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Mbega, Haruni
b. 1896
Anglican (CMS mission)
Tanzania


Mbega, one of the Kaguru teachers who made a significant contribution to the work of the CMS Mission, was a Mnguu from Unguu, north of Ukaguru. He served mainly in Ukaguru--here the term "Ukaguru" refers to the entire eastern branch of the CMS mission. Mbega's name is as familiar both in Ugogo and Ukaguru as Andrea Mwaka's. Many oral informants mentioned him as a colleague of Andrea Mwaka.[1] Lack of sufficient data imposes limitations on what can be said about Mbega. However, Mbega too made a considerable contribution to the growth of Christianity in Ukaguru. He was born in 1896 at Bokwa in Unguu. His parents were Lubangala and Muliwa.

On 20th November 1904 he and Petro Mwendi were baptized by David Rees at Berega. [2] Information on his life and ministry was provided mainly by the Kaguru people-Christians and non-Christians alike. Semgomba Chitemo, a traditional medicine practitioner, described Mbega's physical appearance as follows: "Mbega was a man of imposing personality. He was like a European. If he sat with a white man, you would think both were white. By his body skin. By its lightness." [3] Semgomba Chitemo,--who didn't go to church,--went on to describe his contribution for church work: "He was called 'Canon.' He helped people who were advanced to become pastors." [4]

One of Mbega's pastoral roles was to nurture senior Kaguru and Nguu teachers whom he felt could have a wider ministry if ordained, and he probably recommended such people to the CMS missionaries. The fact that this was known even among people who had little, if anything to do with the church demonstrates that he was a well known figure in Ukaguru, both as a person and a servant of God.

Mbega had other qualities. Some Kaguru Christians regarded him as a man of principle. This is how Isaka Mlahagwa, (a Berega church elder) described him.

Haruni Mbega was a true priest. Haruni Mbega was a true priest. It wasn't a joke. …First of all it was his principles. If he said to you, "Welcome home," or "Wait for a meal," and you refused his offer, he wouldn't shake your hands the next time you met. He wouldn't greet you. His generosity was excessive.[5]
One incident highlights Mbega's character as a man of principle. When David Rees approached him and his colleague Petro Mwendi about becoming probationary agents, they turned down the offer, asking to be given more time to reflect and because they observed that indigenous agents were paid low wages, and that accommodation arrangements for teachers working away from their homes were poor. Fortunately, Mbega and his colleagues agreed later to work under the CMS mission, and were employed as probationary agents on 13 January 1905 and started working at Nguyami, Talagwe, and Magera. Mbega preached his first sermon on 26 February 1905. On 13 December 1905, the rite of laying on hands (or confirmation) was performed on him.

In 1906 when many indigenous teachers protested over the issue of low wages, Mbega resigned to show solidarity with them. He was later re-admitted, but his financial support now came from funds donated by the friends of David Rees at the parish of St. Peter's Highgate Hill, London.[6] A year later he and his colleagues Petro Mwendi and Mulosa resigned from work for a while because they had resented being rebuked by David Rees, but were restored soon afterwards.[7]

Mbega served at Mwandi and Idibo outstations for many years. It is difficult to know exactly the whole period of his ministry there, but, by 1911, he had been there for some time. At Mwandi, his achievements could only lead to a warm tribute from CMS missionaries:
At Mwandi a recent visit found a Sunday morning congregation of over 230…. The orderliness of the worship and the quiet behaviour of that heathen congregation in their large, self-built church were alike an impressive tribute to the quiet power and intelligence of the teacher in charge, Haruni Mbega, a shepherd lad at the opening of the Berega station in 1900.[8]
Mbega was merely a young lad in 1900, but by 1912--the time when the report quoted above was written--he had demonstrated his gifts as an evangelist and a leader capable of maintaining a congregation of that size. No doubt it is such qualities that earned him a place in the history of the Church of Tanzania because he became one of the first two indigenous teachers to be ordained in Ukaguru and Ugogo. He was ordained deacon on 21 August 1921 at Mombasa, Kenya with his colleague Andrea Mwaka. Even before his ordination to the priesthood, Mbega's leadership gifts were already evident. He was elected co-chairman of the church council of the Tanganyika Mission-a body that was responsible for issues regarded to be "purely African," including the governance of the pastorates and the indigenous workers, and their upkeep.[9] Mbega was made a priest on 23 August 1924 at Buigiri.

Many Kaguru Christians today were only children when Mbega was ordained. Even so, they have fresh memories of the sense of pride they felt at the time. "The first time I saw a black man wearing a clerical collar was when I saw those people. The local people were very pleased, because in those days it was only the missionaries who were priests."[10] By "those people" the informant is obviously referring to Mbega and Daudi Muhando. Mbega was stationed at Mamboya where he took charge of pastoral work in Mamboya and Itumba and their outstations while Stanley King (the CMS missionary) became responsible for the Berega and Unguu areas. Probably it is King who described him as "a man of God, and when he spoke I felt God was using him. His illustrations were full of meaning, getting much further than we Europeans can ever hope to get. They were taken from ordinary things of everyday life just as our Lord used to do."[11] Early in the 1950s, he moved closer to home and worked from Berega until his retirement. Unfortunately the date of his death could not be established. It is unlikely that he survived longer than the late 1950s or early 1960s. In his pastoral work, Mbega was known and is remembered as a soft-spoken skillful counsellor who often persuaded his clients and opponents alike to make better decisions, or to change their minds and come to his position. He is also remembered for his contribution to evangelization and leadership in Ukaguru.

Raphael Mwita Akiri



Bibliography:

1. See for example, Dan Mbogoni, oral interview, 11/6/1997; Elimerik Mlahagwa, oral interview, 28/6/1997; Cleopa Mwaka, oral interview, 4/7/1997.
2. Berega Logbook, No. 51, an entry for 1904.
3. Isaka Mlahagwa, oral interview, 14/9/1997.
4. Semgomba Chitemo, oral interview, 15/9/1997.
5. Isaka Mlahagwa, oral interview, 14/9/1997.
6. Berega Logbook, No. 51, an entry for May 1906; cf. Minutes, Executive Committee of the CMS Mission (EC), 10-12/1/1906, G3 A8/0/1906.
7. Berega Logbook, No. 51, entry for 2 September 1907.
8. Church Missionary Review (CMR), Vol. LXIII, March 1912, 159.
9. Minutes, Church Council of the Tanganyika Mission (CC), 27/3/192, Mackay House Archives (Diocese of Central Tanganyika).
10. Isaka Mlahagwa, oral interview, 14/9/1997.
11. Chambers, Tanganyika's New Day, 33.



This article is reproduced, with permission, from "The Growth of Christianity in Ugogo and Ukaguru (Central Tanzania): A Socio-Historical Analysis of the Role of Indigenous Agents 1876-1933," unpublished Ph.D. thesis (University of Edinburgh, 1999) by Raphael Mwita Akiri.