Uniformed African Leaders and their Private Armies
in the German Colonies

King of Mankong in Cameroon in Prussian Cuirassier Uniform
This Cameroonian Chief was photographed wearing Prussian Garde-du-Corps helmet and cuirass at a funeral sometime after the First World War when the area was under British occupation. The uniform may be from the same source as King Njoya of Bamum's uniforms.
Photo from Wikipedia


King Njoya of Bamum's Army was certainly the most flamboyantly dressed private army in the German colonies but they were not the only Africans outside of the Schutztruppe to wear items of German (or locally made imitation German) uniform.

All over German controlled Africa and the Pacific occasional items of uniform were worn by tribesmen and chieftains, sometimes received as gifts from the local governor or Schutztruppe commander, at other times captured from the Germans. 

Locally tailored uniforms in imitation of the German style were also made for chieftains and their small armies. The use of such uniforms had a dual purpose, on the one hand it showed their people that the chief was as powerful as the Germans, and to the Germans it showed flattery and (at least temporary) loyalty.

Aside from the often primitively armed and un-uniformed tribal armies outside of the control of the German colonial authorities (such as the Nama in South West Africa or the Wahehe in East Africa) the Germans at times tolerated private armies or bodyguards to be armed and uniformed by a few loyal local kings, sultans or chieftains.

In German South West Africa after the Herero an Nama Rebellions it was strictly forbidden for any African to carry a firearm.

In other colonies local German officials turned a blind eye to loyal tribes carrying firearms. They were usually obsolete weapons, with very little ammunition and would have posed only a minor threat in the case of rebellion. Often only a couple of dozen personal bodyguards were armed. Dummy weapons may also have been carried at times.

These local leaders largely stayed loyal to German rule, knowing their privileges could be removed at any time, which would weaken their prestige in the eyes of their people.

One photograph on Deutsche-Kriegsgeschichte shows the Chief Atangana of the Jaunde and Bane wearing a Schutztruppe Südwester and khaki tunic. Another photograph shows a chief on New Guinea wearing a  Polizeitruppe peaked cap along with his own traditional costume (see "Uniforms of the German Soldier - 1870 to the End of World War One" by Alejandro M. De Quesada).


Herero Chief Samuel Maherero
South West Africa
Photo from Bundesarchiv / WikiCommons

Unknown African in Hussar Uniform
Cameroon or ast Africa
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

Sultan Kahigi Kanassi of Bukoba
East Africa

Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

The photograph above left shows the Herero leader Samuel Maherero wearing German uniform. As mentioned above, it was not unknown for Schutztruppe officers and officials to give items of German uniform to local chiefs as a reward for their loyalty. This photograph was therefore presumably taken before Maherero rose in rebellion against the Germans in 1904. The uniform looks like that of a Prussian aide-de-camp with its laced Polish cuffs and aiguillette cords rather than that of a Schutztruppe officer. He wears a Schutztruppe Südwester hat, held up on the left side without a cockade.

The Herero had a tradition of wearing German uniforms. Even when in opposition to the Germans they wore bits of captured Schutztruppe uniforms and equipment. These were proudly claimed to have been taken from the bodies of killed German soldiers. After the German surrender in 1915 the Herero amassed more German uniforms and continued to where them on parades in the years after the First World War. To this day the Herero wear copies of German style uniforms on special occasions (see Jim Naughten's Herero Article on Slate).

  Samuel Maherero (1856-1923) was the son of Kamaharero and upon his death succeeded as chief of the Herero around Okahandja. He was educated by Lutheran priests and initially had good relations with the German colonists. Conflict increased between the Herero and German colonists over the use of Herero land and labour while economic strife added to the Herero problems. In January 1904 Maherero led his men along with other Herero warriors in attacks on German farms and communities. While his warriors caught the Schutztruppe by surprise and scored initial successes, eventually massive German reinforcements forced the Herero onto the retreat. The Herero were eventually defeated at the Battle of Waterberg in August 1904. Most of the surviving Herero and their families were forced to flee into the Omaheke desert where many died of thirst. Those that returned were initially shot at and later captured and sent to Shark Island. Maherero and his small party escaped into British Bechuanaland land where Maherero remained in exile for the rest of his life. His body was returned to Okahandja for burial on 23rd August 1923. Herero Day is now celebrated each year in Namibia on the Sunday closest to August 23rd to commemorate his return.

The photograph above centre shows an Unknown African Leader. The photograph was probably taken in East Africa, Cameroon or Togo. As mentioned above, it was not unknown for German officers and officials to give items of uniform to local chiefs as a reward for their loyalty. This man is probably one such leader. He wears a Prussian Hussar Attila tunic with the shoulder straps of a senior officer. His cap appears to be a matching Hussar officer's peaked field cap with an Imperial cockade over a Prussian cockade. Between the two cockades is a metal badge which may be an Imperial eagle. He has German riding breeches, leather gaiters and short ankle boots.

The photograph above right shows Sultan Kahigi Kanassi of Bukoba in East Africa. He wears a Prussian Cuirassier type tunic with polish style cuffs that appeared to be locally made. The shoulder braided straps, medals and belt are also in imitation of German styles. His sword appears to be a genuine German officers sabre though not of a type used by Prussian Cuirassiers or the Schutztruppe. The boots might also have been purchased from European sources. His crown is purely of Bukoba origin. The Sultan was loyal to the German authorities up until and during the First World War. See also the photo below.

Sultan Kahigi Kanassi of Bukoba being held aloft by his Bodyguard, Bukoba, East Africa
The Sultan again wears his Prussian cuirassier style white uniform (see photo above right) this time with a large turban. His bodyguard  wear European style white uniforms, clearly in imitation of the Schutztruppe. They mostly wear white skull caps or red fezzes although one figure on the right wears a Sudwester hat. Two of the bodygurads on the left carry carbines. Other photographs of the Bukoba bodyguard show them wearing white robes with red fezzes. At the start of the First World War the Germans gave four hundred JB71 rifles to arm the Sultan of Bukoba's army, trusting them to fend off any Entente invasion of their territory.
Recommended External Link - The Sultan of Bukoba's Army on the Axis History Forum

Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

The Bali-Nyonga Army, Cameroon 1908
King Njoya of Bamum's efforts at creating an army based on German standards had not gone unnoticed by his neighbours. Soon other tribal armies on the grasslands of Cameroon were doing the same. This photograph shows the soldiers raised by the Fonyonge of Bali-Nyonga. Their locally made uniforms are clearly based on those of the Schutztruppe. They are armed with a mixture of mismatched firearms.
Photo by Bernhard Ankermann from WikiCommons

Sultan Schefu Sanda of Bornu's Bodyguard, Dikwa, Cameroon
The ancient state of Bornu (or Borno) along with its capital Kukawa in modern Nigeria was conquered by the Sudanese warlord Rabih az-Zubayr in 1893. Britain then took most of the former Bornu Empire into its territory of Nigeria. The exiled Bornu leadership then made their capital at Dikwa, which was under the administration of German Cameroon. This photograph shows the Sultan's bodyguard still armed while under German rule, albeit with obsolete firearms. Their lack of ammunition pouches may also give a clue as to their shortages. They wear typical costume for warriors of the Haussa in Nigeria, three quarter length padded robes edged in white, with long trousers and white fezzes.
Recommended External Link- Bornu Empire on Wikipedia
Photo © Frankfurt University Koloniales Bildarchiv

Chief Mata'afa of Samoa's Bodyguard c1890s
This photo pre-dates the formal German colonisation of Western Samoa in 1899 although German interests in the area were already represented by a consulate, traders and warships at this time. Mata'afa's soldiers therefore wear uniforms based on European fashions of the time although not necessarily German ones. These uniforms with their dark tunics and white turbans and leggings have the appearance of French Zouaves.
Photo by Thomas Andrew, National Library of New Zealand / WikiCommons

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