Skull Of Mkwawa: At the end of World War I, the Treaty of Versailles was signed in June 1919 at the Palace of Versailles in Paris, establishing terms of peace between Germany and the victorious Allies. The Treaty not only held Germany accountable for launching the war, but also penalized her with critical clauses such as territorial and colonial hangovers, weapons restrictions, and reparations payments.
Article 246 of the Treaty said, “Within six months… Germany will send over to His Britannic Majesty’s Government the skull of the Sultan Mkwawa, which was removed from the Protectorate of German East Africa and brought to Germany.”
Mkwawa was the chief of the Hehe people, who rebelled against German control in German East Africa (now Tanzania). He was born in 1855 and given the name Ndesalasi, which means “troublemaker,” but as an adult, he was given the name Mtwa Mkwava Mkwavinyika Mahinya Yilimwiganga Mkali Kuvago Kuvadala Tage Matenengo Manwiwage Seguniwagula Gumganga, which means “a leader who takes control of the forests, who is aggressive to men and polite to women, who is unpredictable and unbeatable, and who has the power that it is only death who can take him away”.
His name was abbreviated to Mkwawa by the Germans. Mkwawa, an anti-colonial hero and gallant warrior, led his forces to victory over the Germans at Lugalo in 1891. The leader and his people, armed with spears, slaughtered 300 German soldiers and took their weapons.
Mkwawa and his Hehe (Wahehe) people were gaining ground in East Africa at the time, while Germany attempted to seize control of the region. The Germans brought more heavy guns three years after the combat at Lugalo, and were able to destroy the Hehe army. Mkwawa, on the other hand, was never apprehended until four years later. “Rather than submit to German domination, he would fight them to the farthest limit, and rather than surrender, he would die by his own gun,” he vowed in 1895, while the Germans were seeking for him.
And it is believed that he did so in 1898. A bounty was placed on his head that year, prompting a manhunt. He allegedly took his own life on July 19, 1898, rather than be apprehended. He was hiding in a cave surrounded by German soldiers at the time. When Sergeant Major Merkl and his forces were closing in on Mkwawa on July 19, they heard shooting and dashed to the camp, where they discovered Mkwawa and another native laying by the campfire.
Merkl ordered his soldiers to chop Mkwawa’s head off and transport it to the Iringa camp, where Captain Tom Prince took custody of it and ‘had it dried.’ The German invaders used the skull as a symbol to terrify the Wahehe people in Tanzania, and it was eventually transferred to Germany at the turn of the century.
However, three days after the end of World War I, Horace Byatt, a British colonial administrator in East Africa, wrote to the Colonial Office, urging Britain to do everything possible to recover Mkwawa’s skull from Germany, citing the Wahehe people’s assistance during the war that saw Germany defeated. He claimed that doing so would provide “concrete proof to the natives that German control had been utterly destroyed,” as well as a satisfaction to the Wahehe people.
The British had taken control of German colonies in East Africa at the time. The four leaders of the major allied countries were unmoved by Byatt’s recommendation that the skull is recovered at a meeting in February 1919. Even if it was a nice concept, one of the leaders said it was “hardly a subject for inclusion in the overall Peace Treaty.”
However, one of the British leaders later stated that the pact would “include a schedule of various things, primarily of artistic and archaeological interest, which were captured by the Germans and had to be restored.” The skull, which Viscount Milner referred to as a “craniological curiosity,” could be considered an object of art and added to the list, he argued.
Mkwawa’s skull ended up in the Treaty of Versailles as a result of this. The skull was supposed to be returned within six months, according to the Treaty. It wasn’t until 35 years later that it returned home.
After the Treaty, Germany claimed it didn’t have Mkwawa’s skull and that it couldn’t be discovered anywhere. The British, who had succeeded the Germans in East Africa at the time, were eager to recover the skull because they intended to utilize it to their advantage. Finally, in January 1953, the Germans stated that the skull might be part of the Museum für Völkerkunde in Bremen’s extensive collection.
In June of that year, Edward Twining, the British administrator of Tanganyika (modern-day Tanzania), flew to Bremen to identify the skull in the Museum. He and some of the authorities with whom he had traveled proceeded to a storeroom where there was a large closet full of East African skulls.
Even though Mkwawa had killed himself, Twining assumed the Germans shot him in the head to ensure he was dead. As a result, when he came upon a skull with a gunshot hole in it, he had it checked. The hole was found to be the same caliber as the sort of bullet employed by German troops in East Africa.
Twining sent images of Mkwawa’s skull to Chief Adam Sapi, who was now the Chief of the Hehe or Wahehe people, convinced he had located it. He acknowledged the skull as his grandfather’s. On July 19, 1954, at a ceremony in Kalenga to return the skull, Twining honored the Hehe and Mkwawa’s heritage before imploring the thousands of Wahehe present to be faithful to Queen Elizabeth II in exchange for the “benefits of contemporary culture and science.”
Twining wanted the Wahehe to fight in the King’s African Rifles (KAR), a British colonial militia that had been recruited from East Africa and was battling to crush the Mau Mau insurrection in Kenya. It is unknown what the Hehe present at the ceremony thought of this, but it is known that the British government erected a memorial museum and mausoleum in Kalenga, Tanzania, where Mkwawa’s skull and other Hehe cultural history items were buried and preserved.
Mkwawa’s skull is still on display in the Kalenga museum, serving as a symbol of a proud and liberated Tanzania.