The Chiwaya War
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The Chiwaya War's basic conclusions are that the First World War was a major turning point in the history of Malawi's peoples, creating the first glimmers of a shared national identity; and that it marked, more than any event before or since, the entry of Malawians into the emerging modern world system far more quickly than likely they, and certainly even the most enlightened British colonial administrators of the time, would have preferred.

Introduction to the Second Edition

1 The Great Conflagration

2 A War of Thangata

3 The Machona Cohorts

4 The Hungry War

5 A Time of Fire

6 Not a Complete Peace

7 A Shame to People's Souls

8 Fighting for the World



Publié par
Date de parution 28 février 2022
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9789996066634
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 12 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,19€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


The Chiwaya War

second edition

Copyright 2022 Melvin E. Page
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any from
or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording or otherwise without prior permission from the publishers.
Published by
Mzuni Press,
P/Bag 201, Luwinga, Mzuzu 2, Malawi
ISBN 978-99960-66-62-7
eISBN 978-99960-66-63-4
The Luviri Press is represented outside Malawi by:
African Books Collective Oxford
Cover: KAR Machine Gun section in training near Fort
Johnston, 1916 or 1917. From the collection of Mrs. G.H. Snowden
and used with permission.

The Chiwaya War

Malawians and the
First World War

second edition

Melvin E. Page

Luviri Press

For Colleen, Neo, Jabulani, and Leslie

whose hard work and determination
were an inspiration

Foreword to the Second Edition 6
Acronyms and Abbreviations 8
List of Maps and Tables 9
List of Photographs 10
Original Preface 11

Introduction to the Second Edition 16

1 The Great Conflagration 28

2 A War of Thangata 54

3 The Machona Cohorts 95

4 The Hungry War 17

5 A Time of Fire 151

6 Not a Complete Peace 188

7 A Shame to People’s Souls 228

8 Fighting for the World 242

Appendix 1: On Sources and Method 261
Appendix 2: Photographic Supplement (Second Edition) 275
Bibliography 293
Additional Bibliography (Second Edition) 319
Index 329

to the
Second Edition

Although it was far away from the Western Front, the Great War
in Africa, especially in central and eastern Africa, between 1914
and 1918 has rarely ceased to reverberate in the literary
consciousness. Its appeal to writers of fiction was early apparent,
but it has been left to writers of non-fiction, notably historians to
give to these African conflicts of the First World War the very
serious treatment which they deserve. Professor Melvin E. Page
occupies an important place among these historians. At the start
of the twenty-first century, he published this thoughtful and
moving book which enhanced his reputation as a student of
central and eastern African history and as an important figure
amongst the increasing international brigade of World War
Students of Malawian history too often assumed that the fire
in the Government buildings at Zomba in 1919 destroyed the
entire archives of this British possession. Page's diligent and
wide-ranging researches demonstrate that many records, official
and unofficial, from the Great War have survived. It is from these
that he constructed his perceptive book, based on a skilful and
intensive study of these records, public and private, in Malawi
and overseas, and on a valuable body of oral evidence,
particularly from Malawi veterans of the First World War. The
Chiwaya War takes its title from the Malawian word for a machine
gun, with its sudden and shattering effects on the innocent and
guilty alike. This is no conventional military history of strategy
and tactics, victors and vanquished, medals and memorials.
Instead, its emphasis is on the effects of the 1914-1918 War on
the African inhabitants of Malawi, to most of whom it came as a
disastrous surprise, making formidable demands on their
families, crops and taxes and weakening their resistance against
diseases such as the terrible influenza pandemic of 1918-1919. 7
The possible consequences of the First World War for
Malawians had been seen as early as November 1914 by John
Chilembwe whose letter to the Nyasaland Times, struck from the
newspaper by the official censor, declared
the poor Africans who have nothing to own in this present world,
who in death leave only a long line of widows and orphans in
utter want and dire distress, are invited to die for a cause which
is not theirs.
Chilembwe's rising against the British in wartime is skilfully
woven into the text of this book which, with its wide range of
sources, written and oral, makes a valuable contribution to the
ever-fascinating story of John Chilembwe and his followers.
My own experience with soldiers from Malawi in the Second
World War and their effects on my subsequent researches into
Malawian and Pan-African history have convinced me that The
Chiwaya War effectively reveals two important consequences of
the Great War of 1914-1918 for the now independent country of
Malawi. The first is that this War was the initial national
experience for Malawians, becoming a watershed in the history of
their country. And the second consequence is that, like other
African combatants in the First World War, "the participation of
Malawians in the East African campaign drew them inexorably
into a wider world—into a modern world system" as Professor
Page suggests. Such experiences surely exemplify for the heritage
of Malawi the truth of the assertion by the English war poet,
Wilfred Owen, made not long before he was killed on the Western
front a week before peace was declared on November 11th, 1918:
"This book is not about deeds, or lands, not anything about glory,
honour, might, dominion, or power, except War, the pity of War."
Professor George Shepperson
Peterborough, United Kingdom
August 2019

Acronyms and Abbreviations

CO Colonial Office
FO Foreign Office
IWM Imperial War Museum
KAR King’s African Rifles
MAPARO Malawi Army Pay and Records Office
MCP Malawi Congress Party
MNA National Archives
MNR Museum of the Northamptonshire Regiment
NAZ National Archives of Zimbabwe
NRP Northern Rhodesia Police
PIM Providence Industrial Mission
POHC Forrest C. Pogue Oral History Collection, Murray
State University
POW Prisoners of war
PRO Public Record Office (now National Archives, London)
RHL Rhodes House Library, Oxford University
SML Society of Malawi Library
UMCA Universities’ Mission to Central Africa
WO War Office
Maps and Tables


1 Malawi administrative districts, also indicating
approximate population density [1960 census] 94

2 German East Africa Campaign, showing retreat
of General von Lettow-Vorbeck 187

3 World War One military campaigns in Africa 241


1 Malawian Askari, by Districts 68

2 Malawian Military Labour, by District 93

3 Malawian KAR Casualties 139


A Massive Tengatenga Effort 276
The Power of Porterage 277
Scattered Lines of Communication 278
Motor Vehicles and New Roads 279
Mysteries of Motorized Transport I 280
Mysteries of Motorized Transport II 281
New Technologies Meet the Old I 282
New Technologies Meet the Old II 283
Malawian Naval Service 284
Vagaries of Aeroplane Support 285
King’s African Rifles Marching Band 286
King’s African Rifles in Training 287
King’s African Rifles at War 288
Excitement in the Air! 289
Two Old Soldiers 290
Research in Practice I 291
Research in Practice II 292

Original Preface

This book has had a long—perhaps an abnormally long—
gestation period. The project, normally enough, grew out of an
initial interest sparked by a graduate seminar paper I prepared
almost thirty years ago. The late Professor Jim Hooker was
responsible for inspiring that effort. Then, after I had passed over
other possibilities, he also opened doors that led me to Malawi for
the research which would be necessary for my doctoral
Even at that point my academic attentions were turned
elsewhere: my initial intent was to explore the historic formation of
Yao ethnic identity in the Mulanje District of the country. But in
the research, and political, environment of Malawi at that time,
such a project seemed untenable. Searching out an alternative, I
returned to that seminar paper I had written several years before.
Since my interest seemed to focus on a specialized aspect of the
military as an institution, the work seemed possible. And it was
at that point that Professor Bridglal Pachai, then chair of the
History Department of the University of Malawi, stepped in to
make the contacts necessary to promote the project. Without his
institutional interventions and personal encouragement, I do not
believe this entire project would have been possible.
Though I was comfortable with the military and institutional
focus which opened the doors for my research, from the start I
searched out ways to explore the broader social consequences of
World War One for Malawians. Still, looking at war—and the role
of colonial armies—in shaping the history of Malawi’s peoples has
sometimes led me, and others, to an occasionally skewed
12 Preface
understanding of this study. While it is about an episode with
clear military implications, it is not primarily a military history.
Keeping that clearly in mind is something I owe to Professor
Harold Marcus who, as dissertation supervisor, insisted I
maintain the social history focus I had originally intended.
For that reason, the initial organization of the material, which
has been retained for this book, was around social focal points of
Malawian experience which nonetheless have a chronological
thrust. Thus, the first chapter considers the sudden impact of an
extraordinary military conflict on the then Nyasaland
Protectorate, truly “A Great Conflagration”. Soon, however, the reality of
the war was felt in demands for labour, not just soldiers,
understood in terms of colonial taxation, remembered as “A War
of Thangata”, and chronicled in chapter two. Even Malawians
outside the country, “The Machona Cohorts” described in chapter
three, were also drawn into the global hostilities. For most
Malawians caught in the campaigns, though, the clearest
memories of their experien

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