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Senyagwa, Yeremia
fl. c. 1890s to 1908
Anglican (CMS Mission)

Yeremia's principal station was the Mamboya Valley Church. It is not clear when Yeremia started working as a teacher at the Valley Church. But he and Gideon Ferekani, (a Mnyamwezi) were the first two teachers [1] appointed shortly after the opening of the Valley Church in 1894, and were certainly serving there before 1898. [2] In 1900, two CMS women missionaries (Rose Colsey and Emily Spriggs) who had the partial oversight of the Valley Church since its inception described Ferekani and Senyagwa as "efficient." [3]

Emily Spriggs who had been at Mamboya since 1897 testified about Yeremia's wisdom in dealing with objections from the people he and Spriggs met during the preaching tours in the surrounding Mamboya villages. On one occasion, Yeremia was faced with a personal challenge. A villager alleged that he (Yeremia) was afraid to drink beer not because he didn't want to, but because he feared being found out by CMS missionaries. Yeremia responded to the charge, and sought to show that it was his conscience, and not the fear, that forbade him from drinking. Spriggs quoted his response:

When you wish to learn to hunt you go to the mganga (or medicine man) of hunting, and he inoculates you and teaches you, and then sends you away, and you hunt and kill animals. Who kills the animal, you or the mganga? And just so it is not the Europeans who keep me from taking pombe; they have taught me, and I now refuse it myself. [4]
Yeremia's statement and attitude to the teaching he received was typical, and representative of the attitudes of many other indigenous teachers. This was noted by this writer during the oral interviews. But what is different here is that the challenge Yeremia faced was a personalized one, aimed at discrediting him. In another village, someone argued with Yeremia, asking whether it was really necessary for him to become a Christian (an adherent of the mission) to attain eternal life. The man had helped build the preaching place at the chief's village (the Hill Church) and had specifically helped to fetch water and poles. Spriggs quoted Yeremia's response, with her own words interposed:
"Look here," said the teacher "If you are sick you take a present to the medicine-man, and he makes medicine and tells you to drink it. If you do not drink it, would you expect to get well?" "No," was the somewhat reluctant reply. "In the same way," continued Yeremia, "If you do all these things, build a house for God, and go to the teaching, but do not receive the word of God, you will not receive eternal life." [5]
The point here is not whether Yeremia's teaching was right or wrong, but that he was able to use simple illustrations to lead his hearers to a different understanding-a gift that was common among the indigenous teachers, except that they did not relate their teaching to the religious and social context. In fact, it was this doctrine of resurrection that, according to reports of some CMS missionaries, was looked upon by the Wagogo as "an idle tale."[6] When David Deeks went on leave in 1903, Yeremia was appointed to stand in for him at Berega. [7]

In 1903, Bishop Peel described Yeremia as "a teacher decidedly to be reckoned a holy and earnest Christian [who] has been of great service in this branch of the Mission…." [8] This was far from being an exaggerated description by a visitor who might have formed a hasty impression of a teacher he had met only twice during his two early visits to Ugogo and Ukaguru (first in 1900 and then in 1902-1903). For indeed, some CMS missionaries who had lived at Mamboya before, and to whom Yeremia was a well known figure, shared similar views of him. When commending him for ordination in 1906, David Rees, who had lived at Mamboya from 1897 to 1902, wrote:
Of Yeremia with whom I am personally acquainted I can speak in the highest terms. His insight into scripture, his spirituality, his zeal, his graphic and methodical style makes his preaching powerful and attractive. His earnestness in visiting has also frequently impressed me. [9]
In 1904, the executive committee appointed Yeremia Senyagwa to be in charge of Itumba station without the knowledge of Alfred Parker (a CMS missionary) under whom he worked at Mamboya station. Parker complained to the CMS general secretary, and discredited Yeremia. He wrote, "I do not consider him fit for such a responsible post, …he is too careless and indolent, besides he cannot do simple rules in arithmetic correctly yet." [10] What hurt Parker most was the fact that the letter of appointment was sent direct to Yeremia Senyagwa! But Rees defended the action of the executive committee to which he himself was secretary, and rebuffed Parker saying, "Your knowledge of him extends only over a few months." [11]

The appointment letter (written in Kiswahili) about which Parker complained may be quoted in full to show the high regard Rees and the executive committee had for Yeremia Senyagwa:
Yeremiah nimpendaye salamu nyingi. Bibi nami sote wawili wazima. Tulipendezwa sana kupokea barua yako juzi. Nataka zayidi leo kukuarifu neno moja. Tumefanya sisi shauri uende kwa Itumba kuangalia kazi yake Bwana wetu huko wakati Bwana na Bibi Wood na Bwana Parker wanapokwenda Ulaya. Bwana Wood na Bwana Parker watatengeneza yote nawe. Sasa nakuambia tu mambo yatakayokuja tukijaliwa. Utatangulia na kwenda huko Itumba labuda kwa mwezi mmoja mbele ya kuondoka kwao Bwana na Bibi Wood kusudi upate uzoee na mahali. Lakini Bwana atatengeneza yote. Natumaini Simeoni amepata ruhusa na habari ya Gideoni tutajaribu kusayidia. Sasa kwa heri. Salamu sana kwa Julia na wenzetu wapendwa huko Berega.

Mimi ndimi
Rafiki yako

D. J. Rees.

P.S. Nataka uniandikie yote ujuayo habari zake Gideoni. Nimesikia kama watu wamesema ilikuwa si mara moja tu lakini mara nyingi amekosa naye Visinda. Nipe mimi habari yote juu yake. D. J. Rees. [12]

Beloved Jeremiah, greetings.
My wife and I are well. We were pleased to receive your recent letter. As for today, I would like to inform you about one thing. We have decided [in the executive committee] that you should go to take care of our Lord's work at Itumba when Mr. Wood and Mr. Parker are on holiday. Mr. Wood and Mr. Parker will make all the necessary arrangements with you. Meanwhile, I am only giving you advance notice. Perhaps you will have to go to Itumba a month before the departure of Mr. and Mrs. Wood in order to become familiar with the place. But the Lord will take care of everything. I hope Simeon has been restored; and we will try to resolve Gideon's issue. [13] Now goodbye. Greetings to Julia and our beloved brethren at Berega.
Your friend,

D. J. Rees.

P.S. I would like you to tell me all you know about Gideon. I hear people say he has erred [committed adultery] with Visinda more than once. Give me all the information about him. D. J. Rees. [14]
Yeremia Senyagwa's other gifts included that of leadership. That is why he was appointed to Itumba. It is certainly also the reason why he was appointed to be the quasi-pastor of Mamboya and Berega districts during the Maji Maji uprising when as mentioned earlier, CMS missionaries took refuge in Ugogo. He was one of the five candidates nominated by the CMS mission in 1906 to be considered for ordination but the plan was halted following a teachers' strike on the issue of wages.

From 1906 on, a series of events happened that affected Yeremia's life and work. His colleague's wife took remedial medicine from a traditional practitioner but died later. Probably, as a quasi-pastor, Yeremia was expected to inform CMS missionaries, but he didn't. He was suspended from his teachership for a month for allegedly concealing the matter. Unfortunately, again, for reasons not established, he was publicly excommunicated from the church in July 1908, with his colleague Gideon Ferekani. [15]

Meanwhile, it should be noted that during the time of Yeremia's absence, the Valley Church experienced a setback in the hands of inexperienced teachers. [16] It is not clear how Senyagwa's life proceeded after 1908, but like other indigenous teachers who were not ordained, it may be difficult to establish this. Of the two churches of the Mamboya station--Hill church, and Valley church--it is the latter that has survived to date. Perhaps this is the legacy of Kaguru teachers such as Yeremia Senyagwa who served there since the 1890s.

Raphael Mwita Akiri


1. Proceedings of the Church Missionary for Africa and the East (PCMS), 1901, 119; PCMS, 1904, 95.
2. PCMS, 1899, 99.
3. PCMS, 1901, 119.
4. Ibid., 119-120.
5. PCMS, 1901, 120.
6. PCMS, 1896, 109.
7. Minutes, Executive Committee of the CMS Mission (EC), 18-19, 21/12/1903, G3 A8/0/1904/12.
8. Peel, "Usagara & Ugogo Revisited," Church Missionary Intelligencer (CMI), Vol. 29, February 1904, 116.
9. Rees to Baylis 18/1/1906, G3 A8/0/1906/20; Cf. Minutes, EC, 15 /11/ 1905, G3 A8/0/1905/16.
10. Parker to Baylis, 29/6/1904, G3 A8/0/1904/44.
11. Rees to Parker, 2/7/1904, an attached letter without archival reference.
12. Rees to Baylis 28/7/1904, copy No. 4, letter to Jeremiah, G3 A8/0/1904/47.
13. Gideon Ferekani of Mamboya is mentioned because there were allegations at the time, probably from Parker that he had been committing adultery, yet had a house built for him at Nyangala mission station, and was allowed to teach. See Parker to Baylis, 9/5/1906, G3 A8/0/1906/42. Rees refuted these allegations saying by then Gideon was Maria Ackerman's personal domestic assistant at Nyangala, and was only being used to help at a dispensary, and preach to patients. See Rees to Baylis, 23/7/1906, G3 A8/0/19 06/53.
14. Translation by this writer.
15. Mamboya Logbook, No. 53, an entry for July 1908.
16. Minutes, EC, 19-20, 26-27/12/1907, G3 A8/0/1908/12.

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.