Chandamali caves, where Songea was hiding while organising and setting up operations against the colonialists.

Read: Economic mission or pilgrimage to colonial-era crime scenes?

The town was named Songea by the Germans immediately after the Maji Maji war between 1905 and 1907. They proclaimed to have succeeded to capture, control, and rule and dominate the area that was under the Principal Sub-Chief (Nduna) Songea Mbano bin Luwafu, my host said.

The hanging tree of more than 115 years and where the 67 anti-German fighters were hanged is still existing with traditional weapons and tools used to fight Germans displayed on its base.

Traditional weapons used to fight Germans with their machine-guns were crude including shields (vikopa,) war axes (vinjenje), clubs (vibonga), and spears (migoha).

On the day of the execution, other people gathered at a place where they could see the executioners as to frightening them from fighting against Germans.
The executioners were brought to the area tied to each other with a small chain tied to a large chain in that area.

They tied the prisoners then stood them on the supported board, each one with his own rope while both hands were tied with ropes so that they could not move and their faces were covered with red cloths.

I then visited Peramiho Catholic Mission, where a local priest told me more about the Maji Maji history, but with a different narration. He told me that the local fighters did not spare any European who appeared in front of their eyes.

“Even those fighters were too bad, have never respected even the priests and those who were only armed with Bibles and Holy books”, the priest told me.