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Mirambo (Mtyela Kasanda)
Mtemi (king) of Urambo
Illustration from James William Buels Heroes of the Dark Continent (1890)
Reign 1860-1884
Died 1884

Mtyela Kasanda, better known as Mirambo (which means "corpses"), was a Nyamwezi warlord, from 1860 to 1884. Mirambo started out as a trader, and owned trade caravans traveling from the Great Lakes region in western Tanzania to the coast, mostly dealing with ivory and slaves. Through trade with Europeans he acquired firearms and money, and organised armies consisting mostly of teenage orphans.[1] With his newly gained power, he toppled the traditional monarchy of the kingdom Urambo, and installed himself as ntemi (king). The Nyamwezi aristocracy was appalled when someone who was not royalty took over the religiously ceremonial office of ntemi.[2]

Apart from the Nyamwezi aristocracy, Mirambo also was an enemy of the trading community of Tabora in the kingdom of Unyanyembe. Many of the inhabitants of Tabora were Arab traders, and rivals of Mirambo for the control of the trade across Unyamwezi. These Arabs had powerful allies in Zanzibar on the coast. For most of his time as mtemi, Mirambo fought wars against his enemies. By the time of his death, he had united most of northern Unyamwezi in an alliance under his leadership, but he never managed to conquer Tabora.[2] Near the end of his life he grew ill, and died, age 44. It is possible that he was strangled to death, since an old Nyamwezi custom was to strangle their mtemi when they became unfit to rule.

He was notable for opposing the Arab allies of Henry Morton Stanley. Stanley dubbed Mirambo "the African Bonaparte" for his military talents.


  1. ^ The Cambridge History of Africa, vol. 6
  2. ^ a b The Cambridge History of Africa, vol. 5

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