The Conscious Martyr John Chilembwe


By Stevie M Kauka……..

The author is a fellow of IPMM who writes on various topics in his own personal capacity.

When we talk of martyrs the first thing that comes to mind is the Christians who died for their belief in Jesus Christ, and closer to AFRICA the martyrs of Uganda.,to which most catholic and Anglican churches and establishments derives their names to signify the importance of their actions, St Kizzito, Charles Lwangwa , St Luke, St Denis among others.

In Malawi we have people of different divides , religions and political affliations but they almost agree that John Chilembwe is a martyr.

A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for advocating, renouncing, refusing to advocate an ideology of which they do not believe in. One who makes great sacrifices or suffers much in order to further a belief, cause, or principle. A great show of suffering in order to arouse sympathy from the wider public.

However, the focus here is about John Chilembwe. A lot of literature has been written about John Chilembwe and I will not belabor you with that but I would like to focus on him as a conscious martyr.

Conscious is a Latin word whose original meaning was “knowing” or “aware.” So, a conscious person has an awareness of her environment and her own existence and thoughts. If you’re “self-conscious,” you’re overly aware and even embarrassed by how you think, you look or act.

To follow the analogy of Chilembwe being a conscious martyr let us understand that while in Nyasaland then John Chilembwe was just an ordinary person, but when he travelled to the United States, he met people who were critical of whites. When he left home Nyasaland was under British protectorate.

He had traveled to the United States in 1897 to fundraise for the Mission to which he belonged to back home. There in America, Chilembwe was plunged into an environment that was highly critical of whites. He met and was influenced by the radical Zulu missionary John L. Dube from South Africa, Dr. Lewis Garnett Jordan of the Negro National Baptist Convention and many other African American preachers and radicals.

Staying behind in the United States as Booth returned to Nyasaland, Booth was the one who arranged that John Chilembwe should go to America having been impressed with his character as his servant then, Chilembwe attended Virginia Theological Seminary and College at Lynchburg, Virginia in 1898 and 1899. In the United States, Chilembwe gained an increasingly global perspective on the struggle of people of African descent against injustice and white supremacy. He took these newly acquired political ideas back to Nyasaland in 1900, returning as an ordained Baptist minister.

Once returned, Chilembwe founded the Providence Industrial Mission with aid from the American National Baptist Convention. By 1912, he had established a chain of independent African schools, constructed a brick church and planted crops of cotton, tea, and coffee. His attempts to uplift the local population, however, were undercut by continuing exploitation of Africans by the British.

Triggered by British mistreatment of famine refugees from Mozambique as well as the conscription of natives to fight the  Germans in Tanzania during World War I, Chilembwe invoked the name of the American abolitionist John Brown and organized a rebellion against the British. The Chilembwe uprising is a story for another day.

While in America he started to have goals, he was powered with faith in the outcome of his native Nyasaland, coupled with with the exposure he was having he started noticing the opportunities to fulfill that dream,but for the time being it was beyond the reach of the conscious mind
Back home he wrote letters seeking justice and equality for the blacks about the thangata system.

The subconscious mind is the powerful secondary system that runs everything in your life. Learning how to stimulate the communication between the conscious and the subconscious minds is a powerful tool on the way to success, happiness and riches.

The subconscious mind is a data-bank for everything, which is not in your conscious mind. It stores your beliefs, your previous experience, your memories, your skills. Everything that you have seen, done or thought is also there.

It is the issues that he had learnt observed and read while in America that were in his subconscious mind that something was wrong and needed action to correct the wrongs. He was conscious of his surroundings in Nyasaland before and after America that he saw poverty, oppression and to this end he encouraged hard work, dressing smartly, he discouraged drinking and encouraged people to get an education perhaps because of what he had seen in America and wanted a just society for the people of Nyasaland.

Martin Luther King the black civil rights campaigner in one of his speeches had this to say and I quote.

”Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land” end of quote.

I can envisage that John chilembwe in his conscious mind on the path he had taken was aware of what lied ahead but he did not mind as it was in his conscious that something was wrong and had to be corrected he knew that of the issues that lied ahead he was aware of the implications but in his conscious he still had to do it. Nature has given humans an absolute control over the information that enters the subconscious mind, through the five senses.

However, this does not mean that everyone exercises this control.

Even more, in the majority of cases the average person does not exercise this control. This is why so many people go through life in poverty, denial and waiting for others to rescue them.

It is this premise that after his demise John Chilembwe should be considered as a conscious martyr as his surrounding and actions are stated.

With the passing of time things do change and facts become twisted to suit a particular sect of society for their selfish ends but the fact still remains that events happened that qualifies the so-called victims to be martyrs and John Chilembwe qualifies as a conscious martyr
It is worth remembering that there is a price to be paid in order to be able to influence your subconscious mind. That price is called persistence.

You have to keep doing the steps for auto- suggestion, you have to keep repeating your goals aloud and you have to keep having faith in the outcome and the end-result. John Chilembwe to this end led an uprising to the unjust of the white rule he died while fighting for a good cause for a black man.

The difference between those who succeed and those who fail may just be a few days. Or it could be the availability of a back-up plan. Those who always say:

“In case I do not succeed, I will do this and that” will always do this and that. Because their conscious mind would always keep thinking about the way out. While Martyrs Day and Kamuzu Day have been there since independence, it was after 1994 when the then president, Bakili Muluzi declared 15th January as Chilembwe Day holiday. In 1944, during the formative period of the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC), George Mwase from Nkhata Bay and other members of the executive committee then, pressed the colonial Nyasaland Government to set 15th January as Chilembwe Day. To no avail.


The author is a fellow of IPMM who writes on various topics in his own personal capacity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *