Facts and Fictions of the Majimaji War Graves in Southern Tanzania

Abstract

The Majimaji War (1904–1908) was the most significant uprising mounted by Tanzanians against the German colonial rule. It was also one of the most catastrophic events in the colonial history of Africa. Between 100,000 and 300,000 people of southern Tanzania died from the war and its aftermath. Despite this acknowledged death toll, only two known Majimaji mass graves exist. Seven bodies were found in one grave and about a hundred in the other. There are three other individual graves reportedly associated with the war, but their connection to the war is not yet proven. The debates, rumors, and speculations surrounding the known and unknown graves, and the practices associated with the memorialization of the fallen heroes are the focus of this paper. At the community level, discussions about the Majimaji War graves emphasize the significance of mass burials as ritual sites and memorialized landscape. At the national level, the commemoration of the Majimaji War tends to focus on the installation of memorials as instruments for political identity formation.

Résumé

La guerre de Majimaji (1904–1908) fut le soulèvement le plus important organisé par les Tanzaniens contre le régime colonial allemand. Ce fut également l’un des événements les plus catastrophiques de l’histoire coloniale de l’Afrique. Entre 100,000 et 300,000 habitants du sud de la Tanzanie sont morts de la guerre et de ses conséquences. Malgré ce nombre de morts reconnu, il n’existe que deux fosses communes connues de Majimaji. Sept corps ont été trouvés dans une tombe et une centaine dans une autre. Trois autres tombes auraient été associées à la guerre, mais leur lien avec la guerre n’a pas encore été prouvé. Le présent document est. axé sur les débats, les rumeurs et les spéculations concernant les sépultures connues et inconnues, ainsi que sur les pratiques associées à la commémoration des héros tombés au combat. Au niveau de la communauté, les discussions sur les sépultures de la guerre de Majimaji mettent l’accent sur l’importance des enterrements en masse en tant que sites rituels et paysages commémoratifs. Au niveau national, la commémoration de la guerre de Majimaji tend à se concentrer sur l’installation de monuments commémoratifs en tant qu’instruments de formation de l’identité politique.

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Acknowledgements

Thank you to Prof. Innocent Pikirayi, Prof. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Dr. Ezekiel Mtetwa, anonymous reviewers and editors of the African Archaeological Review for their comments. I wish to thank Dr. Emery Kalema for translating the abstract of this article to French. Research and publication of this article would not have been possible without the University of Pretoria Commonwealth scholarship and Stellenbosch University Mellon Foundation.

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Rushohora, N.A. Facts and Fictions of the Majimaji War Graves in Southern Tanzania. Afr Archaeol Rev 36, 145–159 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10437-019-09324-2

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Keywords

  • Colonialism
  • Identity
  • Resistance
  • Mass graves
  • Majimaji
  • Memorial
  • Heritage