January 15 – John Chilembwe Day in Malawi

Posted on January 15, 2016

John Chilembwe may or may not have been born in June of 1871. (Some sources give other months or years.) He probably was born in an African land that was later called Nyasaland, and later still Malawi. His name may have been Nkologo (some sources give other names) – but we definitely was baptized and renamed John.

We do know that Chilembwe became a house servant of a radical missionary named Joseph Booth—“radical” because Booth wanted independence for Nyasaland, “radical” because he wanted people of all races to be treated as equals by the law—and we know that Chilembwe left Africa with Booth to go to the United States. There Chilembwe attended college and seminary school, and there he became acquainted with the ideas of Americans such as John Brown, Booker T. Washington, and Frederick Douglas.

Chilembwe became ordained as a Baptist minister in Virginia in 1899.

Then he returned to Africa—to Nyasaland. He worked to resist colonialism; he worked to fight against bad treatment of Africans working on European-owned plantations; he protested the colonial government's failure to better the lives of African people.

Soon after World War I began, in January of 1915, John Chilembwe organized an uprising against British rule and against the European estates that dominated Nyasaland. However, the uprising failed, and Chilembwe was tracked down and killed.

Eventually...like half a century later!...Nyasaland did gain independence from Britain, and the new country changed its name to Malawi. Ever since then John Chilembwe, dead for nearly fifty years, was celebrated as a hero. His likeness appeared on the nation's money, and January 15 became John Chilembwe Day.

(By the way, I have no idea why January 15! Historians' best guess is that Chilembwe was born in June, and we know for sure that he died in February. The uprising he led was in January, but it began on the 23rd, not the 15th.)

This map shows that Malawi has no contact with any ocean,
but it does stretch out along the lovely Lake Malawi.
Also on this date:

Anniversary of the coronation of Elizabeth I

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