interviewBy Deogratias Mushi
The name "Mkwawa" is derived from Mukwava-a shortened form of Mukwavinyika, meaning "conqueror of many lands".
The paramount Chief Mkwavinyika Munyigumba Mwamuyinga (1855-19 July 1891), more commonly known as Chief Mkwawa, was a Hehe tribal leader in Tanzania who opposed the German colonization. Zuberi Suleiman Witara, a steward at Mkwawa Memorial Museum granted this interview to our Staff Writer DEOGRATIAS MUSHI who recently visited Kaleng, the known residence of Chief Mkwawa. Excerpts
Can you recount the history of this place?
Kalenga is a very historical village. This was the headquarters of Chief Mkwawa, the place from where he commanded the whole of Hehe region. His official residence and military base were inside a stone fort called Lipuli. Chief Mkwawa's fortress was 12 feet high and eight miles long.
The fort was built for four years, it is estimated that it was started in 1887at a time when Chief Mkwawa knew about German activities near the coast. Chief Mkwawa got the idea from seeing other stone forts in Unyamwezi or the building of Arabs and Europeans near the coast. Recently, the government under the Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources has elevated the place as one of the national heritages.
Q: Can you please say something about Mkwawa Museum?
A: As you have seen, we have established a small museum housing Chief Mkwawa's skull. The museum is also decorated with his weapons including clubs, spears, shields and guns. Outside the museum there are two tombs. There is a tomb of Chief Sapi Mkwawa the throne successor and that of Chief Adam Sapi Mkwawa the grandson of Chief Mkwawa and that of his wife Asha who died in April 2009.
About 500 meters from the museum there is a tomb with a small monument. The tomb holds the body of Commander Erich Maas. Commander Erich Maas was shot dead by one of the Hehe soldiers during hours of hand-to-hand fighting when Germans managed to break into the fort.
How was the mission to destroy Kalenga carried out?
The mission to destroy Kalenga started on October 28, 1894, from Lugulu hill. The Germans bombarded Kalenga from Lugulu hill for two days. The Hehe fought hard to resist the German onslaught. But on October 30 the Germans managed to enter Mkwawa's fort (Lipuli) and engaged the Hehe with a bayonet. In the ensuing melee Mkwawa walked away from the fighting and Kalenga fell.
The Germans had taken possession of the fort. They examined it, destroyed the weapon store, and removed some ivory and guns. The Germans hoped that destruction of the fort would be enough to make Chief Mkwawa come to terms. Once more they attempted to negotiate with him, but the Hehe continued to attack the Germans.
Any success story recounted about Mkwawa's success?
Both German and Hehe descriptions of the Kalenga fort emphasize Chief Mkwawa's great wealth, his store of ivory, gun-powder and cloth, and his great herds and many wives. Germans destroyed 30,000lbs of gun-powder at Kalenga and they were very impressed by Chief Mkwawa's ivory stores, which contained only a part of the ivory he possessed.
When was Mkwawa's skull returned from Europe?
On June 19, 1954, at Kalenga, 56 years to the day of Chief Mkwawa's death, Sir Edward Twining the then Governor of Tanganyika handed- over the skull to Chief Adam Sapi Mkwawa from the German government. The return of Chief Mkwawa's skull was in accordance to the Versailles Treaty June 28, 1919: Part VIII Article 246 which uttered the following order:-
"Within six months from the coming into force of the present Treaty, Germany will restore to His Majesty the King of the Hedjaz the original Koran of the Caliph Othman, which was removed from Medina by the Turkish authorities and is stated to have been presented to the ex-Emperor William II.
Within the same period Germany will hand over to His Britannic Majesty's Government the skull of the Sultan Mkwawa which was removed from the Protectorate of German East Africa and taken to Germany. The delivery of the articles above referred to will be effected in such place and in such conditions as may be laid down by the Governments to which they are to be restored.
In July, 1891, the German commissioner, Emil von Zelewski, led a battalion of soldiers (320 askaris with officers and porters) to suppress the Hehe. On 17 August, they were attacked by Mkwawa's 3,000-strong army at Lugalo, who, despite only being equipped with spears and a few guns, quickly overpowered the German force and killed Zelewski.
On 28 October, 1894, the Germans, under the new commissioner Colonel Freiherr Friedrich von Schele, attacked Mkwawa's fortress at Kalenga. Although they took the fort, Mkwawa managed to escape. Subsequently, Mkwawa conducted a campaign of guerrilla warfare, harassing the Germans until 1898 when, on 19 July, he was surrounded and shot himself rather than be captured".
What have you documented concerning Mkwawa's death?
In 1898, after nine years of harassing the Germans in a series of guerrilla skirmishes, Mkwawa was cornered by the German troops, and on realizing that he was about to be arrested, he committed suicide rather than being caught by the colonial German troops.
As the German troops advanced, they found him dead and cut off his head which was sent to Germany and repatriated back to the then Tanganyikan territory in 1954 during British colonialism. Mkwawa's skull now forms one of the main (somewhat grisly) exhibits in the Mkwawa Memorial Museum at nearby Kalenga village
What do available documents say about Mkwawa's death?
Documents available here show that Mkwawa escaped into the forests west of Kalenga, from where he waged a four-year guerrilla war against the Germans. He was finally cornered in 1898, having been betrayed by informants attracted by a five-thousand-rupee reward. Rather than surrender, he shot his bodyguard and then himself.
The Germans, arriving on the scene shortly after, placed another shot into Mkwawa's head just to be sure he is dead, and then severed it. The chief's beheaded body was buried by his family at Mlambalasi, 12 kilometres south of the road to Ruaha National Park.
Do you think some people around know Mkwawa's significance to liberation history?
Some people, regardless of their age, visit this place and try to get different information regarding the area for their mostly respected ancestral groups where their fore fathers originated from. Both primary and secondary school students come here occasionally, accompanied by their teachers.
How do people regard Kalenga village?
This village is an important place which has a significant historical background, not only to the nation but the history of the place has brought fame also to a very well-known ethnic group in Southern Highland region. The fact that the government has decided to take care of it place shows that it will become more famous in future.
How accessible is this place during rainy season?
A: Getting to this place during rainy seasons is a little bit difficult than what one could expect. The residents of the area are mostly the Hehe tribe. The tribe's historic nature has created superiority among the people and it still rests in everybody's mind including historians of the past and present. This too is a legend that is still being told today.
Do tourists going to Ruaha National Park also visit this place?
Yes they do and we get some money as entrance fee to the museum. As you know the road to Ruaha passes through Kalenga so we have the challenge to intensify our strategies of marketing Kalenga Memorial Museum.