Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Sagatwa, Damari Vigowa

Anglican Communion (Church Missionary Society)

Damari Vigowa Sagatwa, born in 1875, was a Kaguru Bible Woman and missionary who served as an indigenous leader in Ugogo and Ukaguru and about whom little is known today in that area.

Between 1900 and 1933, the CMS mission established at least one station school at each of its nine major stations, namely Mpwapwa,[1] Mvumi, Buigiri, Kongwa, and Kilimatinde (Ugogo), Mamboya, Nyangala, Itumba (Uponela), Berega (Ukaguru).[2] The station school was above the outschool in terms of the level of staffing and curriculum.[3] It was under the direct supervision of a CMS missionary, and in most cases these were men.[4] The exception to this was the Mamboya station and its school. For a long period since the first expansion phase began in 1900, the school was under the leadership of Kate Pickthall and Emily Spriggs, and indigenous Bible-women such as Persisi, Salama, Damari, Viktoria, and Naomi, as well as male teachers, particularly Yeremia Senyagwa.[5] As for the curriculum, while only reading and writing were taught at the out-schools, arithmetic, history, geography, mathematics, hygiene, and English were introduced and taught at the station schools.[6]

Damari was perhaps the most outstanding of all Bible Women in the entire CMS mission in the central Tanzania during her time. Damari was born in 1875 [7] at Mamboya, and was baptized there as an adult in 1902 by David Rees.[8] Her marriage to a church teacher Nuhu Sagatwa [9] took place in 1903. Both Damari and Nuhu served first at Mamboya, before being sent as missionaries to Itumba from 1903 to 1906, to serve not only among the Kaguru, but the Masai and Kamba who were among the local inhabitants. Mariamu, another Bible Woman, and Damari Sagatwa were members of the church council at Itumba in 1906, together with her husband Nuhu Sagatwa, and two other men, (both identified in the sources by the name Danieli).[10] Later Damari and Nuhu returned to Mamboya. In 1911 she and her husband were sent again as missionaries to Nyangala-one of the three major stations started in Ukaguru in 1900. They served there until 1914 when the World War I broke out. This forced them to return to Mamboya once again.

Damari’s involvement in school work began at Itumba in Ukaguru long before she and her husband became missionaries to Ugogo in 1921.[11] In 1921 Damari and her husband went to serve as missionaries at Ngh’ambi in Ugogo (over 100 miles from Mamboya). As was in the previous places where she served, Damari continued with her role as a Bible Woman, and taught adults reading and writing. She also took pre-baptism classes for hearers and catechumens.

It was the tragic death of Nuhu, her husband and missionary colleague, in 1927, that prompted her transfer from Ngh’ambi to Mpwapwa (which though closed in 1906 had been re-opened since 1921).[12] At Mpwapwa, this widowed missionary and Bible teacher continued to work as an evangelist, making regular visits to the villages around Mpwapwa. Apart from the ministry of evangelization, Damari was also involved in leading Sunday worship services between 1927 and March 1936. [13]

Damari Sagatwa was the first indigenous female teacher at the Mpwapwa school (Vingh’awe) [14] early in the 1930s, and was indeed the only female teacher when the school started. She was particularly responsible for the younger children, in standard I and II. Like Leas Saso at Buigiri, Kaguru women-Mariamu Chausiku, Naomi, and Anna Benyamini taught in upper classes at the Berega girls’ boarding school which opened on 30 October 1926. Others included Damari Shadraki, Ruth Danieli, and Enid Asani. [15] It is possible that all moved to the local day village school when the boarding school closed in 1937. [16] In 1933, her indigenous male colleagues at the school were Yonathan Songola, Yuda and Gamalieli. [17]

In 1934, the focus of missionary activity in the Diocese of Central Tanganyika in the CMS sphere now shifted to western and northwestern Tanzania. Mama Damari offered herself for missionary service in western parts of Tanzania-over 600 miles from Mpwapwa. This is significant and demonstrates her missionary zeal. Both oral and printed sources show that the majority of teachers who offered to work in the evangelization of the Wahangaza and Waha were men, and mainly from Ukaguru and Unguu (for example Yohana Omari, Ephraim Madimilo, Simeoni Muya, Hadoram Yoshua, Stefano Msele, Naftali Goda, Eliabi Yeremia, and Azam Mkamilo). The majority of women who went to western and northwestern Tanzania were wives of those teachers. Certainly no other single or widowed Gogo or Kaguru woman known to this writer went to western Tanzania as an indigenous pioneer missionary in her own right at the time, except mama Damari Sagatwa.

Damari’s offer for missionary service was discussed and approved by the Conference of Missionaries of the Western Mission of the DCT in 1936. From 1936 onwards, St Paul’s Church, Ealing, London supported her to serve as a pioneer missionary to Ngara among the Wahangaza until 1939. By then, Ngara (Bugufi), northwestern Tanzania, had been a mission station only since 1932–undoubtedly still a raw field for missionary labour that needed dedicated women such as mama Damari. Being a Bible Woman, she taught Bible classes and literacy for women and student-nurses at Murgwanza.

From October 1939, she was transferred and went to Uha (further south) to continue her service. In addition to that, she taught baptism and post-baptism classes for catechumens and baptized Christians Kibondo in Uha, now part of the Diocese of Western Tanganyika. In 1942, she was transferred again, this time to Gihwahuru, Kasulu, another part of Uha, western Tanzania. In 1950 Damari was recalled back to Mpwapwa as she began to suffer illnesses due to old age. [18]

Damari is remembered today at Mpwapwa, not only as a prominent Bible Woman and missionary, but also as one who introduced the message of East African revival movement which she experienced herself while working in western and northwestern Tanzania. The revival originated from Rwanda early in the 1930s, and spread to Uganda and later to Kenya and Tanzania. This revival movement emphasized the centrality of the theology of personal repentance and forgiveness, and public confession of sin as a mark of salvation. [19]

Both Viktoria Mathiya Sagatwa (Damari’s daughter-in law), and Melea Hango (an acquaintance of Damari who contributed to the interview with Viktoria) say that Damari encountered fierce opposition from Christians who felt threatened by the radical message of repentance and public confession of sin, and forgiveness. However, Damari stood firm by her message, and led a number of people to a new understanding of their relationship with God. [20] In her own testimony shortly before her death, Damari said: “Now Lord you may allow your maidservant [to come to you] for now you have saved and snatched me from the slavery of sin; even now I feel freedom in my heart. If my Lord calls me today I am certain I shall be in his presence.” [21] Through these words, she almost compared herself with the prophet Simeon, who in old age uttered the words: “Lord lettest though thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.” [22] Damari died on 22 October 1960 at the age of 85.

Raphael Mwita Akiri


  1. Mpwapwa was deprived of its status as a mission station since 1906, and was thereafter worked as an outstation along with Chamuhawi. It re-opened in 1921, and reclaimed its status as a mission station. See Rees to Baylis, 3/8/19106, G3 A8/0/1906/54; Proceedings of the Church Missionary for Africa and the East (PCMS), 1907, 77; PCMS, 1922, 34.

  2. George Chambers, Tanganyika’s New Day, Church Missionary Society (later Church Mission Society) [CMS], London: 1931, 27.

  3. Ibid., 29.

  4. Cf. Anthony Smith, “The Missionary Contribution to Education (Tanganyika) to 1914,” Tanganyika Notes and Records (TNR) (later Tanzania Notes and Records), No. 60, 1963, 105.

  5. Church Missionary Review (CMR), Vol. LXI, August 1910, 486; CMR, Vol. LXV, September 1914, 548.

  6. Lazaro Ndajilo, oral interviews, 14 and 16/6/1997.

  7. Upanga wa Roho, Vol. 8 No. 2, February 1961, 5, Mackay House Archives (Diocese of Central Tanganyika) [MH].

  8. Itumba Logbook, No. 53, MH. In this Logbook, 2 April is given as the date of baptism, but another source (Berega Logbook, No. 51) has 2 March as Damari’s day of baptism at Mamboya, where she was born. Though the month of baptism may not be clear, both sources agree that Damari was baptized in 1902, and that David Rees baptized her.

  9. Nuhu Sagatwa, a Masai, was originally from Berega. He first worked as a porter to CMS missionaries before being enrolled for church work. See Philemon Mukuchu, oral interview, Kilosa, 11/9/1997.

  10. Itumba Logbook, No. 53, January 20 - February 1912, MH.

  11. “Usagara-Chigogo Notes II.”

  12. PCMS, 1922, 34. In the event of death of a church teacher, his widow was asked to move to a nearby mission station where she was looked after by the mission. Cf. Mrs Zakayo Chali who was also asked to move to Mpwapwa when her husband died early in 1917. See Esta Chali, oral interview, 26/6/1997.

  13. Mpwapwa Service Register, 1933 onwards. The register originally belonged to Kongwa where it was first used between 1905-1916.

  14. Esta Chali, oral interview, 26/6/1997.

  15. John Briggs, “Circular [letter] to members of the Diocesan Council,” 15/10/1937, cited in Berega Logbook, No. 50, 1926-1937, an entry for 1937, MH.

  16. Berega Logbook, No. 50, MH. The school was closed due to changes introduced by the British colonial government that required Standard I-IV girls (and boys alike) to be taught in mixed Village (Day) Schools, and not in the boarding schools. Berega had only 18 girls, who were to complete Standard IV by the end of the year (1937), and had to leave to begin Standard V elsewhere.

  17. Mpwapwa Service Register 1933 onwards.

  18. Sources used for this section include Minutes, First Conference of Missionaries of the Western Mission (CMWM), Diocese of Central Tanganyika, 6-11/1/1936; CTDL, No. 33, July 1936, both at MH; Viktoria Mathiya Sagatwa, oral interview, 29/6/1997; Melea Hango, oral interview, 27/6/1997.

  19. For a detailed bibliography of the East African Revival Movement, see Jocelyn Murray, “A Bibliography of the East African Revival Movement,” JRA, Vol. VIII, No. 2, 1976, 144-147.

  20. Viktoria Mathiya Sagatwa, oral interview, 29/6/1997.

  21. Upanga wa Roho, Vol. 8, No. 2, February 1961, 5, MH.

  22. Luke 2: 29-32, Revised Standard Version (RSV).

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.