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Chilembwe, John (1871–1915)

Eliakim Sibanda

Subject History » Political History
Social Movements » Collective Behaviour

Place Africa » Southern Africa

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1800-1899, 1900-1999

Key-Topics bibliography, democracy, inequality, racism, revolution

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405184649.2009.00342.x


John Chilembwe was the key figure in early resistance in Nyasaland (now Malawi), and a revered protest figure in Southern Africa. Chilembe was born in June 1871 at Sangano, Chiradzulu, near present-day Blantyre. His father's name was Kaundama, and he was a member of the Yoa people; his mother, Nyangu, was a member of the Mang'anja. Chilembwe grew to manhood in the era of the Scramble for Africa. The territory that became Nyasaland was traditionally claimed by the Portuguese, but had a significant British commercial and missionary presence, and was declared a British protectorate in 1891, controlled by the British South Africa Company of Cecil John Rhodes from 1893 to 1907, after which it reverted to direct British rule. Like many men of his generation, John Chilembwe was exposed to Christianity and was apparently educated in a Church of Scotland mission. Like many converts, he was strongly opposed to polygamy and beer-drinking, emphasizing thrift and industrious labor. His identity was, however, complex, playing on both traditional and modern traditions. His mother's name, Nyangu, could be traced to a kingdom in Central Africa, suggesting a royal descent that Chilembwe sometimes evoked; at the same time, he adopted the name “John” from the Bible. Chilembwe's next encounter with Christianity came while employed by Joseph Booth, a radical British missionary who espoused an apocalyptic ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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