Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Uganda's Christian Martyrs are part of the outcome of the ‘Religious’ Revolution in Buganda

On June 3,2010 we are yet to CelebrateMartyrs Day. Wish you nice time, but bear in mind that much as we have those many Martyrs,many in leadership ranks in Uganda don't live to the expectations of a country so rich with Martyrs, it is indeed sad. Many of the leadersare actually engineers of evil which is afflicting our people and they are the cause of the increasing poverty which is aterrible experience.God,as we celebrate Martyrs day touch the hearts of our leaders to do what is Godly.

William Kituuka

The religious revolution in Buganda- Source: Basic Themes in African History 1855 - 1914 by A.N.Madanda
The phenomenon of the religious revolution in Buganda started perhaps with the coming of the 1st Arabs to Buganda in 1844 namely Ahmed Bin Ibrahim. His coming led to the introduction of Islam. Later in 1877 the Protestant missionaries came followed shortly by the catholics missionaries in 1879 a coming that was to stir Buganda in the years to come. Therefore by 1880, buganda had believers in the traditional religion as well as believers in the foreign religions of Islam and Christianity. The 1880's and 1890's witnessed the named religious parties fighting against each other in what has come to be known as the religious wars.
The causes
Among the many causes for the religious wars in Buganda was the untimely death of Mutesa I in 1884 just a few years after the arrival of the Christian missionaries. His death created a political vacuum that was difficult to fill. The kingdom wasleft to Mwanga II, ayouth whose ruling style fell short of the charisma and political astuteness his late father had demonstrated in dealing with foreigners. Thus whereas Mutesa I had successfullly played the various religious factions against each other for political survival, Mwanga could not which caused trouble. secondly, the rise and character of Mwanga the new King was a problem.mwanga was too young and inexprienced to manage the dynamics of Buganda society then.

Uganda Martyrs
On 3 June 1886, thirty-two young men, pages of the court of King Mwanga II of Buganda, were burned to death at Namugongo for their refusal to renounce Christianity. Some of the men were of the Anglican faith and others were of the Catholic faith. Annually, on June 03, Christians from all parts of Uganda, East Africa and other parts of the world congregate at Namugongo to commemorate the lives of the Uganda Martyrs and their dedication to their religious beliefs. Crowds have been estimated in hundreds of thousands in some years.
Twenty two of the Catholic Martyrs were canonized by Pope Paul VI on October 18, 1964 and are regarded as Saints in the Catholic Church. A Basilica has been built at the spot where the majority of them were burned to death. A church stands at the place where the Anglican martyrs met their death, about 2 miles (3.2 km) further east from the Catholic Basilica. Documentation is available on a total of forty five (45) martyrs but it is believed that many more believers met their death at the command of Kabaka Mwanga II between 1885 and 1887.

Mwanga II of Buganda
Danieri Basammula-Ekkere Mwanga II Mukasa was Kabaka from 1884 until 1888 and from 1889 until 1897. He was the thirty-first (31st) Kabaka of Buganda.
Claim to the throne
He was born at Nakawa in 1868. His father was Kabaka Mukaabya Walugembe Muteesa I Kayiira, Kabaka of Buganda, who reigned between 1856 and 1884. His mother was Naabakyaala Abisaagi Baagal'ayaze, the tenth wife of his father's eighty five wives. He ascended to the throne on October 18, 1884, after the death of his father. He established his capital on Mengo Hill.
Married Life
He is on record as having married sixteen wives:
1. Damali Bayita Nanjobe
2. Naabakyaala Dolosi Mwaan'omu Bakazikubawa
3. Esiteri Nabunnya
4. Naabakyaala Eveliini Kulabako, Omubikka
5. Naabakyaala Loyiroosa Nakibuuka, Kaddulubaale
6. Naabakyaala Samali Namuwanga, Sabaddu
7. Nabweteme
8. Nakijoba Nabulya
9. Bezza Batwegombya
10. Naabakyaala Ntongo, Kabejja
11. Naabakyaala Nabisubi, Omuwanga
12. Namirembe
13. Lakeeri Mbekeka
14. Nalwooga, Omuyigiriza
15. Elizaabeeti Buteba
16. Nattimba Binti Juma

Kabaka Mwanga II fathered seven (7) sons and three (3) daughters including Kabaka Daudi Chwa II, Kabaka of Buganda, who reigned between 1897 and 1939. [2]

1. Prince (Omulangira) Kagolo, whose mother was Damali Bayita Nanjobe. He was killed by his uncle, Kalema, in 1889.
2. Prince (Omulangira) Mulindwa, whose mother was Nabweteme
3. Prince (Omulangira) Nganda, whose mother was Lakeeri Mbekeka
4. His Highness Sir Daudi Chwa II, Kabaka of Buganda, who reigned from 1897 until 1939. His mother was Eveliini Kulabako
5. Prince (Omulangira) Yusuufu Suuna Kiweewa, whose mother was Esiteri Nabunnya. He was born at Mengo, Uganda on 16th February 1898. Educated at Mengo High School and King's College Budo. Commissioned 2nd Lieutenant on October 1914. He served served in the Great War from 1915 until 1919. Promoted to Lieutenant in the 7th Territorial Battalion on the 25th May 1939. He served in the Second World War in Eastern Africa]] and in North Africa, from 1939 until 1940. Retired on the 18th March 1940. He was implicated in the Buganda riots of 1949 and exiled to the Ssese Islands, where he died in 1949.
6. Prince (Omulangira) Tobi, whose mother was Nabisubi
7. Prince (Omulangira) Nayime?, whose mother was Loyiroosa Nakibuuka
8. Princess (Omumbejja) Najjuma Katebe, whose mother is not mentioned
9. Princess (Omumbejja) Anna Nambi Nassolo, whose mother was Samali Namuwanga
10. Princess (Omumbejja) Mboni Maliamu Kajja-Obunaku, whose mother was Nattimba. She was educated at Saint Monica's School in Zanzibar
Mwanga saw the greatest threat to his rule coming from the Christian missionaries who had gradually penetrated Buganda. His father had played-off the three religions; Catholics, Protestants and Muslims against each other and thus balanced the influence of the colonial powers that were backing each group. Mwanga II took a much more aggressive approach, expelling missionaries and insisting that Christian converts abandon their faith or face death.
On October 29, 1885, he had the incoming archbishop James Hannington murdered on the eastern border of his kingdom. Then between 1885 and 1887, over forty-five of the king's pages were put to death on the orders of Mwanga. The crime was failure to renounce their newly-found Christian beliefs.[3] Twenty-two of the men, who had converted to Catholicism, were burned alive at Namugongo in 1886 and later became known as the Uganda Martyrs. Among those executed were two Christians who held the court position of Master of the Pages, Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe and Charles Lwanga.
These murders and Mwanga's continued resistance alarmed the British, who backed a rebellion by Christian and Muslim groups who supported Mwanga's half brother and defeated Mwanga at Mengo in 1888. Mwanga's brother, Kiweewa Nnyonyintono was elevated to the throne. He lasted exactly one month and was replaced on the throne by another brother, Kabaka Kalema Muguluma. However, Mwanga escaped and negotiated with the British. In exchange for handing over some of his sovereignty to the British East Africa Company, the British changed their backing to Mwanga, who swiftly removed Kalema from the throne in 1889.
Final years
On December 26, 1890, Mwanga signed a treaty with Lord Lugard, granting certain powers over revenue, trade and the administration of justice to the Imperial British East Africa Company. These powers were transferred to the crown on April 1, 1893.
On August 27, 1894, Mwanga accepted for Buganda to become a Protectorate. However, on July 6, 1897, he declared War on the British and launched an attack, but was defeated on July 20, 1897, in Buddu (today's Masaka District). He fled into German East Africa (today it is the Republic of Tanzania), where he was arrested and interned at Bukoba.
He was deposed in absentia, on August 9, 1897. Tenacious as he was, he escaped and returned to Buganda with a rebel army, but was again defeated on January 15, 1898. He was captured and in April 1899 was exiled to the Seychelles. While in exile, he was received into the Anglican Church, was baptized with the name of Danieri (Daniel). He spent the rest of his life in exile. He died in 1903, aged 35 years. In 1910 his remains were repatriated and buried at Kasubi.

The Christian Martyrs of Uganda - Source:

The arrival of the Christian missionaries, Anglican and Catholic, set the stage for new developments, and marked a turning point in the religious life of the people of Buganda; as well as the political structure of the kingdom and the region at large. The history of Buganda from this point on took a different turn. A social revolution that was to transform all aspects of people's lives had set in, and the events that followed, unpredictable as they were, added to the discomfort the new changes had brought about. The untimely death of Mutesa I in 1884 just a few years after the arrival of the missionaries, left the kingdom in the hands of Mwanga II, a youth whose ruling style fell far short of the charisma and political astuteness his late father had demonstrated in dealing with the foreigners.
Mutesa had the astuteness and maturity of dealing with conflicting forces that struggled to influence his court. The Arabs (the Moslems), the Catholics (the French or Bafaransa as they were locally called) or the Protestants (the English or Bangereza) operated, of course not without constraint, with some minimal success during his reign. He let his subjects of all ranks to join any creed of their choice. The Arabs also having seen the Christian missionaries' efforts to convert the local people also diligently started to teach Islam. There was a competitive struggle among the preachers of the new creeds each attempting to assert more influence and recognition among the most influential officials in the inner circle of the king's court. The king himself never committed to any single creed. The Moslems denounced him for his refusal to be circumcised, and he could not be baptized in the Christian denominations because he did not want to give up polygamy. He died still a traditionalist.
The Christian religion was received with much excitement by the converts but it came with its own requirements. It denounced all the native religious behavior and practices as heathen and satanic. Therefore joining it meant a commitment to break away from the old life style, make and adopt new alliances, and adjust to new moral and religious standards, adherence and allegiance. The new flock of believers ( abasomi, or readers, as they were called) therefore, were seemingly regarded as 'rebels' who had transferred their loyalty to new religious systems thus abandoning the old tribal traditions.
Although Mwanga had shown some love for the missionaries as a young prince, his attitude changed when he became king. The once lively and enthusiastic prince in support of the missionaries turned into an intolerant and vicious persecutor of Christians and all foreigners. He felt, with good cause, that the powers and authority his predecessors had enjoyed were dwindling, and had disintegrated under the influence of the missionaries and their converts. The converts had diverted their loyalty to some other authority and their allegiance at all costs could no longer be counted on. For Mwanga, the ultimate humiliation was the insolence he received from the pages when they ( the least subservient of servants) resisted his homosexual advances. According to old tradition the king was the center of power and authority, and he could dispense with any life as he felt, hence the old saying Namunswa alya kunswaze (the queen ant feeds on her subjects). Although homosexuality is abhorred among the Baganda, it was unheard of for mere pages to reject the wishes of a king. (It is alleged that Mwanga learnt or acquired homosexual behavior from the Arabs). Given those conflicting values Mwanga was determined to rid his kingdom of the new teaching and its followers.
It was hardly a year after Mwanga's assumption of the throne that he ordered the execution of Yusufu (Joseph) Rugarama, Makko (Mark) Kakumba, and Nuwa (Noah) Serwanga the first three Christian martyrs, who were killed at Busega Natete on January 31, 1885. In October of 1885 the Anglican Bishop James Hannington recently dispatched to head the Eastern Equatorial Africa, headquartered in Buganda, was murdered in Busoga on his way to Buganda. Mwanga had ordered his death. Hannington's crime was to attempt to come to Buganda through Busoga, a shorter route than that employed by earlier visitors who took the route from south of lake Victoria. Buganda's kings regarded Busoga as a backdoor to Buganda and thought that any one coming through the backdoor must have evil intentions towards the kingdom.
Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe, a senior advisor to the king and a Catholic convert, condemned Mwanga for ordering Hannington's death without giving him (Hannington) a chance to defend himself as was customary. Mwanga was annoyed that Mukasa would question his actions, and he had him arrested and killed. On Nov. 15 1885; Mukasa became the first Catholic martyr, when he was beheaded at Nakivubo. Between December of 1885 and May of 1886 many more converts were wantonly murdered. Mwanga precipitated a showdown in May by ordering the converts to choose between their new faith, and complete obedience to his orders. Those unwilling to renounce their new faith would be subject to death. Courageously, the neophytes chose their faith. The execution of twenty six Christians at Namugongo on June 3, 1886; was the climax of the campaign against the converts. The last person killed in this crusade, was Jean-Marie Muzeeyi, who was beheaded at Mengo on Jan 27, 1887. The complete list of the known martyrs is given below. The list of forty five known Catholic and Protestant martyrs includes only those who could be formally accounted for, many more murders went unreported and without a record.

In his efforts to curb the Christian influence and try to regain the traditional and customary powers and authorities over his subjects, Mwanga was adding more chaos to an already chaotic situation. In the north Kabarega (the king of Bunyoro Kitara a traditional arch enemy of Buganda) was raging, fighting off the pending invasion from the Khedive of Egypt and for sure he never lost his intentions towards Buganda. Further south it was reported that the Germans were annexing territories in the regions of the present Tanzania, and Mwanga was caught in a threatening position. His suspicion of the missionaries was therefore real. Buganda also was experiencing internal strife, the Moslems were plotting to overthrow him and replace him with a Moslem prince. The political upheavals combined with religious instability constrained the country's moral stamina. The kingdom was thrown into turmoil; Moslems fighting Christians, traditionalists plotting against all creeds, untimely alliances concocted to survive against a common foe and later unceremoniously discarded. The kingdom broke into civil strife during which Mwanga was briefly deposed, although he was able to regain his throne later.
Rather than deter the growth of Christianity, the martyrdom of these early believers seems to have sparked its growth instead. As has been observed in many other instances, the blood of the martyrs proved to be the seed of faith. Christianity (in its various flavours) is now the dominant faith in Buganda and Uganda as a whole. The 22 known Catholic martyrs were declared "Blessed" by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. This is one of the key steps in the catholic tradition that eventually leads to canonization. The 22 Catholic martyrs were indeed canonized by Pope Paul VI on October 18, 1964; during the Vatican II conference. Thus these martyrs were now recognised by the universal church as being worthy of being honored as Saints. This was a first for modern Africa and a source of pride throughout the continent.
To honor these modern saints, Paul VI became the first reigning pope to visit sub-saharan Africa when he visited Uganda in July 1969; a visit which included a pilgrimage to the site of the martyrdom at Namugongo. He also dedicated a site for the building of a shrine church in honor of the martyrs, at the spot where Charles Lwanga was killed. The shrine church itself (shown above), was dedicated in 1975 and it was subsequently named a basilica church, a high honor in Catholicism. Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury, and head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, also came on pilgrimage in January 1984. Pope John Paul II in turn honored the martyrs with his own pilgrimage in February 1993. Every year, June 3rd, when most of the martyrs were killed, is marked as a national holiday in Uganda. It is also marked worldwide on the church calender as a day to honor the Uganda Martyrs. Following is a portrait of the 22 canonized Catholic martyrs.


  1. Hi,ur information about religious wars in buganda it's helpful for my research work tkanks..

  2. Thank you for the article sir, would make it clear for me if Kabaka Mwanga was responsible for christian persecution, show me the evidence.

  3. thanks for giving us history not astory