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Chapter Six Broadcast on the Winds On November 25, 1923 in the heart of the Shire Highlands, the white settler region of colonial Nyasaland, four Angoni youths visited the store of Osman Gani and asked about the price of cloth. When the shopkeeper quoted a figure, the young men demurred, and provocatively explained that they would wait until the next month, when Europeans and Indians were gone from the country and the cloth could be acquired for free. On the same day, on the nearby Glenbreck Estate, another Indian shopkeeper, Hassam Osman, told a surprised white patron that he would prefer not to install proper windows in his store ahead of a planned “native” rising. Osman explained that throughout the week, “natives” had been complaining about the price of cloth, and threatening that they would soon obtain the material for nothing. He had subsequently heard “strong” rumors that members of the Watchtower movement, the independent African religious sect, were preparing to ignite a rebellion, set to commence on December 15. Secret meetings, it was said, were being held nightly under the cover of darkness along the road connecting Blantyre to the capital,Zomba.It could only be imagined that at these meetings sinister plans for the rising were being carefully drawn.1 Since May 1922, when members of the Watchtower movement had been formally authorized to practice their faith in Nyasaland, a stream of worried reports had been reaching colonial authorities. It was widely believed—­ most pointedly by the Catholic missionaries of the Marist Mission and by white settlers—­ that the Watchtower were exploiting the misguided laxity of the colonial state, and using the veneer of religious worship as a cover for a political agenda with clear “pan-­Ethiopian”objectives.2 What exactly that meant was not clear, but this was precisely the problem. Africans were being recruited at an alarming pace, without regard to tribe or origin, lifted out of the orbit of traditional rulers, beyond the surveillance arm of the colonial state, and into a shadowy world of African leadership , replete with widely reported illegal and completely unpreventable secret meetings.3 The information that was trickling through—­ a mixture Broadcast on the Winds • 161 of rumor, hearsay, and innuendo—­ was hardly encouraging. Large centers of activity were reported near Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique ), from where Watchtower adherents were thought to be receiving inflammatory literature of the “bolshevic” and otherwise seditious sorts. Despite their questionable loyalty, Watchtower members were said to be employed in the King’s African Rifles, in the police force, and by the local boma (administrative headquarters). They were said to hold chiefs and headmen in contempt.4 In October 1923, a man who had left the Watchtower reported to authorities that all members had been told that war with Europeans was on the horizon, and that they must learn how to use spears. He also revealed that members secretly called their schools “John Chilembwe” schools, in reference to the martyred pastor who had risen against the state in 1915. This would have come as no surprise to members of the Marist Mission, who had years earlier warned authorities about Chilembwe, and who for the past year had been signaling the same alarm about the Watchtower movement, which they argued shared its essential features with Chilembwe’s church. “The W.T. [Watchtower] movement is religious, and composed of fanatics,” wrote Father Riviere in a long dispatch to intelligence authorities in Zomba. “[B]ut under the cloak of religion there is a secret political end, known to, and wished for by its leaders who, when they consider the time is ripe will utilize the fanaticism of their members for their political ends, which can be summed up in the phrase, ‘Africa for the Africans.’” The Marists proposed drastic action, and suggested the inevitability of open rebellion if steps were not taken.The Planters’Association in Milalongwe also weighed in,expressing doubt that the government could credibly claim that their children were properly protected. The association advocated the recruitment of Africans from other colonies to serve as “mobile columns,” and the stationing of KAR troops at Blantyre.5 On the morning of December 14, 1923 alarming reports that the insurrection was imminent spread quickly through Zomba. Indian storekeepers on the road between Zomba and Blantyre were said to be packing up their goods and decamping to more secure locations in Limbe; a few European planters and their families abandoned their estates to seek greater protection . KAR patrols...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
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