Maji-Maji Rebellion


Maji-Maji Rebellion
(1905–1907)
   A revolt in German East Africa that was brutally suppressed by the colonial authorities. Together with the equally brutal German response to the Herero Revolt in South West Africa, the suppression of the Maji-Maji Rebellion helped trigger the Dernburg Reforms, which significantly altered German colonial policies. The underlying cause of the Maji Maji revolt was African resentment over colonial tax policies, the introduction of forced labor, and the steady weakening of traditional elites. From the start of their colonial presence in East Africa, the Germans faced a chronic labor shortage caused by low wages and competition from better paying British commercial ventures across the border in Kenya and Uganda.
   The arrival of white settlers after the turn of the century quickly exacerbated the situation, when the settlers demanded access to African labor in order to develop their own self-sustaining farms and plantations. In an effort to resolve the labor issue, the Germans began using forced labor for road and railroad construction, introduced a head tax in 1898, and implemented quotas for the mandatory production of cash crops like cotton in 1902. While three measures were deeply unpopular, their impact was compounded by the steady weakening of traditional elites who were not only charged with enforcing German policies, but were also in the process of losing control over the local retail trade to a growing Indian immigrant population first introduced to the region in the 1890s as part of the British railroad construction boom in neighboring Kenya and Uganda.
   The German colonial administration’s refusal to relax labor and tax policies in the wake of a 1903–1904 drought proved to be the final straw and caused long simmering animosities in German East Africa to erupt into outright rebellion in August 1905. The Maji Maji revolt, which began with the destruction of cotton fields in the Rufiji River Valley as a symbolic gesture of defiance, took its name from the rebels’ belief that anointing themselves with a potion of water - maji in Swahili -castor oil, and millet would provide protection by magically turning German bullets into water. As the rebellion spread, it quickly evolved into a campaign of violence against German officials, settlers, and missionaries. Germany responded by sending in reinforcements armed with machine guns who combined military action with a scorched earth policy to stamp out the last vestiges of the revolt and punish those responsible. African casualties from the fighting and the resultant famine are estimated at 250,000.
   See also <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Capeci, Dominic J. Jr., and Jack C. Knight. “Reactions to Colonialism: The North American Ghost Dance and East African Maji-Maji Rebellions.” Historian 2 (1990): 584–602;
    Falola, Toyin, ed. Sources and Methods in African History: Spoken, Written, Unearthed. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2003, pp. 295–311;
    Iliffe, John. Tanganyika under German Rule, 1905–1912. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969;
    Monson, Jamie. “Relocating Maji Maji: The Politics of Alliance and Authority in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania 1870–1918.” Journal of African History 39 (1998): 95–121;
    Redmond, Patrick. “Maji Maji in Ungoni: A Reappraisal of Existing Historiography.” International Journal of African Historical Studies 8 (1975): 407–424.
   KENNETH J. OROSZ

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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