Classic DACB Collection

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

Lumwe, Yakobo

Alternate Names: Yakobo Ng’ombe

Yakobo Lumwe Yakobo Lumwe, also called Yakobo Ng’ombe, was the first indigenous pastor of the Protestant church on the northern coast of Tanganyika. He served in and around Tanga town, an area which now is part of the Northeastern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. [1] His life and work are compelling examples of how local Christians were involved in spreading the gospel and building up the church together with foreign missionaries.

Yakobo was born in the 1880s, at the time of the vita vya kilindi (“Kilindi War”), a conflict between the Kilindi chiefs of the Usambara Mountains and the Bondei. In his short autobiograpy, [2] he wrote that “the old people knowing the war, are saying it was the year 1888.” [3]. The name of his birthplace was Mgambo [4], a small village to the southwest of Tanga town, in the land of the Bondei, his father´s people. His father, Lumwe, [5] a devout Muslim who had many wives, [6] worked as a blacksmith and later as a trader; his mother Kurawira [7] belonged to the Digo [8], a people living north of Tanga town. Yakobo was called Lumwe, like his father. His other name Ng´ombe [9] came from his grandfather, with whom he lived as a young child for some time.

Soon after his father´s death, his mother Kurawira left her husband´s relatives and moved with her own children to the village of Mwanzange near Tanga town. Yakobo lived for some time with his aunt and attended the nearby mission school in Shwari, [10] a school established by August Krämer [11], the first missionary of the Evangelical Mission Society for German East Africa (E.M.S) [12] on the north coast of what was then called the German protectorate [13].

After some time the pupils attended school in Mbuyukenda, the center of the mission in Tanga town. [14] There Yakobo enrolled in a course to prepare him for baptism, mainly inspired by the advice of his friends. During the lessons he began to understand the character of God, “that he is a father, especially when we prayed the Lord´s Prayer. I was happy and I trusted that I had received a father. I don´t have one on earth, the one in heaven is enough.” [15] He was a very eager student, so Pastor Martin Ostwald, [16] the missionary who baptized him one year later, wrote in 1898, “He probably knows the Bible and the catechism, also arithmetic, reading and writing better than many a fellow of the same age in Germany.” [17]

On January 29, 1899 [18] he was baptized in the church at Mbuyukenda close to the Indian Ocean together with five other children and young men. Among them was Paulo Pera, who later founded the first protestant school of the Gombero area in Digoland. [19] For some time Yakobo worked in the household of missionary Ostwald helping as a cook. In this family he felt very comfortable, and once when he was dangerously ill, he was nursed by Mrs. Ostwald. “Here I experienced the love of Jesus” he remembered later. [20]

In the following years he gained experience in another profession. When there was an urgent need for a teacher at the mission school at Mbuyukenda, missionary Ernst Liebau, Martin Ostwald’s successor, [21] asked Yakobo Ng´ombe to teach. Yakobo agreed and simultaneously received methodology lessons at the government school in town and later pursued subject-specific further education in Kisarawe near Dar es Salaam. Soon the gifted young man also led devotions and services in Tanga and Digoland.

In January 1906 he married Kristine Fatuma, [22] who had been baptized in October 1900. The couple had three children: [23] Yohana Petro (born 1906), Chamungu (born 1917) and Mzaliwa Wanuru (born 1927). His wife supported him in his service for the church and also served as a good adviser to him. This was significant especially during difficult times, for example when he wrestled with the question of becoming a lay Christian living as a farmer instead of working for the mission. Missionary Siegfried Delius [24], who was in charge of the mission station in Tanga from 1904 to 1916, convinced Yakobo Lumwe to continue in the path he had chosen.

In 1916 German missionaries had to leave Tanga as it was occupied by British troops during World War I. Therefore the responsibility of caring for the parishes in Tanga town and the surrounding area fell to Yakobo Ng´ombe. Now he was also in charge of the school in Manyinyi, Digoland, founded by the local teacher Paulo Pera. For the first time in its history, the young church on the northern coast of Tanganyika was standing on its own feet, without the help of missionaries.

Yakobo Lumwe took his new position seriously and in July 1916 he organized a meeting of Digoland school teachers in the village of Vunde. [25] That summer they agreed to follow four rules in the time ahead: “1. We don´t want to give up the daily devotions and the services on Sunday. 2. We want to teach our children reading and the Word of God. 3. We want to be busy working in our fields. 4. We want to visit each other, to know the difficulties of others, to help and admonish each other.” [26] Missionary Siegfried Delius wrote after the last encounter with the parishes, “I could take with me the impression, that Jakobo fulfilled his duty with earnestness and enthusiasm, and that he had the full confidence of the Christians and especially also of his co-workers.” [27]

It was the beginning of a sometimes troubled period for the young teacher because the British administration of Tanganyika Territory laid many stumbling blocks in the way of those congregations, which had been founded by German missions. In this political climate parts of the Muslim population made life difficult for the Christians. [28]

Missionary Franz Gleiß [29] living in the nearby Usambara Mountains supported Yakobo Ng´ombe as much as possible from a distance. When the last remaining German missionaries in the mountains received the order to leave the country, seven local teachers were ordained to be pastors. Among them was Yakobo Lumwe, who became the first indigenous pastor of the protestant church on the northern coast of Tanganyika. In his personal notebook he wrote about the ordination service, which took place in the mountains on February 22, 1920. “It was a great day. Thousands of Christians came to Vuga to witness this occasion. It was like a wedding ceremony. Immediately after our ordination we began our ministry by celebrating the Lord´s Supper.” [30] For the next years the leadership of all congregations was in the hands of local pastors. The parishes received very little financial support from the mission in Germany and had to pay the salaries of their teachers and pastors by their own means.

Yakobo Ng´ombe was in correspondence with Franz Gleiß and other missionaries in Germany, in order to keep them informed them about the lives and work of the Christians on the coast. [31] A special event was the construction of a chapel in Tanga in 1922. [32] The new building was necessary, because the congregation had been restricted from meeting in the church built in 1898 that had suffered severe damage due to the war and an earthquake.

When the British administration allowed the first German missionaries to return to Tanganyika Territory in 1925, they started working in the Usambara Mountains, not in Tanga. [33] So Yakobo Lumwe remained the only pastor on the northern coastal region, and Franz Gleiß continued to support him from the Usambaras.

It was not until 1933 that another German missionary lived in Tanga again and worked together with Yakobo Ng´ombe. This pastor, Ernst Dammann, [34] later became a well known scholar in African Studies. He preserved some of Yakobo’s manuscripts and also published Safari ya Bukoba (“A Journey to Bukoba”) [35], Yakobo Lumwe’s diary of a trip in 1930 to Buhaya, northwest Tanganyika. He had been chosen to accompany Curt Ronicke, Bethel Mission’s superintendent at that time, on a visitation trip–an indication that he was considered a person of some importance.

From September 1939 onwards the responsibility for the parishes in Tanga and the sourrounding area again fell to Yakobo Ng´ombe [36], because Dammann’s successor, missionary Karl Wohlrab [37], had been interned at the outbreak of World War II. In the meantime, the former teacher at the church-school in Kilulu, north of Tanga, Imanuel Ng´anzi Vesso [38], had been ordained and was able to work with Yakobo Ng´ombe. They were soon joined by the young pastor Matayo Jengo [39], who had previously served as an evangelist.

Yakobo Lumwe´s service on the northern coast of Tanganyika Territory was interrupted from 1943 on by a five-year period in Dar es Salaam. [40] He was called to support the church there in a difficult situation, after another pastor had been suspended from duty. During this period Imanuel N. Vesso was in charge of the congregation in Tanga town. S. Hjalmar Swanson, executive director of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Augustana Synod, visited Dar es Salaam in 1945 and was impresssed by Yakobo Lumwe, “The congregation was served by a venerable African from Tanga in the northern area, Pastor Jakobo, of whom a German wrote …’This Jakobo alone is worth a journey to Africa.´”[41] Yakobo Ng´ombe not only cared for his congregation in town but was also called to preach at other places such as Bagamoyo. In addition he was busy teaching religious education at the local government school. To the end of his stay there were some difficulties with a pastor from the Usambara mountains working in Dar es Salaam. After some time Yakobo asked to be transfered back to Tanga where he spent the rest of his active time as a pastor up to 1957, the year when he retired. [42]

His contribution

The center of Yakobo Lumwe´s theology was always Jesus Christ, who provides forgiveness of sins and a new life. [43] He tried to have the same attitude as Jesus (Phil. 2:5). His aim was to work in the kingdom of God, but he was never eager to hold an office like that of a pastor. So, after a period of hesitation, he agreed to be ordained.

Although he didn’t have access to the academic education that local pastors of the following generations enjoyed, he received theological training from the missionaries and had proficient Bible knowledge. He spoke Kiswahili so well that Roehl, who was translating the Bible into this language [44], sent drafts for him to correct.

For Yakobo Ng´ombe in his role as pastor, it was important to preach the gospel and to win others for Jesus Christ. Counseling in the parish, hospitals, and prisons as well as teaching Christian education and baptism courses were part of his service. In doing this he always respected the cultural patterns of the people with whom he lived and worked. Godfrey Hermann said of him, “He will be remembered for his patience, love and diplomacy” [45].

His outstanding contribution was to keep the parishes together in difficult times when foreign missionaries were not around during the war. Yakobo Lumwe can therefore be counted among those actively involved in the first steps of the young church´s growing independence. [46]

Yakobo Lumwe died while staying with his son Chamungu in Dar es Salaam on June 27, 1976. [47] He was the first Protestant pastor of Tanganyika’s northern coastal region, which today is part of the United Republic of Tanzania. Two days later he was buried in Tanga, the center for most of his work. The end of his notes on the years 1914 - 1923 aptly summarizes his whole life: “It was not me, but the grace of God that was with me.” [48]

Christian Pohl



  2. Autobiography I, up to the year 1914: Berlin State Library - Prussian Cultural Heritage, Oriental Department, Hs. or. 9970 (handwritten Kiswahili copy). Autobiography II, 1914-1923: Archives and Museum Foundation Wuppertal, M 656, 385ff (typewritten Kiswahili copy).

  3. Autobiograpy I, Hs. or. 9970, 1a. The Kiswahili reads: “Wazee wanaojua vita hivyo wanasema vilikuwa mwaka wa 1888.” Translation by the author.

  4. Godfrey P. Hermann, “The Work of Yakobo L. Ngo´mbe, Pioneer Pastor of the Tanganyika Coast 1920 - 1957” (thesis, Makumira University College, 1986), 4.

  5. Tanga Lutheran Parish, Family Book (Tanga, 1897 - 1953), 4.

  6. Hermann, 4.

  7. Family Book, 4.

  8. “The Digo are a Bantu tribe occupying the coastal plain between Mombasa, Kenya, and Tanga, Tanzania.” Erling A. Lundeby, “The Digo of the South Kenyan Coast: Description and Annotated Bibliography” (Thesis, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1993), 1.

  9. Autobiograpy I, Hs. or. 9970, 1a. The Kiswahili word ng´ombe means cow.

  10. Autobiograpy I, Hs. or. 9970, 1b.

  11. August Krämer lived and worked in Tanga from 1890 to 1895; in 1896 he passed away while staying at a health resort in Egypt.

  12. “Evangelische Missionsgesellschaft für Deutsch-Ostafrika” (EMDOA), sometimes referred to as Berlin III; in 1920 it was renamed the Bethel Mission.

  13. Schutzgebiet euphemism for colony, mostly translated as protectorate, but sometimes as protected area.

  14. Wahaki T. Vesso, Digoland. Andiko la Kumbukumbu Miaka 100 (1890 - 1980). Jimbo la Pwani, 2nd ed. (Tanga: unpublished, 199x), 2.

  15. Autobiograpy I, Hs. or. 9970, 2a. The Kiswahili reads: “Kwamba ni Baba, zaidi tukiomba sala ya Bwana. Nikafurahi, nikatumaini kama nimepata Baba, kama wa duniani sina, huyu wa mbinguni anatosha.” Translation by the author.

  16. Martin Ostwald, August Krämer’s successor, lived and worked in Tanga from 1896 to 1902.

  17. Siegfried Delius, Gute Saat auf hartem Boden, 2nd ed. (Bethel near Bielefeld: Publishing House of the Evangelical Mission Society for German East Africa, 1911), 68. The German reads: “Er weiß in der Bibel und im Katechismus vielleicht besser Bescheid, ebenso im Rechnen, Lesen und Schreiben, als wohl mancher gleichaltrige Bursche in Deutschlan.” Translation by the author.

  18. Autobiograpy I, Hs. or. 9970, 2b, and Family Book, 4.

  19. See DACB article Paulo Pera (Protestant, Tanganyika).

  20. Autobiograpy I, Hs. or. 9970, 2b. The Kiswahili reads: “Hapa nimeona upendo wa Yesu.” Translation by the author.

  21. Ernst Liebau, the successor of Martin Ostwald, lived and worked in Tanga from 1902 to 1903.

  22. Family Book, 4; Autobiography I, Hs. or. 9970, 3b.

  23. Family Book, 4.

  24. Siegfried Delius, Ernst Liebau’s successor, lived and worked in Tanga from 1904 to 1916; in 1917 he was interned by British troops in Tanga and transferred to a camp in Egypt.

  25. Ernst Dammann, letter (Pinneberg: unpublished, 14.08.1985), 2.

  26. Autobiograpy II, M 656, 386. The Kiswahili reads: “1. Tusiache kusali kila siku na jumapili. 2. Tuwafundishe watoto wetu kusoma na neno la Mungu. 3. Tufanye bidii kulima mashamba yetu. 4. Tuamkiane tujuane shida, tusaidiane na kuonyana.” Translation by the author.

  27. Siegfried Delius, Vom Fischerdorf zur Hafenstadt, 2nd ed. (Bethel near Bielefeld: Bethel-Mission, 1926), 46. The German reads: “konnte ich den Eindruck mitnehmen, daß Jakobo mit Ernst und Eifer seine Pflicht erfüllte und daß er das Vertrauen der Christen und besonders auch seiner Mitarbeiter in vollem Maße genoß.” Translation by the author.

  28. See DACB article Paulo Pera (Protestant, Tanganyika) second to the last section.

  29. Franz Gleiß lived and worked in the Usambara Mountains from 1894 to 1922 (1902/03 home leave), and again from 1926 to 1939.

  30. Hermann, 10.

  31. For example: Franz Gleiß, An meinen Hirten (Bethel near Bielefeld: Bethel-Mission, 1926) particularly pages 9-18; but also many manuscripts in different archives.

  32. Autobiography II, M 656, 390f.

  33. Franz Gleiß, Die Rückkehr (Bethel near Bielefeld: Bethel-Mission, 1926).

  34. Ernst Dammann lived and worked in Tanga from 1933 to 1936.

  35. Yakobo Lumwe, Eine Reise nach Bukoba, übersetzt und bearbeitet von Ernst Dammann, (München: Wilhelm Fink Publishing House, 1996).

  36. Dammann, 3.

  37. Karl Wohlrab lived and worked in Tanga from 1936 to 1939.

  38. Imanuel Ng´anzi Vesso was baptized on December 2, 1906, ordained on June 8, 1937, and died on July 3, 1961.

  39. Matayo Jengo was ordained on November 19, 1939.

  40. The exact dates of his stay in Dar es Salaam are difficult to ascertain, but he himself wrote in a letter dated June 6, 1949 (Wuppertal, M 658, 284f), that he lived in Dar es Salaam from 1943 to 1947.

  41. S. Hjalmar Swanson, Touring Tanganyika (Rock Island: Augustana Book Concern, 1948), 211.

  42. Hermann, 13.

  43. Dammann, 3f.

  44. Karl Roehl´s translation of the Bible into Kiswahili was published in 1937.

  45. Godfrey P. Hermann, in Hermann, 27.

  46. In 1959/ 60 the Usambara-Digo Church covering the coastal strip around Tanga town and the Usambara Mountains passed its first constitution and became independent. In 1963 it formed together with six other churches the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanganyika (ELCT).

  47. Makanisa ya Kilutheri ya Tanganyika, Usharika wa Kana - Tanga, Kitabu cha Mazishi (Tanga, 1969ff), No. 42.

  48. Autobiography II, M 656, 393. The Kiswahili reads: “si mimi, ila neema ya Mungu pamoja nami.” Translation by the author.

This article, received in 2007, was researched and written by Rev. Dr. Christian Pohl, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria (ELCB). This article is based on an essay he wrote entitled “Tansanische Apostel - Der Lehrer und der Pastor” (“Tanzanian Apostles - The Teacher and the Pastor”) in Länderheft Tansania, Weltmission heute 62 (Tanzania - Worldmission today, No. 62), Evangelisches Missionswerk in Deutschland (Hamburg 2006, p. 82 - 89), published by the Association of Protestant Churches and Missions (EMW) in Hamburg. In his PhD, published in Berlin 2016, there are more details on Yakobo Lumwe and other indigenous church workers of that region: “Evangelische Mission in Tanga und im Digoland. Der Beitrag einheimischer Mitarbeitender zur Kirchwerdung 1890 - 1925” (“The Protestant Mission in Tanga and Digoland (= Tanzania). The Indigenous Church Workers´ Contribution to the Beginning of the Church 1890 - 1925”).

Photo Gallery

Yakobo Lumwe