The role played by traditional Religion in African resistance wars.

Following  the social, political  and economic  discontent  of the Africans as a result of bad colonial  treatment,  Africans  tried  to react violently  against  them  and because  they were militarily inferior to Europeans,  they all turned to their African traditional Religious leaders to be their Military commanders  on wars against whites. Such wars included the Maji-Maji, Shona-Ndebele,    Ternne-  Mende,   the  Nama-Herero    etc.  Unfortunately,    these  leaders provided  false protection which  ended into their massive  deaths at the bands of colonialists followed by their defeat eventually.  Some of their roles include;

I.       The leadership role:

It should be noted from the introduction  that the leaders in African revolts were religious and had divine powers. E.g. Kinjikitile Ngwale, Nehanda, Kagubi, Umulugulu, Nyamanda, Witbooi  of the Nama  etc. they  practiced  their  traditional  cults  in leading  the resistance. Thus religion played a very strong leadership role.

2.       It acted as a unifying factor:

It  should  be  noted  that,  the  primary   aim  of  these  rebellions   was  to  regain  African independence.  Earlier all resistances  were defeated because  they were disunited. E.g. with the Maji-Maji, every fighter bad to drink water and sprinkle some on his body. Such beliefs unified many tribes against the colonialists.  It also instilled "the spirit of brotherhood  among the fighters from many regions of Tanganyika. It brought diverse tribes together.

3.       It hastened unity:

Among the Ndebele, religious  belief of Mwari cult had instilled  a sense of unity among the Ndebele  castes and when the revolt  broke out all the tribes including  slaves and those who had been assimilated  fought  together  for a common  cause.  E.g. the Karanga and Rwozwi joined the struggle. They had a common attachment to Mwari cult that united them.

4.       Provision of confidence:

Religion  blessed the fighters with all the confidence  they required  which had been lacking in former resistance.  Hence it had an effect of prolonging  the period of the struggle-longer than it would have taken, for example, Maji-Maji (1905-07),  Chimurenga (1896-97).

5.       Raising of Support:

Religion  also assisted  the leaders  in mobilising  enough  support  and manpower  from their fellow  Africans.  It would  have  been hard  to raise  an army  to shock  the imperialists  and make them know that Africans  were tired of their rule and that what they wanted was the whites  to go back.  For example,  commonly  they were all adversely  affected  religiously, socially, politically and economically.  Therefore organising them was not difficult.

6.       Disrespecting  of Traditional  religious leaders:

Politically  chiefs  who  were  in most  cases  traditional  religious  leaders  were  very much neglected.  Traditional  customs  and religion were also undermined  by Christian missionary activities  e.g. no drinking  of Alcohol,  no polygamy,  murder  of twins, no human sacrifice etc. all these caused a social discontent among African leaders.

The responsibility    of misfortunes:                          

Religious    leaders   confirmed    to  their  subjects   that,  the  real  cause   for  disasters    and  other misfortunes    was  the  Whiteman    whom   they  obviously    ousted   from  their  land.  Therefore religious   leaders  helped  to know  the real  enemy.  The situation   was  interpreted   to be ripe  for people  to return  to their  gods  and  priests  warned  people   of their  continued   association   with the  Whiteman.    More  to  this,  religious   leaders   argued   that  the  disasters   had  come  because people  had neglected   the traditional   gods  and  cooperated   with  foreigners.

8.       Sustainance   of war  efforts:

Traditional    religious   leaders  played  an important   role  of prolonging   the  war  efforts   amidst loss  and  failures.    This  was  done  through   predictions     of  victory   and  threats   mixed   with intimidation.     For  example    the  guerilla   warfare   in  the  Matoposhills     was  sustained    by  a feeling   that  victory    was   ahead   and  that   the  high   god  would   punish   those   who   would surrender   the Whiteman.   Mkwati  among  the Shona  had  this to say;

"Mlimo   (their  evil/spirits)    will  kill  those  who  make  peace   in war  against   whites." With  such  threats  warriors   feared  entering  into  negotiations    with  Whiteman.

9.       Burying   the differences   between   some  Afncan   societies:

The  importance    of  Traditional    Religious    leaders   in  African   resistance    against   the  Whites can be seen  in a way  it transcended   the ethnic  boundaries.   Even  former  tribal  enemies   came together   for  a common   cause  against  the  Europeans.    Therefore,    the  Shona  who  suffered   a lot under  Ndebele   rule  had to again join  them  against  the British  South  African   Company.

However,   religion   did  not  succeed   in bringing   higher   predictions   to  reality.   This  was  as  a result  of various   weaknesses   on the side  of Africans   that  became  advantage   to the Whites.

10.     False  beliefs  or promises:

Religion   had  false  beliefs,   for  example,   in Tanganyika    during  the Maji-Maji   rebellion.   the belief  of water  (Maji)  that  it would  bring  immunity   against  the  German  bullets  was  wrong It was  completely    disproved    beyond   doubt  when  on  their  first  attacks   against   Germans   at

Mahongo    fort,  Africans    went   armed   with   spears   were   killed   in  large  numbers    and  fled crying  from  pain  sustained   in battlefield.   They  had  this  to say;

"Kinjikitile    you  have  cheated   us,  those  Matubi   (his  assistants)   told  us  that  the European    guns  would   not  fire  into  our  bodies   and  we  are  now  being   wiped out".

11.    Made  Africans   believe  blindly:

Religion   made  Africans    to  believe   blindly   and  accept   without   scientific   proof   about   the powerful   nature  of European   arms.  Europeans   were  armed  with  repeater  rifles  as compared to  Africans   who  had  spears,   shields   and  arrow.   Even   those  who  happened    to have   guns

were  quite  ancient  and poor  in quality  not  like  the European   canons,  rifles  and muskets.

12.     The speed  of the war:

Europeans   because.  of their  advanced   weapons   broke  down  the African   resistance   quickly which  demoralised    those  who  were  able  to  continue   with  the  war.  This  made  warriors   to lose confidence   in 'their religious   predictions   thus a big weakness   on African  side.

13.  Mistrust of traditional religious leaders promises:                                                           

The  victory  promised   by religious  leaders  was  not  forthcoming.   The  warriors  died  of bullets and starvation that forced them to surrender to Whiteman' s superiority.

14.    Problem of a target or convenience  unity:

As  for instance,    before  the  war,  Shona  and the  Ndebele   were  not  co-operative.   The Ndebele first revolted and were defeated. Then the Shona revolted against the British, the Ndebele never gave a hand and too were easily defeated. This was because the Ndebele had weakened, perhaps if they had coperated strongly, they would have held the British longer than  they  did  or  probably   defeated  them  out  of  their  land.  But  because  of  traditional enemity, their merging (Shona-Ndebele)  was just a theory.

15.    Loss of confidence in their war strategies:

At last, they learnt that their religious 6eliefs could not hold water, they became weakened and lost confidence  from their religious  leaders. They  withdrew  their support and whites met a little resistance  in suppressing  the struggles. However  they

learnt a lesson as African resistors. This is why the most of 20th  century measures to regain the African independence from the colonialists were full of diplomacy and not guided by religious principles.