John Chilembwe




Reverend John Chilembwe, of Malawi (formerly Nyasaland), is a person of mythic proportions in his homeland because he stood for Malawian nationalism against British colonialism.
Around 1890, Chilembwe became a student at the Church of Scotland mission in Blantyre. He was later converted by Joseph Booth, a British Baptist missionary, and became his assistant from 1892 until 1895. Booth worked for a number of churches and had no denominational loyalty; he taught a radical equality that resonated with Chilembwe's own sense of black pride. In 1897, Booth took Chilembwe to the United States, where a Baptist church sponsored him through Virginia Theological College. Here he seems to have come into contact with contemporary African-American thinking, especially that of Booker T. Washington. He returned to Nyasaland in 1900 as an ordained Baptist and founded the Providence Industrial Mission, which developed into seven schools.
In 1915 John Chilembwe organized and led a revolt against British rule. This revolt came during World War I, in protest of Malawians being conscripted in the British Army and the treatment of workers on plantations. In this same year the British had already been fighting the Germans in northern Nyasaland. The revolt began on Jan. 23, 1915 and ended with the death of Chilembwe on Feb. 4, 1915.

Today Malawians celebrate Chilembwe as a martyr who knew he would not survive the revolt, but who led it anyway.  It would be over 50 years before Malawi achieved independence in 1964. In 1965 President Kamuzu Banda, put Chilembwe's face on a set of four commemorative stamps issued to mark the 50th anniversary of the Uprising. Later His image was put on several of the Kwatcha notes and January 15th declared a national holiday- "John Chilembwe Day" 

ETHIOPIANISM , a nationalist and religious movement, often defined as "Africa for Africans," is said to have begun as a movement following the uprising.

In 1992, Nelson Mandela said the Ethiopian Movement, "increased the anxiety of various colonial governments," "was more than a religious Movement" with "fundamental tenets" of "self-worth, self-reliance and freedom" which drew "advocates of Ethiopianism, like a magnet, to the growing political movement."

(This in relation to the ANC, not Chilembwe, but still interesting.)

For more on Chilembwe and the Ethiopianist movement see: Independent African: John Chilembwe by George Shepperson

Independent African : John Chilembwe and the Origins, Setting ...

Another excellent book to read is  The Bones of My Ancestors- By Margaret Durham. The story of the Rev. Landon Cheek, his wife Rachel of the Yao, an African ethnic group and their descendants and their search for their African connections. 2004. This book covers some of the ties Chilembwe had to American missionaries and how Rev. Cheek came to Malawi to assist Chilembwe at the Providence Industrial Mission.

"It is too late now to talk of what might or might not have been. Whatsoever be the reasons we are invited to join in the war, the fact remains, we are invited to die for Nyasaland. We leave all for the consideration of the Government, we hope in the Mercy of Almighty God, that some day things will turn out well and that Government will recognise our indispensability, and that justice will prevail."
On behalf of his countrymen
Nyasaland Times No.48, 26 November, 1914


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