Chief Mkwawa’s Resistance

Chief Mkwawa’s Resistance. The Hehe rebellion was the first major uprising that took place on mainland Tanganyika against German rule.

The rebellion took place in southern Tanganyika.

It was spearheaded by chief Mkwawa who had come to power in 1878.

The major cause of the war was chief Mkwawa’s refusal to give up on trading activities as he had been instructed by the German colonialists.

Causes Of The Rebellion

  • Chief Mkwawa wanted to maintain the independence of his people which the Germans had eroded i.e. he didn’t want his people to be under foreign rule.
  • The Hehe under Mkwawa had built a strong army due to their participation in trade with the Arabs through which they got guns and they thought that they could humiliate the German forces.
  • Mkwawa levied a heavy Hongo tax on the caravans that passed through his area and when the Germans requested him to stop the tax, he refused and this led to war with the Germans.
  • When German traders refused to pay tax to Mkwawa, he angrily reacted by closing the trade routes and imprisoning many traders at Usagara which annoyed the Germans.
  • The Hehe also resisted because the Germans had grabbed a lot of Hehe lands to introduce plantation farming.
  • The Germans were always interrupting Mkwawa’s aggressive expansionist raids against his neighbours and this brought him to clashes with the Germans who were also spreading their rule.
  • Mkwawa was also annoyed with German disrespect for him e.g. they called him backward and uncivilized yet he was a sovereign ruler of the Hehe.
  • Mkwawa also claimed to be the sole controller of the central long distance trade route (Tabora – Bagamoyo) which the Germans were also claiming and this resulted into war.
  • Forced labour on European farms, public works like roads also forced Mkwawa to mobilize his people to rebel against German rule.
  • Mkwawa’s diplomatic envoys (messengers) were on several occasions gunned down by the Germans forcing him to angrily retaliate by engaging them in warfare.
  • Mkwawa also expelled the German mercenaries (Akidas and Jumbes) that had been brought in to assist the Germans in administration. This annoyed the Germans who resorted to war.
  •  The Hehe were also resisting cultural imperialism of the Germans who were encouraging Christianity, and western education and were condemning African cultures.
  • The Hehe were also known to be war mongers and they took a lot of pride in fighting and that is why they revolted against the Germans.
  • Mkwawa’s character also led to the outbreak of the revolt i.e. he was big headed and unpredictable. E.g. when he imprisoned the German traders for not paying tax, the Germans requested him to release them but he refused and this annoyed the Germans.
  • The Hehe also expected support from chief Chabruma of the Ngoni and chief Siki of Tabora and this gave them courage to fight against the Germans.

Course of the Hehe rebellion

  • Chief Mkwawa came to power in 1878 after succeeding his father Munyigumba.
  • He built a strong army which he used to stage a prolonged resistance against the Germans in southern Tanganyika.
  • From 1880, Mkwawa was busy expanding his borders of his empire.
  • It landed him into trouble with the Germans who were busy expanding their rule in Tanganyika.
  • In his bid to control the trade, Mkwawa closed the Tabora – Bagamoyo trade route.
  • He also imprisoned German and Swahili traders for refusing to pay Hongo tax/tribute.
  • Mkwawa was on several occasions requested by the Germans to release the traders he had imprisoned but he refused and this arrogance annoyed the Germans who reacted with force.
  • Mkwawa’s behavior was also based on the assumption that he was to get support from Chief Chabruma of the Ngoni and chief Siki of Tabora.
  • In 1891, a German force under Zewlekis confronted Mkwawa for the first time.
  • However he learnt of this plot and he ambushed and humiliated the German force at Lungala.
  • He killed many Germans and their commander, Zewlekis.
  • The Germans temporarily accepted defeat and they turned their attention to chief Isike of the Nyamwezi, who was willing to collaborate and work with them.
  • Mkwawa later realized the need for a peaceful end to the conflict.
  • He sent messengers with gifts to the Germans and they responded by gunning down Mkwawa’s messengers.
  • Mkwawa was greatly annoyed by this act and he responded by closing the caravan trade route from Bagamoyo to Tabora to all traders.
  • This forced the Germans to organize more attacks against him.
  • But Mkwawa was not to give up on his peaceful plans to end the conflicts.
  • He therefore sent another messenger to the Germans with gifts but he was also killed.
  • This greatly demoralized Mkwawa who engaged the Germans in full scale war at Kilosa.
  • He managed to kill 290 Germans and their allies.
  • In October 1892, he destroyed a long distance caravan at Kondowa which increased his influence in the region.
  • Mkwawa was also able to complete the construction of his Fort at Kalenga.
  • In 1894, the Germans decided to deal decisively with Mkwawa and they stormed and destroyed his capital at Kalenga killing many of his soldiers.
  • With a handful of his men, Mkwawa escaped to Ingonge where he unsuccessfully attempted to ambush the Germans on their way back to the coast.
  • After this, the Germans relaxed their machinery against Mkwawa thinking that this had completely weakened him, but they were mistaken.
  • Mkwawa started using a guerilla war tactic (hit and run) to launch attacks on German controlled areas.
  • This also forced the Germans to adopt the scorched earth policy.
  • The Germans destroyed water and food reservoirs, which caused wide spread hunger and starvation.
  • Between 1895 – 1898, Mkwawa suffered heavy losses as his warriors were killed.
  • After sensing defeat, Mkwawa refused to be captured alive and instead shot himself in 1898.
  • A few of his trusted soldiers also surrendered to the Germans.
  • When the Germans found his body, they cut off his head and sent it to a museum in Berlin (Germany) and this marked the end of the Hehe resistance against the Germans.