Kahigi of Kianja

Kahigi of Kianja photgraphed by the missionary Johanssen (1915)

So, I will start with pictures of Kahigi of Kianja. He was the ruler of one of the successor states of the Greater Kiamtwara empire, which felt apart shortly before the arrival of the Germans in 1890. Kahigi's territory was the smallest of the emerging successor kingdoms, and his rule was constantly contested by raids of the neighboring kingdoms. To stop these raids and to preserve his throne he had to pay tribute to his neighbors as well as to the Bugandans, then the regional hegemonic power. When Germans arrived in 1891 in the region, Kahigi welcomed them as allies in the ongoing struggle for dominance in the region. He was among the first local rulers to offer his services to the boma, as the Germans called their military stations, and within a decade, he rose towards the most powerful kings of the region.

The many costumes of Kahigi: As a officer in a prussian uniform (Source DKG-Archive)

Kahigi as a land-lord (Source: DKG-Archive) 

Kahigi's fortune increased with the arrival of Willibald von Stuemer as the new official at the boma of Bukoba in 1906. Kahigi of Kianja successively extended his sphere of influence over neighboring kingdoms and was even awarded by the Germans for his cooperation with some territory of his rivals. Kahigi used his alliance with the Germans and the proximity of his court to the boma of Bukoba to establish his court as an important diplomatic center of the region. The court of Kianja became a place where Germans banished some political dissidents from other regions. It allowed Kahigi to step into the old game of manipulating political dissidents for his own aims. Moreover, when Bukoba became a new entrepot of trade with Ruanda and Burundi and with Buganda, he profited from the new trade routes. He also became engaged in the cultivation of coffee and other cash crops.

Kahigi of Kianja and Willibald von Stuemer during the visit of the Herzog of Mecklemburg (Source: Czekanowski 1911)

Kahigi and Stuemer developed some sort of a working relationship which was profitable to both of them. While Kahigi became more powerful and richer with every year in power, Stuemer soon was handled as the colony's most successful colonial administrator. For the Germans, notably for the governor Count von Götzen and his successor Rechenberg, Kahigi's cooperation with the Stuemer became the model of German colonial politics in the region and beyond. When the Secretary of the State for Colonial affairs, Bernhard Dernburg visited the colony, he was also a guest at Kahigi's residence. The reception was carefully orchestrated by Kahigi and Stuemer and seemed to have convinced Dernburg. In the aftermath of his visit, Dernburg took not only on the British Indirect Rule in Buganda, but also its German version at Bukoba as a blueprint for reforms of colonial politics of the Empire.

"The sultan's harem", the title in Czekanowskis book promises to the reader. Taken at the same occasion (Source: Czekanowski 1911)

This is another scene from the solemn reception of Herzog of Mecklemburg at Kahigi's residence (Source: Czekanowski 1911)

Kahigi was in no doubt how to deal with the Germans. He certainly knew how to meet German expectations and manipulate their ignorance and fears for his own aims. Several rulers became victims of his intrigues. Above all he was an able performer in the mixed world of colonial and African rituals of power. On many pictures he can be seen clothed with various German uniforms and accessories from the Swahili culture. He recruited a personal guard known as ruga-ruga which assembled the uniforms and regulations of German colonial troops. He built himself a two-floor stone house together with a guest house for his many visitors. Dernburg was followed by the Herzog of Mecklemburg, member of the wider Hohenzollern family, a delegation of law makers of the Reichstags and many less famous Germans. To visit his residence turned into a must-be for German travelers. Kahigi, therefore, became one of the most pictured chiefs of the German colony.  
Kahigi and the commander of the Schutzruppe von Schleinitz (on the right?), ca. 1908 (Source: DKG-Archive)
Kahigi and his court. On the left you see his ruga-ruga and his advisers, ca. 1908 (Source: DKG-Archive)

Kahigi died in unexplained circumstances shortly afer the Germans left the region during the First World War.


  1. Great Journal. As a native of Bukoba (Lesser Kyamutwara Kingdom) I am deeply touched with your posts depicting the lives and interpretations from images captures by the German Colonisers. One wonders, how what fate those Kingdoms (large and small) and their people would have had had Europeans not showed up in their midst. Thanks again.

  2. This is a starting point for reconstruction of Buhaya history about Kianja and Kahigi seems there are many things still needs to be investigated

  3. Hi ? Kahigi had haw many children and where did they end up .most probably Bamuhiga was one of them


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