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The Maji-Maji War, 1905–1907  

Thaddeus Sunseri

The Maji-Maji War was a widespread rebellion in southern German East Africa (colonial Tanzania) directed against German officials, Arab administrators, loyalist chiefs, Christian missionaries, Indian, Arab, and Swahili traders, and German settlers. It encompassed a region roughly south of the central railway route from Dar es Salaam to Lake Nyasa. The rebellion stems from a water medicine (Swahili: maji dawa) that some rebels believed would make them invulnerable to bullets, although there is no evidence that rebels themselves called the rebellion Maji-Maji. The rebellion broke out in the Matumbi hills south of the Rufiji River in July 1905 and spread quickly through Ngindo-speaking networks south to Lindi District, north into Dar es Salaam District, and westward to the southern highlands. Germans prosecuted the war with extreme brutality, using scorched-earth tactics to starve localities into submission. During the war, a new governor was appointed who viewed abuses as the cause of African discontent, leading to some reforms, particularly with respect to forced labor and cash crop production. Early Africanist and nationalist historians viewed Maji-Maji as foundational to Tanzanian national identity, while subsequent generations have looked at local circumstances that sparked participation in the war or the decision not to rebel. Debates about Maji-Maji have focused on long-term causes, the nature of maji medicine, rebel leadership, environmental factors, and consequences of the war.