Mirambo (Mtyela Kasanda))

Mtyela Kasanda, better known as Mirambo (which means “corpses”), was a Nyamwezi and from the small town of Urambo appears relatively insignificant when compared with the economic and political hubs of Dodoma, Dar es Salaam or Mwanza. However, in the nineteenth century, one of the most important trade routes linking the coast to the interior passed through the region, connecting Lake Tanganyika with the Zanzibar Archipelago.

The trade in slaves, ivory, cloth, firearms and other commodities was dominated by Arab traders, who not only held economic power but would also dabble in the local politics of the regions where they settled. But from the 1860s, the balance of power was to be dramatically upset as a Nyamwezi chief came to power that would throw the Arab trade monopoly into chaos.

Mirambo, a strong and ambitious leader, revolutionised the status of the Nyamwezi people who inhabited the area and the role that they played in trade. Referred to as a ‘warlord’, the role of violence in Mirambo’s rule is often exaggerated at the expense of his political and economic ambitions. While warfare was undoubtedly an integral characteristic of Mirambo’s power, it does not give a complete picture of the changes that he envisaged.

From humble beginnings as a local chief, Mirambo consolidated power over an area that he renamed Urambo, as it is still known today. During the early stages of his chieftainship, he enjoyed considerable loyalty and support from local populations. His ambitions proved to be larger than this small area, and he continued to expand his authority and influence over a number of Nyamwezi chiefs.

Crucially, the communities that Mirambo was claiming control over had never experienced authority on such a large scale. This was his first challenge, to devise a system of political organisation that could consolidate the power he had already accumulated, while also adapting to the continued expansion of his area of control.

In reality, Mirambo’s methods of leadership changed little of the structure of Nyamwezi society. Once he had taken power from a chief he would usually choose a successor from the same family. As long as the new chiefs pledged allegiance to Mirambo, they would be left to go about their normal political duties. Mirambo relied on subordinates to rule his territories for him as he was expanding his new state into other territories.

Transforming trade

The desire to take control of trade in the region was a key driving force behind Mirambo’s political expansion. The location of Urambo gave him the perfect opportunity to do so. The famous journalist, Henry Morton Stanley, noted how Mirambo halted an Arab trade caravan and demanded firearms and commodities from the traders. This was the first major challenge to Arab economic supremacy that had occurred in the region since the development of long-distance trade with the interior.

Mirambo did not stop there and began a war by attacking the Arab trading centre of Tabora. The conflict disrupted trade in the region for a number of years, prompting many influential Arabs to abandon their economic activity. Drawing to a close in 1875, Mirambo’s war with the Arabs provided him with the opportunity to reclaim tangible benefits from trade.

In practical terms, these benefits were based on the taxation of caravans coming through Urambo. Mirambo was able to accumulate firearms and valuable commodities that would contribute to his regional power and prestige. His ambitious vision of commerce put the Nyamwezi first, dramatically altering the characteristics of long-distance trade in East Africa.

International Relations in the nineteenth century

As Mirambo’s political and economic shake-up developed, it began to attract the attention of regional powers from further afield. The kingdom of Buganda to the north, ruled by Kabaka Mutesa at the time, became increasingly frustrated with the disruption of the long-distance trade in which it held a major stake. Tensions fluctuated throughout the 1870s as Mutesa planned a number of attacks on Mirambo’s territory.

From Mirambo’s perspective, the military dominance of the Buganda kingdom required a calculated response. He consistently pushed for a diplomatic resolution of differences by sending representatives to Mutesa’s court. Mutesa was also not purely an aggressor as he sent his own diplomatic missions to Urambo when military means were unrealistic. Negotiations culminated in an alliance in 1881, which although not entirely stable, illustrates the complexity of both leaders’ politics.

Mirambo’s dealings with Mutesa bring to light an important aspect of his political ambition. His diplomatic activities were based on a vision of East Africa being made up of unified and powerful states.

A lasting legacy?

The political and economic upheaval that Mirambo instigated over a quarter of a century was both dynamic and rapid, characterised by his strong personal ambition. When he died in 1884, the state he had built disintegrated even quicker that it had come together. His successor, Mpandashalo, could not provide the type of leadership or commitment that was needed to ensure the continuity of the developments Mirambo had overseen.

This issue was amplified by the tensions between the new forms of state-building and traditional authorities. When Mirambo died, a power vacuum materialised as local chiefs set about to reverse the innovations that he had put in place. Much of Mirambo’s successes were based on his own prestige, and to some extent the fearfulness of communities under his control. The reliance on one ‘big man’ meant that a sense of unity never fully developed within Nyamwezi society that would have been necessary for enduring political change.

He was notable for opposing the Arab allies of Henry Morton Stanley. Stanley dubbed Mirambo “the African Bonaparte” for his military talents.


Amboni Caves

Amboni Caves in are located about 8 km north of Tanga. The Amboni sereis of caves were formed naturally and are believed to have been formed during the Jurassic Age some 150 million years ago, are the most extensive cave system in East Africa. According to researchers the area was under water some 20 million years ago, and it is estimated to extend over an area of 234 square kilometers. 

Isimila Stone Age site

Isimila Stone Age site is an oldest historical Stone Age tool site in Isimila village Iringa region Tanzania.
The Isimila site located about 20 km from Iringa town along Iringa Mbeya road where tools stone artifacts and bones found in a dry bed that was once a shallow lake.
The stone tools used by ancient people during the early Stone Age period about 300,000 years ago discovered in 1951 with other fossil bones including those of related to modern giraffe but having much shorter neck and the extinct hippopotamus with unusual periscope like projections.
Isimila stone age site preserves important evidences of early hominids activities dating back to over 60,000 ago the groups of nomadic hunters and collectors who used to go to the shores of an ancient small lake as the place for hunting which is no longer exist.

Isimila central valley consisting of a deep canyon characterized by imposing pinnacles and erosion towers creating an environment of extraordinary charm.
The Isimila museum presents the ethnographic historical and archeological material from southern highlands of Tanzania purposely to highlight people’s ingenuity as manifested by material culture showing the technological continuity and innovations.

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