The Reign of Kabaka (King) Mwanga II and His Influence on Christianity– 1882
Christianity Comes Under Threat
Kabaka (King) Mutesa I was succeeded by one of his sons, Danieri Basammula-Ekkere Mwanga II Mukasa, who ascended to the throne on 18th October, 1884 at the age of 16. The missionaries were pleased by Mwanga’s ascendancy to the throne. The young prince had attended some religious classes and had generally gotten along well with the white missionaries. However, the young king came to power with the same existential threats posed by Bunyoro, the Egyptians lurking in the North and the religious groups within the Kingdom. His experienced father had kept all the forces at bay by playing off the three religions, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims, against each other and thus balanced the influence of the European colonial powers that were backing each group in order to extend their reach into Africa. But Kabaka (King) Mwanga was not disposed to politicking or the brinkmanship that his father had mastered. Kabaka Mwanga II increasingly regarded the greatest threat to his rule as coming from the Christian missionaries who had gradually but steadily penetrated the customs of Buganda Kingdom.
One way in which the Buganda Kingdom grew and maintained generational power was through strict coaching and mentoring of its children and preparing them to take over positions of authority within the Kingdom. All the children of the King, sons of Ministers, Chiefs and the Bataka (the wealthy) were sent to the King`s courts to be educated and mentored into various areas of expertise like leadership, warfare, medicine, astronomy, agriculture etc. These children worked in the King`s palace serving the King and all royals as pages. They were always expected to do the Kings bidding without question and they were also expected to excel in their studies at the courts.
With the ascent of Christianity, these pages became the target for Christian teachings and at first the King had no objection with the pages going for Christian studies as long as the pages did not default on their traditional customary studies. However, the King later discovered that the key message being taught in all Christian teachings was that everything that was traditional was evil and the pages were required to abandon their traditional beliefs and lifestyles and adopt the Christian way of life to be worthy of entering the Kingdom of Heaven. They were also taught that God in Heaven was superior and much greater than any of the Buganda Kingdom traditional gods and were encouraged to burn all symbols and artefacts that represented them and were used in their traditional beliefs and ceremonies. The King was also noticed that his orders were increasingly being disobeyed because of his belief in the traditional gods and the Christians taught that following the King`s orders was a violation of the pages new Christian lifestyles. They were encouraged to let go of the traditional lives they were born into and to start a new life in Christianity.
As the demands to grow the Christian faith grew within inland Africa, the pages were encouraged by their Christian teachers to sacrifice their traditional studies and instead join the Christian efforts to spread Christianity throughout inland Africa and with this, the pages started spending long hours and sometimes days away from the palace courts spreading the gospel of Christianity to friends and families. This gross misconduct of the pages greatly angered the King. He was moved to send out a warning to the pages discouraging them from missing their traditional customary classes, but the pages were too far gone with their Christian missionary work, spreading the Christian gospel to heed the King`s warning. This disobedience saturated the King`s anger as he felt that he was steadily losing power over his people and that his rule was being taken over by the Christians and the white men.
Frustrated, the King then called all his chiefs to discuss and consult them on the issue of the disobedient palace pages. Without the young pages, the King`s rule and the future of Buganda Kingdom was hanging in a balance and so the King was keen on finding ways of making the pages return to their traditional customary studies without harming them. Some of the chiefs responded to the King`s concern with hard truths that pointed to the fact that his rule was simply being despised and if he continued being lenient with the pages, he will have no Kingdom to rule. This greatly worried the King. One of the chiefs recommended that he should kill the disobedient pages but the King at that time refused the punishment as he knew that these were his friends` children and strong allies within the Kingdom. The King therefore instructed the Chiefs and the Bataka to advise their children to come back to the courts and resume their studies before he made drastic decisions that may lead to their death. The King went on to warn the pages 2 more times but most of the pages chose to continue with their Christian Missionary work away from the palace courts, with the white missionaries, to reporting to the palace to do the King`s bidding and to attending their Traditional Customary lessons. Kabaka (King) Mwanga II felt very angry and threatened. Some of his chiefs were beginning to put him on immense pressure sighting the fact that his people were beginning to view him as a weak King, they urged him to take strong action against the disobedient pages very quickly before he lost his Kingdom. They reminded him of how his father dealt with the Muslims but he was silently still hesitant. This was the best way some of the chiefs felt he could show is power and make his people renew their fear for him.
Although highly debated, some historical accounts state that Kabaka Mwanga II had also learned homosexual practices from the Arab Moslems. These practices were strictly forbidden in Buganda Kingdom, however the King sometimes expressed intimate interests in his male pages. For King Mwanga II, the ultimate humiliation was the insolence he received from the (male) pages of his harem when they resisted his sexual advances. According to old tradition the king was the center of power and authority, and he could dispense with any life as he felt. It was unheard of for mere pages to reject the wishes of a king. Given those conflicting values Mwanga was determined to rid his kingdom of the new teaching and its followers. Mwanga therefore precipitated a showdown in May 1886 by ordering converts in his court to choose between their new faith and die or complete obedience to his orders and kingdom and live.
The new King was passionate about growing Buganda`s power and influence in the region but he could not do it with his Kingdom divided. He felt that his power and authority was constantly being questioned by his subjects and his rule was being weakened by what he called the “white man`s religions”. Some sources say that the King essentially had no problem with Christianity and allowed the religion to be practiced within his courts, what made him angry however, was the stern disobedience of the palace pages who tagged their disobedience to the requirements of their Christian teachings.
Meanwhile, Buganda Kingdom at this time also was experiencing internal strife, the Moslems were plotting to overthrow Kabaka (King) Mwanga II and replace him with a Muslim 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 Kabaka (King) Mwanga II was briefly deposed, but he was able to regain his throne later.
In his efforts to curb the Christian influence and try to regain the traditional and customary powers and authorities over his subjects, Kabaka (King) Mwanga II 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. Kabaka (King) Mwanga II had long stopped viewing the Missionaries as allies, his suspicion of them and their intentions to overthrow him were therefore real. He would, within a year, light fires of violence that would consume the religious converts as well as his throne and the Buganda Kingdom.