AEI celebrate Chilembwe Day

John Chilembwe and his family

John Chilembwe and his family

15 January is John Chilembwe Day in Malawi and it is a public holiday. Students from Andiamo Education Institutions (AEI) commemorated the day with a lecture on “Why Chilembwe Day” in the morning and different sports activities in the afternoon.

Geoffrey Mdala, a history teacher, who gave the lecture on “Why Chilembwe Day” discussed among other things: the earliest opposition of black people to the white rule; who was John Chilembwe; why Chilembwe uprising in 1915; and the plot of John Chilembwe to overthrow the white rule by force.

John Chilembwe was one of the freedom fighters in Malawi. He was an educated Yao who came from Chiradzulu District from Southern Malawi.  He was born around 1871 at Sangano village in Chiradzulu district. His mother Nyangu was a Mang’anja and his father Kaundama was a Yao.  He spent his early years in Chiradzulu but later went to Chilomoni in Blantyre where he attended Blantyre Presbyterian Mission. Later he joined Joseph Booth of Zambezi Industrial Mission at Mitsidi in Blantyre. It was Rev Joseph Booth who influenced Chilembwe intellectually as well as politically. He wrote a book Africa for Africans and in this book he criticized the white treatment towards the black people and the book encouraged the black people to be strong politically and intellectually.

 In 1897, Booth took Chilembwe to United States of America to study Theology at Virginian Theological Seminary. A certain Negro of national Baptist convention sponsored him. In 1900, Chilembwe returned to Nyasaland and then he bought 93 acres of land in Chiradzulu and he started Providence Industrial Mission.

On Chilembwe’s uprising in 1915, Mdala explained that the first reason for the uprising was the resentment against colonial administrative policies in other areas. Chilembwe was against Thangata   system where Malawians were just working for the white in their farms without pay.

“Chilembwe regarded that as a form of slavery. He was also against imposition of heavy taxation in terms of hut tax and poll tax against Africans. Chilembwe was against this because Africans were not employed and it was hard for them to get money. Thirdly, in 1912, drought happened and it made many Africans to resent the colonial rule. The white had abundant food while the Africans starved to death. Furthermore, the whites were given fertile areas and Malawians were dispersed on hilly areas,” explained Mdala.

The second cause of the uprising was the effects of the First World War.  “Chilembwe was against Africans joining the world war whose cause and the benefits they did not know. They were forced to surrender and grow abundant food to feed the whites. There was also poor relationship between Africans and Livingstone at the Bruce estate at Magomero.  With the causes above Chilembwe started to encourage some Africans to rebel against the white rule.  Then the white people planned to arrest him and deport him to the Island of Mauritius as a result of his dangerous influence.

The plan goes sour…

Before the Police could act, Chilembwe followers attacked the Bruce estate at Magomero in Chiradzulu district on 23 January 1915. They killed Livingstone, Duncan and another white man whose name was not known. Then the white forces head about this and they set fire at Nguludi mission. Some of his followers were shot dead but others ran away. It is believed that Chilembwe was caught in the Mulanje area and executed. The Malawians do not know where he was buried.

“This is why we remember John Chilembwe,” concluded Mdala.

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