Wednesday, March 9, 2011
GEORGE PILKINGTON; UGANDA’S HERO
Uganda is degenerating though previously on a strongly built religious ground. What we see is shameful moreover when majority of the players in the shameful game have had serious background of religion. George Lawrence Pilkington, the missionary after whom Pilkington Road is named, is worth recognizing as a national hero. With the resources at hand of the time, he was involved in two big projects which if were done today would call for billions of Uganda shillings to execute to completion. Pilkington’s work laid the foundation for the present day Luganda alphabet, he did great work for the Protestant Church when he translated the Holy Bible to Luganda and endeavoured to have many copies printed. He is not comparable to some of the people in responsible offices in Uganda whose preoccupation is to scheme through what they have to do to steal money so that they build castles and drive the most executive cars in town.
Pilkington was born on June 4, 1865 in Dublin Ireland, joined the Church Missionary Society (CMS) on 3rd December 1889. After the Religious wars of 1890’s, there was unrest in Busoga where a number of Nubian Mercenaries were settled. These Sudanese were fully trained and armed fighters brought in to fight King Kabalega of Bunyoro. In their revolt against the British, the Nubians attacked Chief Luba’s Fort near Jinja and mutinied for about two years. In October 1897 they captured a British officer, major Thuston and two other Europeans who had gone to negotiate with them and eventually killed them after a battle loss. In December, Pilkington joined the troops comprising British Commanders and Protestant fighters and headed for Jinja. He was a great asset as an interpreter given his knowledge of Luganda.
Unfortunately, Pilkington was shot in the hip and died on December 11, 1897; when he was 32 years! He was buried under a tree outside Luba’s Court, and later the remains were exhumed and burial was done with military honours in the compound of Namirembe Cathedral on Friday, march 18, 1898.
PILKINGTON TRANSLATED THE BIBLE INTO LUGANDA
Pilkington Road in Kampala which was named after the missionary
George Lawrence Pilkington, not only spread the Protestant religion, but also translated the Bible into Luganda. Esther Namugoji writes about this enterprising missionary
THEY walk along Kampala’s Pilkington Road and also read the Luganda translation of the Protestant Bible. Very few Ugandans, however, connect the two.
That Pilkington Road, the one-way street in Kampala’s central business district, was named after an Irish missionary who translated the Protestant Bible into Luganda.
Like most missionaries, George Lawrence Pilkington, was a multi-talented man. He was multilingual, a technician, a selfless leader and, apparently, quite handy with a gun.
He was one of the most significant missionaries that spread the Protestant faith in 19th century Uganda.
Pilkington spoke fluent Luganda, which he started learning on his journey from the Church Missionary Society (CMS) base in Zanzibar to Buganda.
This prepared him for the great work he later did, translating the Bible into Luganda. His work also laid the foundation for the present-day Luganda alphabet.
Pilkington was born on June 4, 1865 in Dublin, Ireland. The fourth son of a barrister, he spent a large part of his childhood in the countryside, where he learnt how to cook, a skill which turned out to be very useful later in his missionary work in Uganda.
In Pilkington of Uganda (London, 1895), author Battersby C.F. Harford, describes him as “a splendid figure of a man — well over six feet tall and broad in proportion”. As a boy, he had a childlike simplicity and a cheery character that endeared him to everyone.
Like Alexander Mackay, who had been in Uganda before him, Pilkington loved studying and was a straight ‘A’ student all through his schooling. He won scholarships to Uppingham Public School and to Pembroke College Cambridge where he majored in classical languages such as Greek and Latin.
It was while at Cambridge that he got the missionary call, during a Christian revival meeting.
For about two years, he worked as a teacher in several top schools in England before and on December 3, 1889 he joined the Church Missionary Society together with his long-time friend, George Baskerville.
Pilkington arrived in Buganda four years after Mackay. The two worked very closely together preaching and teaching Christianity to new converts. Pilkington was known for his energy, enterprise and sunny personality, which won him many favours at Kabaka Mutesa I’s court.
Due to his linguistic abilities he was often called upon to act as an interpreter for the king at court.
Pilkington spent a considerable time translating the Bible into Luganda assisted by Rev. W.A. Crabtree and Henry Wright Duta, one of the first Baganda converts. Duta was baptised at Zanzibar in 1882 and narrowly escaped martyrdom in 1885.
He was later commissioned as a lay evangelist by Bishop Alfred Tucker in 1891, and was ordained deacon in 1893 and priest in 1896.
In 1891, Pilkington completed translation of the Acts of the Apostles, some Bible stories and hymns into Luganda. Ebigambo Ebyokusaba Katonda (the Collects for Sundays and Saints’ Days) was printed in 1893 and Pilkington revised the Liturgy, which was published in 1896, under the title: Ekitabo Ekyokusaba Kwabantu Bonna, commonly known as Enjatula. Pilkington also authored A handbook of Luganda. It had elementary Luganda exercises, Luganda-English and English-Luganda vocabulary.
In October 1895, Pilkington returned to England where he finished the translation of the Bible, had it printed and then returned to Uganda. He sold 1,100 copies of the Bible in just 12 months and 4,000 copies of the New Testament.
He also sold 40,000 copies of Bible stories and 13,500 copies of Matthew’s gospel. The translated scriptures were sold as far as eastern Congo, distributed by 2,000 men and 400 women.
The demand for the books was so high, that sometimes the supply could not keep up. As soon as a new consignment made it to Uganda, through the long journey by sea and the perilous trek from the coast, all the books would be bought.
In Uganda the books were sold as close to the cost price as possible. The translated copies were treasured by the owners and read with such zeal.
Often, one well worn copy of the Bible or New Testament in an ordinary person’s hand was enough to facilitate the teaching and conversion of non-believers as far away as Toro, Bunyoro and Eastern Congo.
People would gather in small groups under trees, inside churches or other buildings to listen to the word of God from the translated Bibles and hundreds were prepared for baptism.
Soon after his return to Uganda, Pilkington left for Koome Island for a religious retreat. There, he claimed in his journal, he had a vision and was baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Refreshed from the retreat, Pilkington returned to Mengo and started to hold a series of revivalist meetings.
The revivals were very popular, with up to 1,000 people attending regularly.
During these meetings, new Christians were invited to stand up and tell the rest of the congregation how they had come to know the Lord.
These meetings were the precursor to the Bazukufu (the awakened) born-again fellowships that are still alive among elderly Anglicans in Uganda today.
But the British protectorate government was faced with other concerns.
After the religions wars of the 1890s, there was unrest in Busoga, where a number of Nubian mercenaries were settled.
These Sudanese were fully trained and armed fighters brought in by the British to fight King Kabalega of Bunyoro a few years previously. In their revolt against the British, the Nubians attacked Chief Luba’s fort near Jinja and mutinied for about two years.
In October 1897 they captured a British officer, Major Thruston and two other Europeans who had gone to negotiate with them and eventually killed them after suffering a battle loss.
In December, Pilkington joined the troops comprising British commanders and Protestant fighters headed for Jinja. He was a great asset as an interpreter because of his knowledge of Luganda and friendship with the natives.
Pilkington was shot in the hip near the lake shore and died on December 11, 1897. He was buried together with the commanding captain, Macdonald, under a tree outside Luba’s court.
The Ugandan fighters wept as he was buried, just as if he was one of them. Three months later, the fallen missionary’s body was taken to Namirembe and reburied on Friday, March 18, 1898 with military honours in the compound of Namirembe Cathedral.
Pilkington had a structure for training evangelists in what he called ‘synagogues’. Evangelists were given charge of four or five outposts around a mission station, attached to which would be some 15-20 synagogues of trainee evangelists.
For six months they would be stationed in the mission field and then return to the capital for six months of training. These, mostly Baganda evangelists played a great role in spreading the gospel and “planting” churches.
The Nubian mutiny was quelled in 1898. Within a year, the number of Ugandan teachers had doubled to 2,000, all of them supported by the native Church.
By the early 1920s, Dr. Joe Church, a missionary to Rwanda, together with Mr. Simeon Nsibambi, started a revival at Namirembe which eventually grew to sweep the Church throughout East Africa.
These born-again believers were eager to publicly renounce their sins and despised the things of the world. For example, Simeon Nsibambi, father to Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi, gave up his important position as a Health Inspector in the Buganda Government and, although a wealthy landowner, took to walking barefoot.
William Nagenda (father to Presidential Adviser John Nagenda), another convert, also gave up a government position to become an evangelist. Other converts like Canon Binaisa (father to former President Godfrey Binaisa), Apollo Kivebulaya were not satisfied until they worked as missionaries in the Great Lakes region, abandoning the comfort of home.
The spread of Christianity continued through the decades, with other revivals touching the Great Lakes region. What Rev. George Pilkington accomplished more than a century ago left an impact that is still felt today.
A born-again legacy
Pilkington’s hard work and spiritual stewardship did not die with him. Born-again Christians in Uganda can trace their roots back to Pilkington’s revivals.
It is from then that the wind of the famous East African revivals began to blow. Also the availability of the word of God in a language the people could understand, played a huge role in the growth of Christianity across East Africa and the forest regions of Eastern Congo.
Published on: Saturday, 29th March, 2008