Marking 120 years of Mangi Meli’s death

Sunday May 3 2020

Mzee Gerald Mandara cutting a goat feast

Mzee Gerald Mandara cutting a goat feast (Ndafu) as the gift to the Kilimanjaro Regional Commissioner who was represented by Mr Raphael Chome. PHOTOS | ELISHA MAYALLAH  

By Elisha Mayallah

A few weeks ago, scores of locals and government leaders gathered in Old Moshi, nearly 7 kilometers from Moshi town, the administrative town of Kilimanjaro Region in the north of Tanzania, to mA few weeks ago, scores of locals and government leaders gathered in Old Moshi, nearly 7 kilometers from Moshi town, the administrative town of Kilimanjaro Region in the north of Tanzania, to mark 120 years since the passing of Chief Mangi Meli.ark 120 years since the passing of Chief Mangi Meli.

The Old Moshi culture tourism enterprise led by Gabriel Orio Mzei and other stakeholders including Kondradin kunze and the Berlin postcolonial NGO, organised the commemoration of chief Mangi Meli’s passing.

The key activities for the historic day included speeches from the representative of the Kilimanjaro Regional Commissioner, a representative from Chief Mangi Meli’s clan and a speech from Mnyaka Sururu an activist who is based in Germany. Mnyaka was born in Uru Kishumundu a neighboring village from Old Moshi 70 years ago.

On the 2nd of March 1900, the Old Moshi community lost one of the most iconic chiefs, Mangi Meli who was hanged alongside 18 other people by the colonial Germans.

Chief Meli, a strong figure of resistance, fought bravely against the German colonial occupation of his territory in Kilimanjaro.

Mnyaka Sururu, in the packed and attentive gathering of nearly 200 people who came to mark the commemoration of Mangi Meli, said the death of Mangi Meli was too painful. It took six hours for Mangi Meli to be pronounced dead, his grandmother told him.

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Soon after chief Meli’s death, an act of great cruelty was committed by the Germans where his head was cut off and likely shipped to Germany. Chief Meli’s grandson Isaria Meli who is now 97 years old has spent over five decades searching for his grandfather’s skull with the assistance from activists and historians from Tanzania and Europe.

The life story of Isaria’s grandfather, Chief Meli of Moshi, was told to him by his grandmother who was the youngest of Meli’s wives.

Isaria heard of how Meli’s fight for the freedom of his people ultimately led to his execution in 1900 on a tree that still exists in the village today. The acacia tree continues to stand tall and act as a witness to the anti-colonial resistance that was waged against the German forces. The tree still features prominently as a meeting point for the Chagga people of Old Moshi

In Meli’s battles against the colonial army, he was ably supported by his headsmen. The presence of the counselors is visible in many photographs taken by the German colonial administration. Meli’s counselors stood firm with him in life and in death, the tale is one of the fierce anti-colonial resistances to German rule in Tanzania.

And the search for Chief Meli’s skull continues, yet his traces can be found in songs, stories, and archives. This has formed the basis for a Tanzania-Germany collaboration where an animated video sculpture and re-examined historical photographs portray the life story of Meli and his legacy today. They are all found in the exhibition centre located in the village which is now attracting many visitors.

The pain felt from chief Meli’s death has never had its closure the violently ruthless act of cutting off chief Meli’s head after his death for racially motivated scientific purposes meant the full Chagga rites of burial were never completed, according to the representative of Chief Meli’s family.

Email: elisha.mayallah@gmail.com

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