PLACEBO

         The placebo effect does not always work,

         as evidenced by the ‘Maji Maji’ revolt in   

         German East Africa (Tanganyika) in 1907.

 

‘Bullets will turn to water,

Machine guns will not kill’

This was the cry that echoed

From hill to sounding hill.

 

The tribesmen heard with wonder,

Each rushed to take his stand

To fight the dreaded Germans

And drive them from the land.

 

The lines of naked warriors

With assegai, bow or spear

Came from the fields and forests

To wash away their fear.

 

‘Itifishi’ was the name –

For witchcraft well renowned

Who had the magic water

With which they would be crowned.

 

Just water pure, that’s all it was,

With herbs and magic stone

Put in a pot and stirred around

With witchcraft’s magic bone.

 

‘This will protect you from their guns,’

The cunning doctor said;

Just wash in this, I promise you,

They cannot shoot you dead.’

 

The natives heard with wonder

And came with joy and glee

To bathe in magic water

And pay the doctor’s fee.

 

‘Bullets will turn to water,

Machine guns will not kill’

This was the cry that brought them

From hill to sounding hill.

 

The Germans heard with wonder

The stories natives told

Of magic water bathing

That made them all so bold.

 

They took their well-oiled rifles,

Machine gun chambers filled,

Stood by their stout defences,

And countless natives killed.

 

‘Bullets will turn to water,

Machine guns will not kill’

They pinned their faith in magic –

And charged the German hill.

 

Across the dusty landscape

The tribesmen charged their way;

‘Machine guns could not kill them’

They heard the doctor say.

 

The doctor stood and watched them

As thousands dropped down dead

His magic water useless

Against the power of lead.

 

The Germans watched with wonder

As wave by wave they came

Across the dusty landscape

To die in abject shame.

 

‘Bullets will turn to water,

Machine guns will not kill’

But ‘maji maji’ magic

Their wishes did not fill.

 

Their corpses lay there rotting,

Their widows left to cry

For maji maji magic

They were prepared to die.

 

      David Reed    Dec 2016

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