Paulo Kajiru Mashambo, a Pare (Asu), was born between 1888 and 1891, at Kihurio, South Pare Mountains, Tanzania. One of the early Seventh-day Adventists in the area, he later became a respected leader in the church and in 1945 led a peaceful demonstration of thousands of people that lasted for two months.
Mashambo was born at Vudee in the northwest part of South Pare and grew up in the Bwambo area and in the Usambara Mountains. When the Seventh-day Adventist missionary A. C. Enns chose to erect a new mission station in Bwambo in 1906, Mashambo was attracted to the school there. When the site for the school was later moved to neighboring Suji, he followed and studied there for six years. In 1913 he was baptized because he was attracted to Christianity by the idea of one God and was impressed with the way Christians lived.
After his baptism, he worked as a teacher at Changulue in the Bwambo area. In 1916 he was transferred to Kiranga, and in 1917 he married. The same year he was detained with twenty-six other teachers for two months before being released. In 1922 Mashambo was sent to Tintini school in the Bwambo area.
From 1930 on he worked as an evangelist–which at that time meant a non-ordained pastor–pioneering church work at Vugwama, where Adventists became the overwhelming majority of the people just one generation later–there were no other church denominations in the area at the time. In 1943 he retired, but the fact that he became a member of the denomination’s Pare Council in 1943 shows that he continued to be a well-respected leader among Pare Adventists.
Mashambo’s spirit of service, his experience in leadership, and his concern for justice converged in the mbiru controversy, a conflict between the colonial administration and Pare chiefs on one side and the people of Pare District on the other. For the Tanzanian people, mbiru constituted an important step towards independence because it was the largest protest movement in the generation preceding the establishment of the Tanzanian nation.
The government wished to introduce a new, graduated tax system to replace the older flat tax and chose to test it on the inhabitants of Pare because they were considered relatively progressive and eager to receive more funds into their native treasury through the very taxes they paid. In 1943 and 1944, the people grudgingly paid the new taxes. However, an open confrontation started on January 4, 1945 when Chief Sekimang’a of Mamba, a Seventh-day Adventist, arrested forty-four men who refused to pay the mbiru tax and sent them to the district headquarters at Same. Three hundred other men started marching to Same shouting the Pare war cry–called lukunga in the local language–on the way in an attempt to mobilize others to head to Same as well. By January 6, several thousand men had assembled there in order to demonstrate their rejection of mbiru at the district commissioner’s office. Subsequently, the crowd asked the government administrators to be heard every single working day for two months. Thousands of men (estimates vary between 2,000 and 12,000) stayed in temporary camps while women from all over Pare brought food. A most surprising aspect was that all activities remained non-violent in spite of the fact that the government had deployed soldiers to threaten the crowd.
Delegations were sent to Dar es Salaam, a petition was dispatched to King George, and two different law firms were hired to present the case at the highest government levels. Although none of these actions had any tangible results, the general resistance to the tax throughout 1945 and until the latter half of 1946 led a new provincial commissioner to conclude that the graduated tax should be repealed.
The spark that made this political and economic conflict explode came from Mamba, an Adventist centre. The protagonists on both sides were Adventists: Chief Sekimang’a of Mamba, the main promoter of the new tax, and Mashambo, leader of the mbiru protest, and spokesman and organizer of the huge crowd. Mashambo’s outstanding leadership style was a central aspect of the mbiru happenings, for he managed to keep the crowd of thousands of men together and made sure that only non-violent means were being used. For this purpose, he combined traditional and Christian elements. He explained, “Actually what I was trying to do was to maintain peace. (…) Whenever I sounded my horn (…) everybody sat down and I talked to them. I told them to pray every morning, to love one another, maintaining [sic] peace and return anything they found not belonging to them.” 
Mashambo served as the interpreter for government officials, which gave him the opportunity to change the message at times so that people would not obey the government officers’ instructions, especially when they told the crowd to leave. A great challenge was proper sanitation and Mashambo dealt with it by personally supervising the digging of latrines. Another major task was to organize a program to keep people busy in this slow process of negotiating with the government. For this purpose, singing, prayers, and speeches were arranged. People from different religious backgrounds would preach, and Adventist literature evangelists used the opportunity to sell many books. In several respects, the mbiru protest manifested itself like an extended Adventist camp meeting, and Mashambo knew the logistics of such conventions.
The distinctly religious motivation of Mashambo’s leadership cannot be overlooked. District Commissioner T. E. Pringle admonished the people by saying, “Render to God and render to Caesar.” Yet for the Pare, religion, economics, and politics were not isolated entities. Therefore, Mashambo argued, “The people of Israel were troubled for a long time but God heard their cries” and he admonished the crowd, “Do not be afraid: The victory is God’s.” Most important, Mashambo’s motivation for his non-violent stand was his Christian ethics. He proved this in 1946 when some Pare wanted to murder the chiefs, to which he strongly objected, arguing that killing is “not God’s way.”
Whereas on the one hand Mashambo, the majority of the Adventist laity, and some prominent church employees were actively involved in the mbiru protest, on the other, the missionary church leaders’ reaction to the events was unequivocally negative. According to them, Adventists should not engage in “political matters.” To Mashambo, however, the issue was not so much political–for party politics did not yet exist–as it was simply an attempt to restore justice. What church leaders probably did not know was that Mashambo’s role was more complex than that of a leader simply leading an anti-government revolt. Rather, by converting a potentially violent clash into a non-violent “war of words” Mashambo actually helped the government. This is probably the reason why he was not deported, contrary to eight other people identified as anti-mbiru “ring leaders” who had used violence to stop people from paying mbiru taxes.
In spite of its apolitical stand, the denomination had trained its adherents to think for themselves, to rely on principles derived from the Bible, and to actively pursue worthy goals. Mashambo was thus motivated by Adventist Christian principles, but he interpreted them differently from the missionary leaders. His “spirit of defiance hidden in his demand for loyalty to the colonial government”  was, at the same time, a spirit of Christian loyalty to the government cloaked in popular defiance.
After the mbiru events, Mashambo continued to be involved in community matters and chose to lead a quiet life in his village until his death around the year 1980.
Mashambo, also called Paulo Mbiru after the 1945 events, was an extraordinary member of the Tanzanian Seventh-day Adventist Church in that he critically applied missionary teaching and Biblical principles to a unique situation in a creative way. The mbiru protest movement of 1945 can be compared to the well-known American Civil Rights Movement because of its emphasis on the Christian principle of non-violence.
Kimambo, Penetration and Protest, p. 101.
Penetration and Protest, p. 103.
Nancy Ruth Dorsey, “Pare Women and the Mbiru Tax Protest in Tanzania, 1943-1947: A Study of Women, Politics, and Development,” Ph.D. (Ohio State University, 1994).
Stefan Höschele, “Christian Remnant - African Folk Church: The History of Seventh-Day Adventism in Tanzania, 1903-1980,” Ph.D. diss. (University of Malawi, 2005).
John Iliffe, A Modern History of Tanganyika (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 494-496.
Isaria N. Kimambo, Mbiru: Popular Protest in Colonial Tanzania (Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1971), [21 pp.].
——–, Penetration and Protest in Tanzania: The Impact of the World Economy on the Pare, 1860-1960 (London: James Currey, 1991): the chapter “Mbiru: Popular Protest Against an Oppressive Colonial System, 1944-1947,” 95-117.
——– and E. A. Lukwaro, A Peasant and Political Leader in Upare: Paulo Mashambo (Dar es Salaam: Historical Association of Tanzania, 1987), [40 pp.].
This story, sent to us in 2005 by Dr. Hudson E. Kibuuka, DACB liaison coordinator for the SDA East Africa Division, was written by Dr. Stefan Höschele, of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a lecturer in Systematic Theology at Friedensau University, Friedensau, Germany (email: [email protected]; Web: www.stefan-hoeschele.de or www.thh-friedensau.de).