Nathanael Mtui

Nathanael Mtui

The initial aim of the project was simply to digitize these writings of Dr Bruno Gutmann, in which the cultural heritage of the Wachagga is primarily handed down.

It soon became clear that those who shared their knowledge with him were just as important as he, the person who wrote it down. Without them, these writings would not exist.

Even at the first workshop in Moshi on 1.3.2024, it was important to us as organizers to name and honour those people who we know have passed on their knowledge to Bruno Gutmann or have significantly supported him in his research. Thus, the wachagga-project website will increasingly highlight these people and document their life and work.

One of the most important of these people is Nathanael Mtui, whom we would like to present here first.

Although all information on this website is freely accessible to the public, we would like to state that it is subject to copyright.
This applies to the texts by Bruno Gutmann, but also to all other texts and the translations, both into English and into Kiswahili.
Please contact us if you wish to use or quote texts from this website. All quotations must mention the authors and/or translators.

nathanael mtui (1892 - 1927)

Nathanael (Ndeseiya, Nathaniel) Mtui, a teacher and historian, son of Mkinde Mtui and Ndelakulake Matowo, was born in 1892 in the mtaa of Mshiri in Marangu, Kilimanjaro Region, Tanzania. He is regarded for being the first person of Chagga origin to collect and write down the history of the Wachagga.

He attended the Lutheran Mission school in Ashira from 1902. He was mainly taught by native teachers, but among his teachers were also the missionaries Johannes Schanz, Friedrich Stamberg and Bruno Gutmann (singing and scripture). From 1908 he was tought German by Elisabeth Seesemann to whom in turn he tought Kichagga. In 1911 Mtui began to collect ethnographic material for the missionary Johannes Raum. The missionary Johannes Schanz, who published his pioneer study on Chagga history in 1913, recommended him to Bruno Gutmann as a local research assistant. On the latters commission Mtui collected in 1913-14 and up to 1919 oral historical traditions from the local experts on southern and south-eastern Kilimanjaro and wrote them up in Kichagga, chiefdom by chiefdom, filling 9 notebooks, containing about 1000 handwritten pages. Gutmann (as well as Raum) used the notebooks for his own books (e.g. ‘Das Volksbuch der Wachagga’, ‘Häuptling Rindi von Moshi’ or ‘Das Recht der Chagga’) partly as literal quotations without referring to Mtui.

From 1913 Mtui was a teacher at the German Lutheran mission in Ashira and Marangu and became headman of the Mtui clan under Mangi Mlang’a also in 1913.

During the British occupation Nathaniel Mtui was hired by Major Charles Dundas, the then serving British administrator, “who employed him him to go round the mountain collecting material about the Chagga past. Mtui spent more than a year visiting one chiefdom after another, asking questions and filling his notebooks. Whereas he had written his notebooks in Kichagga for Gutmann, who was a fine scholar of that language, he now wrote in Swahili so that Dundas could understand it and for each notebook he was paid 19 [or 16] East African Shillings [in this time 2 Shillings were worth a goat].” (Stahl, p. 16) No one knows how many notebooks Mtui wrote, as many are missing. Gutmann preserved 9 of Mtui’s notebooks. “These 9 deal with chiefdoms in the central and eastern zones of the mountain and they have been of great importance especially in throwing light on the history of Mtui’s native chiefdom, Marangu.” (Stahl, p. 17) (The story of these notebooks see below.)

Nathaniel Mtui was brutally murdered in 1927 at the age of 35. After his death, all his papers were taken away from his house by Mangi Mlang’a’s men. The High Court proved unable to identify and punish his murderers. The murder of Nathaniel Mtui caused great concern throughout the Kilimanjaro region, and his name is widely known today.

Sources: Nathaniel Mtui, ‘Autobiography’, Notebooks from p. 134;
Kathleen M. Stahl, ‘History of the Chagga, People of Kilimanjaro’;
‘Dictionary of African Biography’

On Nathanael Mtui’s notebooks

Compiled and reported by Prof J.C. Winter; Dodoma, Tanzania

Nathanaeli MTUI, Nine Notebooks on Chagga History, MS [Manuscript], Moshi.
The currently available MS-copies of it, all derive from a type-written English translation MS, apparently now lost, of a hand-written original MS, now lost, in the Marangu-dialect of the Chagga language. That translation was prepared in c. 1958 by J.A.Z. Mneney of (then) Mamba Chiefdom for the use of Mrs. Kathleen Stahl in the preparation of her book History of the Chagga. The Hague: Mouton, 1964.

The original MS was composed and written in his Chagga-dialect by Nathanaeli MTUI of Marangu, Kilimanjaro, between 1913 and 1919 on request by the Missionary, Bruno Gutmann, then resident at (now) Old Moshi. [When] Gutmann returned to Germany in 1920, he took this MS with him. In 1953, the then Paramount Chief of the Chagga, Mangi Tom Marealle II (elected on a Chagga Union platform), on his way back from Queen Elizabth II’s coronation, paid Gutmann a visit at his home at Ehingen in Bavaria, and Gutmann upon hearing of Mangi Tom’s plans to have a new History of the Chagga People written by a qualified historian, decided to hand him Mtui’s precious notebooks still preserved by him.

Back at Moshi, Mangi Tom set up the Chagga Trust as a body for collecting and keeping relevant documents as well as managing the Chagga History project, arranged for the selection of a suitably qualified historian, Mrs. Kathleen Stahl, and for her appointment and facilitation, including handing her the notebooks and providing a translator.

All of them, Mrs. Stahl, Chagga Trust officials, and Mangi Tom assured me that Mrs. Stahl had dutifully returned to the Chagga Trust all the materials given her for her work.

However, in 1958, the Paramount Chief, Mangi Tom, was unseated by a democratic popular election which in his stead installed a K.C.C.U. Chagga President who afterwards, to most peoples’ surprise, revealed his alleagence to Nyerere’s Party, the anti-tribalist T.A.N.U. Soon after, T.A.N.U. activists, likely people other than Chagga, demanded the Chagga Trust library and documents to be handed over to them, and according to what I was told, freighted it all by landrover to their headquarters and safe place at the K.D.C. where they conferred them to a merry autodafé or bonfire. Luckily one copy of Mneney’s English translation escaped this fate, having been out on loan. When Isaria Kimambo, later to be Professor of History at Daressalaam University, returned in the mid-1960s from his studies in the U.S.A., he had this copy microfilmed for the library of the university of Daressalaam.

I first heard of this microfilm in 1971 and found it in that library. However, the microfilm reader was broken then, and the most I could do with a hand-lense was, to confirm that the reel had indeed the English translation of Mtui’s notebooks. But thereafter that microfilmed translation itself was rediscovered for me in the reestablished Chagga Trust kept at the K.N.C.U., and my wife, Kazuko Winter, typed a copy for me, with several carbon copies, one of whom we deposited in the library of the Makumira Theological College (Tumaini University Makumira).

The MS has, since the 1950s, always been known by the English title of Nine Notebooks, but I discovered that actually there are only eight of them contained in the MS. On inspection it seems that one section, or ‘notebook’, on the history of Mamba Chiefdom may be missing, Mamba being represented only in the inter-chiefdom history of smithying. Neither Mangi Tom nor Mrs. Stahl, Mr. Mneney, Prof. Kimambo, anybody at the Chagga Trust, or my wife was aware of this discrepancy nor able to account for it, neither, after discovering it, am I myself.

Prof. J.C. Winter

[Of the typewritten copy made by Mrs Kazuko Winter in 1972, a copy on microfilm was stored at the University of Leipzig library.
In 2024 Hartmut Andres made a digital copy of the Leipzig microfilm, transcribed and edited it and published it online via the wachagga-project website.]


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