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Town and ward
MV Iringa at Liuli harbour
MV Iringa at Liuli harbour
Liuli is located in Tanzania
Location in Tanzania
Coordinates: 10°56′28″S 34°58′0″E / 10.94111°S 34.96667°E / -10.94111; 34.96667
Country  Tanzania
Region Ruvuma Region
District Mbinga District
Time zone EAT (UTC+3)

Liuli, formerly known as Sphinx Hafen (German: Sphinxhafen), is a settlement on the Tanzanian shore of Lake Malawi in the Mbinga District of Ruvuma province. It is notable for being the site of the first naval action of World War I.

The sphinx rocks[edit]

The settlement is distinguished on the lake shore by a sphinx-like series of 7 rocks lying offshore.[1] The rocks indicate deep water, leading to its development by the Germans as a ship repair base. The Anglican missionary William Percival Johnson described the rocks as follows:

"Sphinx Hafen rocks, so called by the Germans (the native name is Liuli) is fairly central placed on the east side. If you can see the great rock on the south side of the entrance in the right light you will not ask 'Why is this place called Sphinx?' The harbor is small but good, and here was the first opening skirmish of the Great War on the Lake. The German steamer had been pulled up on a slipway here, and was seized by the British. Nyasa, the great water: being a description of the lake and the life of the People. 1922

1914–18: Sphinxhafen in the war on Lake Nyasa[edit]

On 13 August 1914, in the first naval action of World War I, the British lake steamer gunboat HMS Gwendolen caught the German armed steamer Hermann von Wissmann on a slipway at Sphinxhafen. The German steamship was named after the explorer Hermann von Wissmann who raised funds for the vessel as an anti-slavery gunboat in 1890. The HMS Gwendolen commenced bombarding the German port.[2][3][4] The King's African Rifles later attacked Sphinxhafen in May 1915.[5]

The Liuli mission[edit]

Liuli was originally, as Sphinxhafen, a German mission. After World War I it became a mission station for the Universities' Mission to Central Africa.[6] William Johnson is buried in the church there and regarded locally as a saint. The mission hospital, founded by the German mission, continues as St. Anne's Hospital, still the major health facility on the eastern lakeshore.[7][8]

Liuli today[edit]

Liuli is today a stop on the lake ferry from Mbamba Bay, up the lakeshore as far as Liuli, and then across to the Malawi side of the lake.[9][10]


  1. ^ the sphinx rocks (photo)
  2. ^ Perraudin, Michael; Zimmerer, Jürgen (2009). German Colonialism and National Identity. p. 127.  "...the menacing storm of war would reach the colonies. 6 On 13 August 1914, British warships bombarded the port of Sphinxhafen on Lake Nyassa. In the days that followed, German troops entered the territory of British East Africa."
  3. ^ Briggs, Philip. Tanzania: With Zanzibar, Pemba & Mafia. Bradt. p. 559.  "The Gwendolyn's captain, Commander Rhoades, was informed at Nkhata Bay the Wissmann was docked for repairs at Sphinxhafen. He sailed into the harbor under the cover of dawn with a nervous crew. The only gunner was a Scotsman.."
  4. ^ Tanzania notes and records. Tanzania Society: not cited. 1962.  Missing or empty |title= (help) "At Nkhata the most recent information was that three weeks previously the Wissmann was at Sphinx Hafen,* due east of Nkhata across the Lake, hauled out of the water on a slipway having some new plates fitted."
  5. ^ Baer, Casimir Hermann (1916). Der Völkerkrieg: eine Chronik der Ereignisse seit dem 1. Juli 1914. 9 & 10. p. not cited.  "Mai 1915 eine Marineabteilung unter Kommandeur Dennistoun, unterstützt von einer Landungs-truppe unter Hauptmann Collins und dem ersten Bataillon der King's African Rifles, Sphinxhafen am deutschen Ostufer des Nuassa-Sees an."
  6. ^ The history of the Universities' Mission to Central Africa - Page 194 George Herbert Wilson - 1936 " In 1921 Sphinxhafen, as it was called by the Germans, or Liuli, as it is now called, was made a central station. There is a little bay at that location, with good anchorage for a steamer. There is a rock on the point, which, ..."
  7. ^ Mary Fitzpatrick Tanzania - Page 300 "Liuli is the site of an old and still-active Anglican mission and the small St. Anne's mission hospital, the major health facility on the eastern lake shore. It's also notable for a (with some imagination) sphinx-like rock lying offshore, which earned the settlement the name of Sphinx Hafen during the German era. There are no public accommodations available. The outpost of Mbamba Bay is nearby..."
  8. ^ St. Anne's Hospital (photo)
  9. ^ Jens Finke Rough guide to Tanzania 2002 Page 601 "The ferry stops at a number of villages and small towns along the way, including Lupingu (6-7hr from ltungi Port; road access to Lupingu is also possible from ^ Njombe - see p.605), Manda (13hr), Lundu, Nindai, Mango and Liuli, the latter with some impressive boulder outcrops: the large one furthest from the shore just to the south - in appearance vaguely like a sphinx - inspired the Germans to call the place Sphinx Hafen."
  10. ^ Philip Briggs Bradt Tanzania: With Zanzibar, Pemba & Mafia - 2006 - p555 "The MV Songea leaves Itungi at around 07.00 on Monday and Thursday and arrives at Mbamba Bay at midnight the same day, after stopping at Lupingu, Manda, Lundu, Nindai, njambe and Liuli. After arriving at Mbamba Bay, the Monday ferry returns"

External links[edit]