All About Africa  

Mirambo – Nyamwezi Warlord Biography, History and Death

Mirambo Nyamwezi Biography

Mirambo which means ‘Corpses’ (whose real name is Mtyela Kasanda) was a Nyamwezi warlord, from 1860 to 1884. He was notable for opposing the Arab allies of Henry Morton Stanley. Stanley dubbed Mirambo “the African Bonaparte” for his military talents.

He started as a trader  and owned trade caravans traveling from the Great Lakes region in western Tanzania to the coast, mostly dealing with ivory and slaves. He made himself the king for Urambo kingdom.

Early Life

  • He was born into He was born into the royal family of the small chiefdom of Uyowa, western Tanzania.


Mirambo owned trade caravans traveling from the Great Lakes region in western Tanzania to the coast, mostly dealing in ivory. He made trade with the Europeans and was able to acquire firearms and money which enabled him to organise armies and establish his military supremacy in the region.

Due to his power he installed himself as ntemi (king) of Urambo Kingdom.The Nyamwezi aristocracy was appalled that someone who was not royalty took over the religious ceremonial office of ntemi. Mirambo also was an enemy of the trading community of Tabora in the kingdom of Unyanyembe. Many of the inhabitants of Tabora were Arab traders, and rivals of Mirambo for the control of the trade across Unyamwezi. These Arabs had powerful allies in Zanzibar on the coast.

He unified several Nyamwezi tribes making him gain control over major Swahili-Arab trade routes, establishing the Nyamwezi kingdom as a major regional economic and military power.

Mirambo continued to expand the kingdom of Urambo, eventually controlling trade routes north to Buganda and west to Lake Tanganyika. As European trade increased in the East Africa, Mirambo came into armed conflict with the Arab allies of Sir Henry Morton Stanley, over trade routes. However, Mirambo continued to successfully defend his kingdom and trade routes. Impressed by Mirambo’s military success, Stanley called him “the African Bonaparte.” Mirambo shared much of the east central African territory with Kabaka Mutesa, ruler of the Buganda kingdom. The two kings managed to maintain an uneasy peace while vying for control of the region. By the time of his death, Mirambo had united most of northern Unyamwezi in an alliance under his leadership, but he never managed to conquer Tabora.

In 1884 he died and a few years the expanded Urambo Kingdom collapsed since his successor, Mpandashalo, could not provide the type of leadership or commitment that was needed to ensure the continuity of the developments Mirambo had overseen.



Near the end of his life he grew ill, and died, age 44. It is possible that he was strangled to death, since an old Nyamwezi custom was to strangle their mtemi when they became unfit to rule.