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Will President Samia bring back Mangi Meli’s Skull from Germany?

As President Samia Suluhu graces the first public held cultural festival for communities living around Mount Kilimanjaro, the issue of the heroic, Chagga Chief who was killed by Colonialists is cropping up.

The Mangi and his Wives

The Head of State is attending the maiden Chagga Cultural event being staged at the Moshi Cooperative University’s grounds in Kilimanjaro Region.

Among other things, fingers are crossed on whether she will comment on the former Chagga Chief, Mangi Meli’s skull controversy.

The Skull of the former Paramount Chief is believed to be still in Germany despite 50 years long efforts to have the remains flown back to Kilimanjaro.

Discussions of social media and online platforms wonder if the head of state will intervene in ensuring that the skull of Chief Meli, who was beheaded by Germans, more than 120 years ago, is brought back to the country, from Berlin.

The Mangi, known as Meli Kiusa bin Rindi Makindara was a brave Chagga leader who ruled in the late 1890s.

Mangi Meli. The Brave Chagga Chief. Photo from Deutsche Fotothek files

Chief (Mangi) Meli fought against the German colonial occupation in the area around Mount Kilimanjaro until he was arrested and executed in Moshi in the early twentieth century.

Mangi Meli was essentially hanged by the German colonial government on the 2nd of March 1900.

Historically the Chagga Chief remains one of the heroes of the former Tanganyika colony, having been prominent in the fight against colonial encroachment on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Chief Meli (Center) with other Chagga Officials during colonial days (photo From Deutsche Fotothek)

Though he was executed for his resistance by hanging in a public square at Moshi, Meli’s head would later be cut off and shipped to Berlin, Germany at the request of the Ethnological Museum’s Head of Africa and Oceania department Felix von Luschan.

As it happens, Von Luschan collected thousands of skulls from all over the world for scientific testing based on Rassenlehre – racial ideology.

For many years, Mangi Meli’s descendants who believe the skull which was sent to Germany is still there, have been fighting to have their ancestor’s remains shipped back to Tanzania for a proper traditional burial, which is very important in Chagga community.

However, the Mangi Meli skull is piled among other thousands of skeletons collected as human trophies inside the Berlin Museum.

In 2018 Mangi Meli’s grandson, Isaria Meli (90) took DNA test in Berlin, following invitation from the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK), which takes care of the archive of human remains.

Isaria Meli

The SPK identified six skulls that could be from Tanzania, precisely Kilimanjaro and date from the time the chief was killed. The bones bear the inscription “Dschagga” or “Wadschagga”, referring to the German spellings of Mangi Meli’s ethnic group.

Thousands of skulls were initially sent to Germany from its entire colonial base including the present-day Tanzania.

It is a large collection of 5,500 skulls, including some 200 human remains from Tanzania.

These were placed under the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in 2011.

Since then, the organization has been investigating the exact geographical origin of the remains.

The statue of a very important person in Chagga Community and Tanzanian History

Regarding what exactly happened to Mangi Meli’s skull is still a mystery.

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