The ‘forgotten’ Chief who made Nyerere fall in love with Dodoma

Mwalimu Nyerere addressing a gathering. He is seen here brandishing the stick he is said to have received as a special gift from his ‘close friend’, the late Chief Solomon Mazengo Chalula.


What you need to know:

  • Far from Cairo -- in Mvumi Makulu village – located some 50 kilometres from Dodoma Municipality -- this proverb has come to have a meaning.

Mvumi Makulu. There is an old Egyptian proverb which says, ‘Once you drink from the Nile you are destined to return’. It describes the ‘inevitable bond’ between Cairo and anyone who’s ever stepped foot there. The place becomes a part of you, the Pharaohs claim.

Far from Cairo -- in Mvumi Makulu village – located some 50 kilometres from Dodoma Municipality -- this proverb has come to have a meaning.

Mvumi Makulu is where the late Chief of the Gogo, Chief Mazengo Chalula, originated and grew to be the Paramount Chief. While everyone has been made to believe that the main reason Dodoma was designated to be the country’s capital city due to its geographical significance, there is another yet to be popularised notion.

It has got everything to do with this laid-back village. One man came here decades ago. That man, charmed by the warmth of its people, is said to have made a pledge to his close friend -- the Chief. The man is Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.

He came. He loved it. Like he had drank from the Nile, the place got into his blood. He never wanted to leave.

A recent tour of the village by The Citizen has uncovered many untold facts about the village. But there is one interesting piece of history in these times of change.

The people here would tell you to forget politics – the real reason Dodoma was turned into the capital city was the close friendship between the Father of the Nation Julius Nyerere and the supreme Chief of the Gogo ‘Mazengo Chalula’.

Geography had very little to do with the decision by Mwalimu Myerere, one is told.

Mazengo, also known as ‘the Chief of Chiefs’ ruled for 84 years before he died at the age of 106. He was not only a friend to Nyerere, but more of a father figure, according to his sons and grandsons.

Formerly, the village was called Mvumi Ikulu, which means the headquarters of the main chief’ in Gogo.

It was not until early 1964 when Mwalimu was said to have asked Chief Mazengo to allow him to adopt the name ‘Ikulu’ for the State House in Dar es Salaam.

Nyerere’s admiration of the chief was a no-brainer. According to relatives and those who were close to Mazengo, here was a man admired and revered for strong and uniting leadership.

It came as a little surprise when this icon local chief ascended to supremacy and popularity which led to his election as the Chief of Chiefs.

He is said to have risen to power over the other remaining parts of Mvumi, such as Mvumi Chelema, Mvumi Mzula, Mvumi Ndaladya, Mvumi Kikuyu, Mvumi Magudugudu, Mvumi Chandwi and Mvumi Nhundulu.

The Nyerere-Mazengo bond

Mwalimu Nyerere is said to have met chief Mazengo in the early 1950s through former cabinet minister and retired diplomat Job Lusinde. It was during this time when Mr Lusinde had just completed his studies at Makerere University in Uganda. He would use his spare time to act as the translator for Chief Mazengo.

“Due to his popularity, many foreign visitors and local political leaders used to visit our home. Therefore, Lusinde used to introduce him to them and serve the chief as a translator,” said Meshak Mazengo, the first son from the third wife of the Chief.

When Mwalimu Nyerere and the Chief met, the son recalls, it was just magnetic. A close friendship suddenly developed with Nyerere frequently visiting Chief Mazengo’s residence to share ideas.

The Chief’s sons attributed the bond to the fact that the two had common habits.

“In 1955, Nyerere visited our home for the second time. He asked father to join the then Tanganyika African National Union (Tanu), and also encourage people in his chiefdom to be members of the party,” recalled Meshak.

At independence in 1961, Nyerere is said to have sent a State jet to airlift Chief Mazengo to Dar es Salaam for the inauguration as the first President of Tanzania.

The Chief was to perform the customary procedures as well, assisted by Chief Lenana Marealle, the Paramount Chief of the Chagga people of Tanzania.

“I can’t forget that day, it was full of surprises. Ndejembi arrived home early in the morning, with security officers. They asked the Chief to prepare himself for a trip to Dodoma town before taking a flight to Dar es Salaam,” he recalled.

At the remarkable event, Chief Mazengo presented Nyerere with a spear and traditional stool after applying a special Gogo traditional flour to his head. He also offered a special blessing prayer.

A turning point in the Chief was in 1965 when Chief Mazengo, formally a pagan, converted to Christianity. He was with the Anglican Church, and asked his close son Nyerere to suggest a suitable name for him. Nyerere then chose the name of Solomon, and from there till his death later on in 1967, he was known as Chief Solomon Mazengo.

“The bond between the two was so strong that from State House in Dar es Salaam, Nyerere used to ask for Job Lusinde’s phone to send messages to the Chief,” said Meshak.

The Dodoma factor

When Nyerere visited Chief Mazengo’s homestead in 1964, it was mainly to launch a new house. “After the official opening of the (mud) house, there was a cerebration. During discussions, Nyerere told Chief Mazengo that he wanted to take the name Ikulu for the Dar es Salaam’s State House.

“After the two negotiated, Chief Mazengo told Nyerere that from then on, since there could not have two Ikulus in the same country, his village home would be called ‘Makulu’, means in Gogo language ‘the headquarters of the small chiefs’,” Meshak, who is now in his late 70s said.

He revealed that it was also during this time when Nyerere promised Chief Mazengo that in recognition of not only their friendship but also his (Mazengo’s) contribution to the country, the headquarters of the ruling party would be in Dodoma.

“Chief Mazengo was not only a friend to Nyerere, but also a father, that’s why he used to visit him very often for different reasons,” he added.

Mazengo and Nyerere’s sticks

All African traditional chiefs brandish sticks. It was the same case with Chief Mazengo. It is said that the Chiefs’ was no ordinary stick, but that the ‘Sagandeo’ (as the stick was called) had some magic he used to rule his people and protect his chiefdom.

“It was not a fashion statement; the stick used to protect him and his people against his enemies. The stick used to enable him to foresee what was likely to happen in the future, in-terms of floods, drought, hunger and wars,” narrated Yohana Mazengo, a grandson of the superior chief, “sometimes Chief Mazengo would tell his family that his stick was for the whole nation, that it protected the country and not just the people here.”

A few days before he died, Chief Mazengo is said to have told his third wife, Mamvula Mazengo, that he had decided to honour Nyerere by making him a special small black stick, and that he had directed him to carry the stick wherever he went.

“That is what I can tell you with regards to Nyerere’s stick in relationship to Chief Mazengo. After his death (Mazengo), I don’t even know where his stick went,” said Meshak.

His other side

As the country’s main chief, Mazengo’s sway deepened as he used to travel and officiate different important national events. In addition to the several trips to the Dar es Salaam State House, in 1958 he was appointed to grace an official welcoming ceremony of Britain’s Princess Margaret in Tabora Region.

The Chief managed to rule for four consecutive terms, from 1876 to 1887 (before colonial era), 1888 to 1919 (During German colonialism), 1920 to 1961 (England colonialism), and from 1961 to 1963 under former premier, Mwalimu Nyerere.

Chief Solomon Mazengo, as he was known in his last days, was married to six wives and fathered 30 children with 50 grandsons upon his death at the age of 106 in 1967. His children, who are still alive today include Sechelela, Meshak, Edna, Joyce, Kenneth, Kangalo, Polina, Evilina, Ngunda and Ngabi.

Three of his six wives are Nyatoma, Muhagu (Hagudo) and Mamvula.

Mazengo’s wealth

Chief Mazengo used most of his life time to fight and assist others more than his own family. For this reason, he didn’t accumulated much wealth compared to his counterparts. And this was among the other factors that endeared him to Mwalimu Nyerere.

He was a pastoralist who owned at least 200 cattle. Since he ascended to power, he used to travel around on a donkey.

Later on, in 1920 he was involved in an accident with his donkey and broke his left hand.

“After the accident, one missionary from Mvumi Mission, Mr Bilgirt, offered him a wheel chair motorcycle,” Meshak said, “it is still at the homestead today.

Later on, in 1963, he bought a Landover from Dar es Salaam, for Sh28,000. But he only managed to build a common mud-house throughout his life.

The family and village after his death

Since his death, according to many sources, the Mvumi Makulu village has seen no any major development, despite its history with the Father of the Nation. The Chief’s house is dilapidated.

“It is actually a pity that the village and family of such a prominent Chief have been left all alone with no support. There are some people who even dared to say that Chief Mazengo left no children,” Meshak, himself looking old in his 70s, said.

He took a swipe at “some educated people who only wanted to be close to the Chief for selfish reasons as exposed by their unwillingness to support the family”.

“The village and his family feel they have been betrayed. There have been many stories too about him, but most of them are false.”

The Chief’s son claimed that on two occasions, some government officials visited the village and promised to construct a special museum to depict Mazengo’s life and the Gogo culture, but the promises was yet to be fulfilled. “We have since been living under difficult conditions, just working on our farms to feed ourselves.”

Loss of the Gogo culture

Meshak noted that his father was an icon of the Gogo culture. But since his demise, he said, things have turned for the worse.

“For example, I was shocked during the inauguration of Mr Benjamin Mkapa as president in 1995 here in Dodoma. They adorned him in a red cloth. In the Gogo tribe, red is a bad omen for bloodshed,” he said.

“For us, that was tantamount to wishing his regime bloodshed.”