Nyirenda, Tomo ('Mwana Lesa')
c. 1890s to 1926
Messianic religious leader.
He was born and raised in Nyasaland (present Malawi). In the early 1920s he went to work on the Copperbelt in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), where he became acquainted with the Watch Tower Movement, earlier introduced by E. K. KAMWANA. He was baptized and began to preach the new faith in early 1925. British colonial authorities soon imprisoned him for failing to register as an 'alien native'. On his release he declared himself to be the Mwana Lesa, or the Son of God. He preached a millenarian creed which stressed opposition to the white regime and promised the coming of black American benefactors. He enhanced his rapidly growing reputation with the further claim-- unusual among such messianic figures--that he could divine witches and sorcerers. He soon won a large following among the Lala of Central Province. However, he incurred the hostility of the government by drowning a number of 'witches' who failed to pass his test of baptism. He then shifted his movement to the Katanga province of the Belgian Congo (now Zaïre) where he introduced Watch Tower beliefs. There he drowned over a hundred people. The Belgians chased him back to Zambia, where the authorities tried and hanged him in 1926.
Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen
Rotberg, Robert I. The Rising of Nationalism in Central Africa : The Making of Malawi and Zambia, 1873-1964. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967.
Grotpeter, John J. Historical Dictionary of Zambia. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1979.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Dictionary of African Historical Biography, 2nd edition, copyright © 1986, by Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California. All rights reserved.