First Disaster: Maji-Maji War
German colonial policy aimed at securing Germany's status as a great power, securing economic profit for German companies and German settlers and reducing the cost of colonial administration. For the African populace that meant forced labour, taxes and arbitrary use of power by the local authorities. On the other hand the colonial rule also meant the end of the peoples' constant warring against each other and of the slave hunts. But this was a benefit only for the Wangoni's neighbours, not for the Wangoni themselves, because Wangoni economy before colonization had partly relied on booty taken from their weaker neighbours. The medicine man Kinjikitile brought a new message: Africans should unite to fight the colonialists, his charmed medicine, water (in Swahili "maji") mixed with certain ingredients, would protect them from the German bullets. "Maji-Maji" was the battle cry of many African peoples starting the war against the Germans in July, August and September 1905. 7 out of only 15 German victims were Missionary Benedictine monks and sisters.
Murder and Destruction
Fr. Cassian had been appointed the first bishop of the Benedictines' mission area in 1902. In August 1905 he was travelling from the port of Kilwa to Peramiho, where he intended to meet Abbot Norbert Weber of St.Ottilien who was performing the canonical visitation there. Before setting out from Kilwa he received a warning, but later information was reassuring. In the wilderness near Liwale, at a place called Mikukuyumbu, the founder of Peramiho, two brothers, two sisters and a young Anglican African were murdered on August 14th, 1905. The other Africans accompanying them were able to escape or had already fled on the day before. Through them the message of the missionaries' fate came to Peramiho on 26th. On September 3rd Nkosi Mputa Gama had his war drums sounded, the missionaries decided to flee to the neighbouring mission at Kigonsera. But the parish priest, Fr. Franziskus Leuthner, refused to leave his flock. On September 9th the Wangoni destroyed Peramiho, Fr.Franziskus was killed. So Mputa had had his revenge, because two years earlier Fr.Franzikus hat forced him in front of his followers to destroy a hut where offerings for the spirits had been made. That had been a bad humiliation for the lord paramount.
African spears were no match for the European machine guns. So the Africans switched to guerilla warfare, but the Germans started to confiscate, to burn, to kill the stocks, the fields and the cattle. This warfare against the civilian population was a war crime also by the standards of the time. The Benedictines, especially Fr. Johannes Häfliger, protested sharply, also the democratic parties in the Reichstag (parliament) in Berlin uttered their criticism. But in those times of monarchy the government was not a parliamentary one. About 100,000 Africans fell victims to the machine guns and the hunger. The lords of the were taken prisoners, if they could not escape like the legendary Chabruma. Fr. Johannes was allowed to see them before their execution on February 27th, 1906. 31 out of 48 captives accepted the baptism he offered them, among them the Nkosi, Mputa Gama, who had ordered the execution of Fr. Franziskus. On that occasion the photograph of the chained lords was taken.
A New Start
After suffering defeat the Wangoni had to accept colonial rule. The missionaries did their best to help the people during the famine after the war. Some of them, like Fr. Johannes Häflinger, went very far in defending them against the arbitrariness of the colonial authorities. So it was no wonder that the zeitgeist was in favour of Christianity. Bishop Thomas Spreiter, who became successor of the murdered Cassian Spiß in 1906, especially stressed the establishment of schools. Many catechists were being trained and invested as teachers in the so-called "bush schools". Zeitgeist and schools didn't convert the people automatically. Nobody was baptized without applying out of his own free will. Students were not baptized without parental consent. Indeed most students were baptized some day, but not all of them.
Second Disaster: First World War
In 1913 the area of the Benedictines was divided into two parts, because the number of missionaries and of Christians had grown considerably. The southern part, including Peramiho, became the new Prefecture Apostolic of Lindi under Fr. Willibrord Lay. Also for Peramiho and its three neighbouring missions (Kigonsera established in 1899, Lituhi est. 1912, Litembo est. 1914) all communication with Europe was through the port of Lindi. When in July and August 1914 the Europeans started to kill each other, the Germans in the colonies were cut off. Now the local Christians, especially the catechists had their great hour. The catechist volunteered to continue on a very low pay, because no European money was available. At the end of 1916 the British conquered the area surrounding Peramiho. Luckily the German troops withdrew without much resistance, so that the populace was spared the sufferings of the people in the eastern part of our mission area, where the German commander continued futile fighting until 1918. The British honoured the German resistance by calling it a "gallant fight", thus showing that they were as ignorant of the African suffering as the Germans
The Catechists' Hour
Although the area of Peramiho had been largely spared the horrors of warfare, church and people were badly affected by the deportation of all missionaries, even of the nationals of neutal Switzerland, even of the sisters, of whom many were committed to nursing the sick. Now the African Catechists were the ones to lead the congregations without the help of a single priest. The merits of Cassian Homahoma Gama at Lituhi, Petri Ndunguru at Litembo and Constantin Akitanda at Matiri, an outstation of Kigonsera should not be forgotten. The British army established a military hospital at Peramiho. Fr. Ambroise Fauconnier PA, a Frenchman of the order of the White Fathers, who had been a missionary in Malawi before becoming an army chaplain, was among the patients there. After recovering in January 1918 he started pastoral care for the congregation of Peramiho, leaving the army for that purpose. Other members of his order arrived and assumed responsibility for the Christians in the area of Peramiho. The statistics for 1916 counted 7,000 Christians, in 1922 there were 13,000.