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The Organization of the Maji Maji Rebellion

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2009

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This article examines the organization of the Maji Maji rebellion of 1905–7 in German East Africa, utilizing Professor T. O. Ranger's analyses of other rebellions in East and Central Africa. The rising began in the Rufiji Valley as a peasant protest against a scheme, imposed by the German authorities, for communal cotton growing. But like other African rebellions against early colonial rule, the movement acquired an ideological content from prophetic religious leaders. This ideology enabled the rising to spread far beyond the Rufiji Valley and gave a degree of unity to diverse peoples. Two religious systems were involved. In the Rufiji Valley, the first rebels received a water-medicine from the ministers of the spirit Kolelo. This maji became the symbol of unity and commitment. The expansion of the movement beyond the nuclear area probably followed a pattern of recurrent millenarian movements whose chief object was to eradicate sorcery. Such a movement implied a challenge to established tribal authorities, and was seen by them as such a threat. As the rising spread, it entered areas of stronger tribal organization and also lost something of its revolutionary character. In consequence, the later rebels utilized tribal organization. This development, it is argued, conflicted with the original purpose of overcoming past political and cultural divisions in order to achieve more effective resistance to European rule. Thus, it is suggested, the rebellion demonstrated a tension between ideology and political and cultural reality which is characteristic of mass movements, including later nationalist movements.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1967


1 This article draws widely on the work of Professor T. O. Ranger, to whose generosity I am much indebted. The conclusions are naturally my own responsibility.Google Scholar

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16 Dr Bryan distinguishes between a Zaramo–Luguru–Vidunda group and the Ndengereko, Ngindo, and Mbunga languages. Kipogoro may either belong to a Hehe linguistic group or be considered separately. Kimatumbi, similarly, may belong to the Hehe or Ngindo groups. Bryan, M. A., The Bantu Languages of Africa (London, 1959), 123–36.Google Scholar

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