1. Education

John Chilembwe

Southern African Nationalist


John Chilembwe was a western educated, Baptist minister who led an unsuccessful revolt against British authority in Nyasaland in 1915. Considered one of the region's first nationalists.

Date of birth: c.1860 (or 1871)
Date of death: 3 February 1915, Blantyre district, Nyasaland (now Malawi).

Between 1892 and 95 John Chilembwe worked as a servant to the fundamentalist missionary Joseph Booth. In 1897, Booth took Chilembwe to the United States and encouraged him to study theology at a black theological college, the Virginia Theological College. It was whilst studying here that Chilembwe encountered the works of significant Pan-Africanists such as JE Casely Hayford, Marcus Garvey and Booker T Washington.

Chilembwe retuned to Nyasaland in 1900 and founded the Providence Industrial Mission at Mbombwe. The mission set up several schools around Blantyre district over the next few years.

In 1913, an influx of refugees from Mozambique lead to a reduction of employment standards in Nyasaland's plantations. Chilembwe's Baptist missionary work was seen as nationalistic revolution by the plantation owners, and some of his churches were burnt down. Two years later, in response to the cruelty of white plantation owners, John Chilembwe led an uprising (of about 200 followers) against British rule. (It has been suggested that he was also disgusted by the use of African soldiers against German forces in East Africa during World War I.) Chilembwe and his followers attacked the estate of a particularly ruthless white owner, William Jervis Livingstone, killing him and several of the white estate managers. (Livingstone was beheaded in front of his wife and children.) Their heads were put on display in Chilembwe's church.

Chilembwe failed to gain support from the surrounding districts and his revolt was rapidly quelled. Chilembwe was shot by the police on 3 February 1915.

John Chilembwe's face has appeared on Malawi banknotes, and 15 January is celebrated in Malawi as John Chilembwe Day.

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