Muhumusa (Northern Rwanda) by Max Weiß,

Muhumusa ("Sultanin Mumusa" in the Original), ca. 1904

This picture is important for various reasons. First, it is one of only few photographs of Muhumusa, a legendary priest of the Nyabingi cult, who led the opposition against the Rwandan King Musinga in the northern parts of the kingdom. Muhumusa claimed to be a wife of the former King Rwabugiri and contested the legitimacy of Musinga's claim to the throne. The legitimacy of Musinga was indeed questionable, since he came to power by a coup in 1896. Germans initially denied requests of Musinga to support him in the suppression of Muhumusa's revolt. Shortly after the picture was taken, Germans, however, took action against her. Muhumusa was captured by German troops and sent to exile to Bukoba. In 1911, she escaped her imprisonment and renewed her rebellion against the king and what she now regarded as being his European allies. She was again captured, but this time by the British, and deported from the region. She thus became one of the few women of her time to become a prominent figure in the anti-colonial resistance.

The photographer Max Weiß was an officer of the German colonial forces. Later, he worked for the Anglo-German boundary commission that demarcated the border between both colonial territories. He became also a member of the Expedition of the Herzog of Mecklemburg in 1910, which was easily one of the biggest German scientific enterprises in Eastern and Central Africa during their colonial rule. In  future posts, I will reproduce a lot of his pictures from his book Die Völkerstämme Im Norden Deutsch-Ostafrikas  (Berlin 1910) and those published in the official account of Herzog-Mecklemburg-Expedition.

Weiß was an especially violent agent of colonial rule. During his first expedition into the region he attacked several villages and murdered dozens of Africans for some minor reasons. Violence, too, was an important element, when he photographed Africans. For Weiß, to get a picture of Muhumusa was an important trophy because he would be the first to do so.  According to his description of how that picture came about, Muhumusa initially refused to be photographed without her veil or in full posture. After some discussion, Weiß eventually tried to lift the veil by himself, but the Mumuhusa's “minister” (as he called him) denied this to Weiß. After further discussions, Muhumusa agreed to lift the veil a little bit more, but only after all other persons left the scene.

Muhumusa in her palanquin ("Mumusa in ihrem Tragekorb" in the original)


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