Sixteen-year-old Mwanga would later take over the throne after his father’s death in1884. As a prince he had shown love for the missionaries, though this attitude changed when he became king. The young king felt that the power and authority his predecessors enjoyed was crumbling and reducing under the influence of the missionaries. Initially the king had absolute powers and would do as he wished, but the new converts, mostly palace pages, started rejecting his wishes. They changed their allegiance and loyalty to the God of the missionaries. The king, who was supposed to be the center of power and attention, was now being challenged by the Bambowa (pages), the least subservient of all the palace workers. Thus Mwanga became a vicious and intolerant persecutor of the converts and the foreigners in his kingdom, with a determination to rid it of the new teachings. To date, a total of 23 Anglican Martyrs are recorded in the Ugandan books of History. The Twenty-three are the ones that have stood the test of time and yielded to death for their faith in the Anglican Religion. However, there are many more that died without being documented.
Hardly a year after Mwanga assumed the throne, he ordered for the execution of this young page from the Ffumbe clan. Makko was one of the five pages given to the Church Missionary Society as a gift to be brought up under the leadership and safe custody of Alexander Mackay. Born in Buganda kingdom, he had grown up serving the palace under King Muteesa I. Upon Muteesa I’s death, Kakumba had joined the missionaries and got baptized under the Protestant Church. On 30th January 1885, the young man about 15 or 6 years old with two others was arrested as they escorted Mackay and Ashe to Lake Victoria where the two missionaries intended to set off for Ssese islands for a retreat. The king had offered the missionaries escorts but because they rejected his offer over Makko Kakumba and Yusuf Rugarama, the king was annoyed and sought vengeance by arresting the missionaries’ chosen guards.
The following day after the duo’s arrest, Makko’s arms were carefully chopped off before he was set to roast slowly in a fire of carefully chosen wood. In grievous pain, Makko kept pleading with Sabaddu, the captain of the guard that arrested him, for mercy, however the captain was a Muslim who believed in Allah the all merciful and as such had no mercy for ‘pagans.’ Registered as one of the first to die for his faith, he had many others follow in the same path. This however did not stop the converts from continuing to practice their faith and as such many were marked for execution. Makko Kakumba was killed in Busega along with 3 others and a shrine has been built up in Busega in memory of the three martyrs who died for their faith on 31st January 1885.
Born in Ankole Kingdom, in the western part of Uganda, Yusuf Rugarama belonged to the Bahima tribe, among the cattle grazing clans of the kingdom. He had earlier been baptized under the Protestant church. It is believed that he was taken as a prisoner of war around 1873 when Buganda attacked and defeated the Ankole. However, others sources believe that he could have gotten lost while grazing cattle and got picked up from the bush. He was believed to be around 11 or 12 years, a year younger than Kizito (Omuto) who is believed to have been either 13 or 14, a page at the palace of the King of Buganda too. Yusuf served as a page to Kabaka (King) Muteesa I and upon the latter’s death, him alongside five other pages were given as a gift to the church, The Church Missionary Society, under the guidance and leadership of Alexander Mackay.
According to Black Martyrs by Fr. Thoonen, Yusuf is described as a fine Muhima orphan boy. Alexander had them trained in the word and they also learnt carpentry and brick making. When the persecutions started, Alexander had built a cave in Nateete where the Christians could hide. On the morning of 30th January, 1885, Rugarama was among the five boys who were escorting Mackay and Reverand Ashe to the lake. The missioners were going to Ssese islands, south of Buganda, for a retreat since Mwanga had threatened to kill all the missionaries in his kingdom. The boys intended to see their master off and return to the mission; however, their party was intercepted by soldiers led by Sabbadu, the captain of the guard. Rugarama and his friends were taken to the capital and the next day, on 31st January 1885, together with his friends and they were executed. Rugarama was accused of being a Christian and attempting to escape with the missionaries. Like Kaddu, his arms were first cut off before he was tied and burnt slowly in a carefully lit fire. He had kept begging to be thrown into the fire without being cut but his pleas were not heard. A shrine has been erected in Busega in memory of the first Christian martyrs.
This young convert from the Ngeye clan was born in Buganda Kingdom. He had earlier on served as a page to King Muteesa I but after the death of the latter he was given as a gift to the missionaries. He was baptized under the protestant church and under the guidance of Mackay, he served the missionaries. Historical records show that he was about 19 years of age at the time of the persecution. His arrest was mainly because the king had offered Mackay and Ashe escorts but the two refused. This made Mwanga angry and thus he made the missionaries to pay for the defiance by arresting the escorts, Nuwa inclusive. They had simply served as luggage carriers for Mackay and Reverend Ashe. Upon his arrest, he was taken to the capital and the next morning executed by being dismembered and later burnt.
When Nuwa was being dismembered, he bore his suffering in silence. After cutting off his arms, he was bound and slowly burnt till he died. The charges that had been put on him included being a Christian and attempting to escape to Europe with the missionaries. In his memory stands a shrine at Busega, his death was the first of the several deaths that Mwanga would order in an attempt to end the influence of Christianity in the kingdom.
A member of the Baganda tribe, from the Ffumbe clan, Mukasa was born in Buganda kingdom, which now makes up the central and southern part of modern Uganda. He joined the palace during the reign of King Suuna II. He went to the palace with his sister who later gave birth to King Muteesa Walugembe I. Mukasa was widely known for his humility. That aside, he worked hard during his service in the palace. In fact, history has it that king Mwanga II trusted him and kept assigning him different high profile tasks in the palace. As such, was in charge of lighting fire at a specified time, and in charge of the king’s shrine too. When Kabaka Mwanga became a Muslim, he made Mukasa the ‘muazzin’, one who invites the faithful for prayers.
Before Mukasa’s death there was a heated buildup of circumstances. It was the role of all pages to wait for the king when he returned from his hunting trips. This time round however, Mukasa, together with the other pages, did not appear because they had gone to attend the Christian mission classes in Nateete. To make matters worse when the King returned, he was in a very bad mood because he had lost his modern rifle during the unsuccessful hunt. At the same time, the King had also lost his Lubaga palace on 8th due to a fire that was sparked by an earth quake. Princess Nalumansi a beloved royal, had also converted to Christianity and burnt all the pagan fetishes, which only confirmed to the king that the new Christian teachings were indeed discouraging the worship of the Balubaale (small gods).
On the morning of his death, Mukasa was overheard discussing with Andrew Kaggwa and other pages to escape and go for mission classes in Nateete as soon as the King left. When Mwanga saw Mukasa returning with the books he had been given from the mission, he was so vexed that, before killing Mukasa, he said ‘Musa Mukasa how can you also leave your responsibilities and join the rest of the team?’ The king himself speared Mukasa on grounds of his faithfulness and appraisable service to his majesty, and he died on spot at Mulungu Landing site in Munyonyo on May 25, 1886. A memorial site has been set up in Munyonyo in memory of the martyr.
Born a Muganda, he was chief of Musamula and a member of the Ndiga clan. Eriya had served Kabaka (King) Mwanga as a prince, but later on dismissed because he refused to steal goats for his master. He later on made peace with Kabaka (King) Mwanga and that is how he attained the chieftaincy of Musamula. He was marked for execution by the king on 26th May, but the king later changed his mind and had him castrated instead. The actual date of his death is not known but according to Reverend Ashe, a witness, he probably died on 27th or 29th May, 1886. Ashe said that he lingered for a while and then fell ‘asleep’. Eriya was a member of the church council and had been baptized under the Protestant faith. His exact age is not known in the records of history.
A servant of the Queen mother, he was also born in Buganda and belonged to the Mmamba clan. He was believed to be a relative of the chief executioner, Mukajanga. Records have it that he was clubbed to death before being put on the pyre and burnt on 3rd June 1886. This was deemed to be an act of kindness from the chief executioner so that they would spare him the pain of being burnt alive. Kamyuka, a survivor of the persecution, while talking to a reporter, listed those that Mukajanga ordered his men to set aside for a kinder death experience and one of them was Danieri.
It is hard to trace the background of this young man. One eye witness, James Miti, said that he was an unbaptized follower of the Anglican missionaries although he accepted to be killed for his faith. In Buganda, he belonged to the Mpeewo clan. Not much is known about Giyaza but it is believed that he was among those burnt alive on 3rd June 1886 at Namugongo.
Baptised under the protestant faith, Lwanga was rumored to have initially been a follower of the pagan chief Engobya, and he showed such courage in sheltering some of the survivors of the Namugongo holocaust to the extent of even buying off pursuers with 3000 cowrie shells. Nothing further is known of Lwanga except that he was a victim of the Namugongo holocaust on 3rd June 1886.
Also known as Musbatosi, Mubi-azaalwa served as a page in the royal enclosure. He was a follower of the protestant faith and was under the leadership of Musa Mukasa. He was close to another page, Wasswa, with whom they read the word of God. It is rumored however, that when the king gathered the pages for questioning, the two: Mubi and Wasswa denied being Christian at first. It should be noted that the kind of faith the martyrs displayed is one that required early preparation, well instructed leaders such as Charles Lwanga, and it’s probable that the two companions did not have access to such an opportunity. He however confessed to being a Christian and managed to keep his faith till the end. On 3rd June 1886 Mubi succumbed to the flames and became a Martyr.
The young man had earlier on served as the commander of the royal fleet of canoes, before being presented to the Kabaka as a page. He served the palace in the royal enclosure and soon became friends with Mubi who has been mentioned earlier. They probably converted to Protestantism and were under Musa Mukasa who was in charge of the prayer house. When the king asked him if he was a Christian, Wasswa told the king that he had ended his Bible readings. This was interpreted by other pages as a sign of denying the Lord. But the King did not believe his denial. He was later burnt alive with the rest of the condemned Christians at Namugongo on 3rd June, 1886. The rest of the details about Wasswa are not known, not even his second name.
Records of Kwabafu are extremely scanty. All that is known is that he was a protestant catechumen at the time of his death and that earlier on he had served as a page at the palace. He belonged to the Mmamba clan and thus we can assume that he was born in Buganda kingdom. He was among the Martyrs that were mercilessly burnt during the Namugongo Holocaust on 3rd June, 1886.
Kizza was present in 1885 when the first three Protestant martyrs were burnt. He at the time served as a soldier under the Muslim Commander, Sabbadu. During the burning of Rugarama, Kakumba and Serwanga, Kizza boldly affirmed his faith in God in as much as his chief warned him that he would get himself killed. Born in Buganda kingdom, Kizza belonged to the Ngabi clan and according to The African Holocaust, Ashe, one of the eye witnesses of the persecution; Kizza was a gentle, loving and brave young man. Upon the outbreak of the general persecution, Sabbadu advised Kizza to flee the kingdom but the latter refused and stayed on, practicing his faith. Kamyuka, a survivor of the Namugongo killings told reporters that Kizza was first clubbed on the head before being rolled in a reed mat and burnt. He met his end on 3rd June, 1886.
He is wrongly called Albert on the Namirembe tablet. He belonged to the Mmamba clan although other sources claim he had roots in the Bunyoro kingdom. A man of about fifty years, Robert was one of the palace gate keepers although sometimes he was employed as a royal messenger. He was so devoted to his faith, that apart from being a member of the Church Council, he also gave religious instructions to pages from his home. The day he was arrested, he was found teaching a group of boys in his hut, and while the boys broke through the thin reed walls of the hut and escaped, Munyangabyanjo sat calmly and waited for his arrest. According to Abdul Azziz, a survivor of the persecution, on 3rd June, 1886 Munyangabanjo was first dismembered on the orders of the Chancellor, his body mutilated and bleeding body was placed on the pyre and burnt.
Born in Buganda Kingdom, which is the central and southern part of Uganda, Alexander was a member of the Ndiga clan and rumors have it that he was related to the Kabaka (King) Mwanga II. Other sources indicate that he was the chamberlain to the royal princess. When he was being arrested, according to Miti, a survivor and an eye witness, Alexander was found in his compound drinking from his gourd. Mukajanga (chief executioner) told him to finish his drink and follow them. When they were taken to Namugongo, he was taken away from the pile of the condemned Christians and put aside alongside Nakabandwa, a Queen mother’s servant, Fredrick Kizza, from the king’s command post and Mbaaga Tuzinde, a relative to Mukajanga. Alexander was the chief of Nnaalinnya. The chief executioner had them clubbed on the head first and killed them to save them from the extreme pain of being burnt alive. Alexander was Martyred on 3rd June 1886.
Muwanga Njigija was born in Buganda Kingdom. He served as a page in the royal enclosure. At the time of his arrest, he had been baptized under the protestant faith. When the king called all the pages and asked which ones of them professed Christianity, Muwanga followed Charles Lwanga and the other pages to the right hand side. He was one of those who were rolled in reed mats and placed on the pyre alive on 3rd June 1886.
Often times Mukasa Lwakisiga is confused with Joseph Mukasa the Catholic martyr. He belonged to the Ngabi clan and he also perished at Namugongo on 3rd June 1886, presumably burnt alive. Several other Anglicans were marched to Namugongo, alongside 13 other Catholics, rolled in reed mats and set ablaze.
A survivor of the crusade, a one Dennis Kamyuka, told a reporter of The New Vision, that on the dawn of 3rd June, the executioners, adorned in animal skins and feathers, amulets and bells tied on their anklets, gathered around the victims, brandishing spears and pangas and beating drums. The hands of the victims were tied to their back and the chief executioner, Mukajanga, ordered them to march to the fire. The victims joyously greeted one another and went to the flames singing. In a bid to curb the influence of Christianity, Mwanga sparked the growth of it instead through the faith shown by the Martyrs. Some of the other martyrs include Kifamunyanja, Muwanga from the Nvuma clan. (He was castrated on 31st May from Mityana), Muddu Aguma was also castrated alongside Mbwa Eriya, he died on 27th May, Daudi Muwanga was also castrated although record books do not show the date on which he was Martyred. Kayizzi Kibuuka from the Mmamba clan was also castrated, Mayanja Kitogo from the Ffumbe clan and Noah Walukagga from the Kasimba clan all perished in the Namugongo holocaust. Details of the Anglican Martyrs are not readily accessible and the profiles above only represent 16 documented Anglican Martyrs, however this does not dwindle the impact they have had on the journey of Christianity in Uganda and in Africa.
For a hundred and thirty-four years until 2019, every third day of June has been a day of celebration of the Uganda Martyrs; boys and men, most of them Bambowa (pages at the service of the Kabaka of Buganda) who died for their belief in Jesus Christ. (Celebrations this year have not been as vigilant as the grounds were closed off considering the outbreak of Covid-19 in Uganda.) These men, hanged, butchered, and grilled for their faith were Catholics and Protestants.
Unknown to many however, Islam was the first religion to officially register martyrs in Uganda. The year 1875 saw Kabaka Muteesa 1 as the king of Buganda after his father’s death. The young and handsome king embraced Islam as a religion and had a mosque built at his palace. Forbidden to Islam, Kabaka (King) Muteesa I continued eating meat slaughtered by non-Muslims and he refused to get circumcised because it was against Buganda Kingdom`s Traditions for the King to shed his blood. This brought doubt among the Buganda Muslims and some of the followers who had taken up the religion stopped attending prayers led by him.
Some of the King`s most loyal servants felt dissatisfied with the king’s actions. When they openly started challenging his actions, he had them arrested, taken to prison and had his chief executioner kill them. Thereafter, the Kabaka tried to force the Muslim converts in Buganda to eat meat that had not been slaughtered by Muslims, they refused to heed him, 4 consecutive times and they were killed for disobeying the King`s commands. The exact date of their death is not known but in 1877 about 70 men altogether were marched to Namugongo and burnt to death. It is believed that the killings started from around 1874 up to 1877.
The Uganda Muslim Supreme Council declared 1st June a day of commemorating the martyrs although the state has not made it a public holiday like 3rd June. The Imam of Kibuli Mosque, Sheikh Abdusaam Mutyaba, said that they cannot start a pilgrimage for the martyrs like other religions because according to the teachings of Islam, the only accepted pilgrimage is the one made to Mecca in respect of Prophet Mohammad. However, he added that they can be remembered in prayers. Below are the only 2 documented profiles of the Muslim Uganda Martyrs
Muddu Awulira was Kabaka (King) Muteesa I’s most loyal servant. The King trusted him and the servant obeyed the King`s every command. He was honest and was virtually loved by the King. When the king noticed that the number of those attending prayers had dwindled, he summoned Muddu. Upon his appearance, Muteesa asked Muddu why that was so. “My Lord, it is because we feel like you should not lead the prayers since you are not circumcised.” This kind of casual reply was taken by the king as insolence. The page made the situation worse by telling the king that he and his fellow pages and servants looked at him as a fellow Muslim worshipper not as a King. The king stayed in a foul mood the whole day and several weeks later he held a feast and had the Muslims attend. When the men refused to eat the meat which had been slaughtered by non-Muslims, the king had them arrested. He kept on sending the prisoners food and meat but the men persistently refused to eat the meat. On the fourth day, the king instructed his chief executioner to kill all the Muslim coverts that had disobeyed the King and Muddu Awulila was among the converts that were Martyred on that day in 1877.
Not much is known about Mponye Buwonyi, except that he defied the king by refusing to eat the meat that he sent to them while in prison. Four times the king had food and meat sent to the prisoners, and four times the men ate only the food and refused to touch the meat. Together with about seventy other prisoners, Mponye was taken to Namugongo and burnt to death in 1877.