From left Kabaka Mwanga II of Buganda who ordered the killing Uganda Martyrs - Bishop James Hannington one of the first Martyrs, was stoned to death at Kyando village, Bukatuube in Mayuge district on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II of Buganda on October 29, 1885

After the death of King Muteesa in 1884, his son Mwanga succeeded him. Christians allover Buganda jubilated when news broke that Mwanga had succeeded his father King Muteesa I.

They were anxious about him in hope that he would grant them freedom of worship; because Mwanga himself had already started attending classes learning how to read and had promised the Missionaries; as he is quoted to have said earlier before ascending to the throne that, When I ascend to the throne, I will love you, I will treat you like my own people and I will give you any support you need.

But this was not at all a blessing in disguise! Because as soon as Mwanga ascended to the throne, he abandoned them; like a chameleon, Mwanga changed his attitude towards Christians and reneged on his promise. This was evidenced when Ashe and O’Flaherty went to visit him. They were locked outside and their presence was as good as their absence since it was not recognized, as had been the case before.

Between 1885 and 1887, many Christians, Muslims and other people had been killed by Mwanga but these persecutions or killings were done in different places that included; Munyonyo, Namanve, Busega, Namugongo, Mpiineerebera, Mityana among other places. Mwanga did all this because he wanted to wipe Christianity out of Buganda. He believed that Christianity put his power and Kingdom at risk of falling or collapsing.

This was evident to him by the rate at which his subjects in the palace were converting to Christianity and other religions.

It is important to note that the prime minister; Mukasa, at that time, also hated the Missionaries and their work but loved Arab traders and their behavior. The prime minister ana other chiefs who strongly held to the beliefs of their culture used this as an opportunity to persuade and dissuade the King. The chiefs didn’t like the Arabs but Christians-Missionaries were of a greater threat, with allegations of overthrowing the King.

If Christianity and its spread were not checked, the cultural rites of murder, marriage to many spouses and keeping slaves were going to disappear from history.

Some chiefs gave some of their boys to the Missionaries to empower them with Education. Notable among them were Yusufu Lagalama who was handed over by Nicodemu Ssebwato. This system of chiefs handing over youths for training annoyed the prime minister of the time called Mukasa for two main reasons: –

  1. Keeping men-servants was for chiefs, how then could foreigners also enjoy the same benefit!
  2. Yusufu Lagalama was so good, well built in structure and humble; so he was envied that he had been handed over to foreigners instead of handing him over to the prime minister

On Christmas Eve 1884, many people were baptized and a big party was thrown for them at Mackay’s home. It was a huge gathering that was considered by the prime minister as a meeting of the opposition. The Arabs took advantage of this gathering to persuade the prime minister that they (the Missionaries) were organizing an army of youths to overthrow the King. They emphasized that; they may install a female queen as it is in England, thereby taking control over this Kingdom (Buganda).

On 25th January 1885, Mackay set forth to go to Sukuma in the company of five boys Yusufu Lugalama, Makko Kakumba, Samba, Baalibanange and Bikutula who were to escort them and later came back which action was however without the backing of the King for he had wished him to go with his men to act as spies for him. The prime minister; having all along harbored an ill will against the Christians, felt very much satiated and elated when the King granted his request to capture and arrest the boys who were servants of the whites especially Lugalama.

The missionaries pleaded with the Katikkiro for the release of all the boys but only Ssamba Balibannange was released; Kakumba and Lugalama were retained. They went ahead to arrest SserWanga in Natete at Mackay’s home where the Natete martyrs church stands today; it’s where the first convert called Sembera was buried.

The Prime minister’s actions confused the missionaries because before the journey, he offered gifts and food to take on the way to Sukuma (Kagei), which they had thought was a token of blessing for their journey and good faith. The missionaries sent expensive and nice-looking gifts to the Kabaka, the Katikkiro and other chiefs but all was in-vain because much as the gifts were received and taken, the boys were not released but were to be burnt in Busega at the banks of river Mayanja. The trio: Yusufu Lugalama aged between I 1-12 years, Makko Kakumba aged 15-16 years and Nuuwa Sserwanga aged 20-25 years were dragged to the murdering site; with blasphemous statements being uttered by their murderers.

You say you have known the messiah and have learnt to read and write, you believe you will resurrect; let us set you a blaze and see how resurrection will come to pass

Nuuwa Sserwanga instead begun to sing a praising song with the following words.Always we adore that city up yonder. This was act of bravery that not only startled the murderers but also aroused their rage and anger. The murderers swung into action. They bound the young men’s hands, then set them in dry wood racks (enkabazi), put them atop embers of fire and set them ablaze! In spite of all this, the boys did not utter any cursing statement and their cries were limited to praying sobs till they breathed their last.

During the operation in which they arrested the three Martyrs, Sala Nalwanga Nnakayima; who was a wife to Firipo Mukasa, was also arrested. She was a devout Christian student who shared what she learnt directly with all princesses. She was a breast-feeding mother when she was arrested. She was also dragged to the site of the Martyrdom in a bid to force her denounce her belief which she adamantly refused to succumb to. Instead the flames of Christianity were rekindled anew in her heart and understanding.

In September 1885, Mackay received a letter informing him that Bishop Hannington who had just been ordained was coming to Buganda enroute Kavirondo to Busoga. Mackay got afraid on hearing the news that Bishop Hannington was coming to Buganda passing via Busoga, which was the eastern route to the Buganda kingdom. It was one of the widely publicised beliefs in Buganda that a foreigner who will appear from the Eastern direction will capture power from the King. Kingdom leaders were always keen about whoever used that route to approach and enter Buganda Kingdom.

Mackay had come to learn of this belief and he wrote a letter to Bishop Hannington to warn him about using that route when coming to Buganda, but unfortunately the Bishop did not receive the letter in time. King Mwanga summoned his council, which deduced that all Whites have common intentions. They have been waiting for their leader to start their battle of capturing this nation, Mwanga retorted. This was in reference to Bishop Hannington who was due to arrive in the kingdom using the eastern route through present day Busoga region. The entire council agreed not to allow the Bishop to enter the Kingdom just because of their fear of a foreigner coming through the eastern route.

On 25th Oct 1885, Gideon Ntanda brought news that the Bishop and his Irish cook with 20 half casts had arrived at Luba’s fort in Busoga Kingdom.

After news broke out, Mwanga summoned a meeting of his chiefs and subordinates and a decision was taken that the bishop be killed and his property be brought to him! The King ordered a group of killers to travel to Busoga and kill the bishop! Among them was Wakholi; a gatekeeper who hailed from Busoga, who was to command the killing and Musoke who was to deliver the bishop’s belongings.

Yozefu Mukasa Balikuddembe, who was a royal guard also and a Catholic tried to warn the King not to carry out his ill intended action, but Mwanga took it as an insult to him. Another guard Makko Sekajiija, informed Mackay about the two White men detained at Luba’s fort in Busoga. The execution team arrived at Busoga on 28th October, 1885 and informed the Bishop that they were sent to take him to meet King of Buganda.

The following day they dragged him for close to six miles to a deserted place together with all his people surrounded with a gang wielding shields, spears and guns. They pushed the bishop further in front, and then speared his friends and they all perished! Then they approached the bishop, forced him on his knees, hallowed spears on him and he died on the spot.

Before he was killed, the bishop told Wakholi to deliver a message to Mwanga saying I greet you, your Highness but I forgive you for all you have done to me. I have bought this route with my own blood and many will come through the same route and nobody will ever dare to stop or hinder them.

BISHOP WAISWA BAIDU

In his supplication as he was being speared to death, Bishop Hannington was heard by the witnessing people from Busoga calling out What shall I do and to them they took it that he was pronouncing his name in the Busoga dialect meaning Waiswa Baidu and hence their referring to him as Bishop Waiswa Baidu a Musoga!

Bishop James Hannington was thus the second martyr to be murdered following the boys. The act of killing the Bishop earned Mwanga enough trouble and friction between him, the missionaries and even his own royal guards. The friendship and companionship they had real suffered a setback. As the saying goes, A lie can circulate all around the world while truth is just putting on its shoes. What he wanted to be secret turned into the open and everybody eventually learnt of the Bishop’s death at his hands.

When King Mwanga learnt that the Whites had learnt of his action, he became furious; he ordered Ssebatta to arrest any guards he discovers relating with Missionaries in any way.

On 22nd February, 1885 a fire broke out at around 8:00pm. It started with the treasury and so many houses were caught in the infernal within the palace. A lot of property and documents were lost in this infernal. Some leaders died as they tried to stop the fire and rescue the King’s property.

This incident troubled the King so much and he thought that it was a sign of an up-coming rebellion or that the foreigners were looking for Bishop Hannington and had invaded his Kingdom. This caused Mwanga to escape from the palace at Lubaga with just a naked sword in his right arm and accompanied with about ten guards.

Two days later on February 24th, lightning struck the king’s Armoury and this scared Mwanga so much that he took to his heels up to a place called Munyonyo. It was alleged that the God of fire; the God that the Christians were worshipping, as it is written in the bible was the cause of fire. It was confirmed that the Christian’s God was responsible for the calamities that befall the king’s palace and he hated that King that the Christians were worshipping.

How could these people; the so-called Christians and moreover his own subjects, should have been very obedient subjects to a God of Christianity, proclaim that they had a King of Kings that they were worshiping yet the Kabaka as a King who was around was paramount? This coupled with a myriad of other minimal digressions greedy annoyed the Kabaka.

To add insult to injury, on returning to his palace in Munyonyo, he was welcomed by very few servants and pages with most of them having gone for Bible study. This infuriated him, for as a King, he was used to being welcomed back by many pages and not just a handful. This meant that they no longer obeyed and respected him but were paying homage to the missionaries and their King of Kings they called a great God! And were hence immediately branded as disobedient. The King ordered the closure of all entrances to the palace and who ever came later was arrested and -taken for vetting. It is important to note that during this period, Mwanga had no peace of mind, he was easily angered and he feared almost everybody.

It should be noted that it was during this period when the King had sent his chief Kangaawo to invade Bunyoro Kingdom under the command of his trusted lieutenant called Kangaawo. His army was repulsed, Kangaawo was killed and Pookino another chief was severely wounded. The second in command Mandwambi Namutwe is the one who returned with the remnant of the King’s army. This had never been heard of in the Buganda’s history, so the King’s subordinates took it as the curse and bewitching by the Whites.

With the loss of his property in fire, coupled with the defeat of his army in battle and death of his commander, Mwanga was between the devil and the deep blue sea, which led him to believe every lie, reported to him by his aides.

One day Mwanga made a statement to his close associates and said, I am fed up of these Christians and one day I will kill them and wipe them from the History of my Kingdom. From then on, he could tell it to his royal guards, If you do not give up Christianity, I will kill all of you.

On 25th May 1886, when Mwanga was at his palace in Munyony~, he went out to hunt hippos on Bulingugwe Island, which is about 6 miles from present day Kampala in the south but he did not secure a catch. More so, on returning ashore, his beloved gun slipped and fell into the water. Those quick with words and doom Sayers were at it again that it was all as a result of the Christians’ worshipping of another King of Kings, a God they called greater than all, this further annoyed the Kabaka.

Just as a handful of guards escorted him on this occasion, it was again a handful that welcomed him back which annoyed him the more. Kabaka Mwanga called for One Muwafu, a son to Prime Minister Mukasa, who was one of his beloved guards. He was honest and true to the King in everything. Unfortunately, Muwafu was nowhere to be seen, this very much irritated and annoyed the King. One of the guards reported having seen him with Ssebuggwaawo enroute to Mmengo. Mwanga knew that by going to Kisuule’s home, they were going to study Christianity.

He then mounted a search himself and that is when -the duo, Muwafu and Ssebuggwaawo appeared running back to the palace. He asked harshly where they had been. When Muwafu answered that they had been away for classes, he pushed him a way with anger retorting that Ssebuggwaawo had taught him disobedience. Then the King asked Ssebuggwaawo what he had been doing with Muwafu. Humbly he replied, We had gone to study, oh King.

This answer, however humble and polite it was, still stirred the King’s anger that caused him to draw his spear and made several wounds on Ssebuggwaawo. He then ordered his men to murder him and serve his remains to the vultures!

Mwanga continued his search for the guards in the treasury and the steward’s room where he found Kaggwa; who later became the prime minister, and asked him why he did not accompany him to the hunting expedition. Kaggwa answered that he had been arranging the King’s stewardship.

This did not however assuage the King’s rage for he went ahead and speared Kaggwa three time on the head using the same spear that he had when accosting Ssebuggwaawo a few minutes earlier. The fact that the King asked him whether he also attends classes and he nodded in acceptance is what caused Kaggwa to earn the wrath of the King. He ordered that him be beaten to an unconscious state. But he did not want to kill him for he was a faithful servant.

Mwanga continued his search and he came across Nnyonyintono and Muddwaguma; but the later was more beloved, he sent them to one executioner for castration. After this, he met Musa Mukasa and on his orders, this one was killed on spot. On hearing this, other royal guards hid from the King’s presence for the rest of the day. But they returned in the evening thinking that by morning the King would have cooled down.

Mwanga ordered his executioner’s crew to lock all doors very early in the morning, and not to allow anyone to go out. He summoned his subordinates; those he thought would support his actions to come very early to the palace. These youths, throughout the night, came to understand that, the killing of Christians that the King had been alluding to earlier on with emphasis had come to be. They spent the entire night encouraging each other through prayers, songs and were happy.

The King’s subordinates came early to the palace. Mwanga addressed them about what had happened emphasizing that, it was their duty to give him loyal youths to serve before him. You have given me the youths who are disloyal to me. I instructed them not to attend classes but they have persistently refused, What can I do to them?

He roared. One of his subordinates answered saying Oh King, we gave you faithful servants but they have been bewitched that’s why they are not loyal to you any more, Kill them, we are to give you others. Some of their friends advise the young men to escape but they all refused in unison saying, We are not cowards.

The King summoned all the guards together and had them pass through two lines mounted by the execution crew of the King. In total they numbered 100. They all sat in front of the King and Princess Nassiwa. The King then ordered that all doors be closed and motioning with his left arm he roared, All who attend classes with Missionaries on my left and those who did not stay in front of me.

Without compromise, all were true and went to the side they had been ordered. The King instructed a one Kyambadde who was a member of the Muslim sect to ensure that all had truly gone to the sides they belonged to. Kyambadde was chosen because he is the one who had been spying on Christians and reporting to the King.

After Kyambadde’s affirmation, the King again asked the group on the left if ALL attend missionary classes to which they all replied in unison and thunderously with, Yes oh king we do. On hearing this, Mwanga ordered the execution crew to have them hand cuffed and declared, I am going set all of you a blaze: Mukaajaanga drag them to Namugongo and set them a blaze!. It is surprising that these youths left for Namugongo so happily as if they were going for a feast. Mwanga told them as they were leaving that Go and meet your heavenly Icing. He has prepared you a fattened calf.

As they queued through the yard, the King’s subordinates also hurled insults at them saying, You snake eaters let the Icing execute you, we are to give him others: Their martyrdom journey started on 26th May 1886 to Namugongo enroute from Munyonyo. Missionaries of the Anglican sect and the Catholic sect pleaded to forgive the youths but all in Was vain.

The Catholic Martyrs Basilica at Busaale - Namugongo built at the spot Kaloori Lwanga's death to honour this martyr's bravery

On the way to Namugongo official execution site, which is located at the Anglican site, Kaloori Lwanga met his fate. He had all along been begrudged by the assistant executioner, a one Ssenkoole because of having made him work on the construction of the Kabaka’s lake. It was Ssenkoole who was responsible for making the fire for execution. Whoever was going to be executed, had to be counted, using one of Ssenkoole’s embers of fire. If it so happened and he did not count or hit you with it, it meant that the King had forgiven you. The embers in Ssenkoole’s custody were the source of fire, which Mukaajaanga used to set the martyrs ablaze.

Ssenkoole singled Lwanga out from the group and ordered for his execution. Ssenkoole preferred to severely punish Lwanga by burning him in a slowly burning fire from toes to head in revenge for having made him loose face earlier on. He was burnt under a tree locally called Ggirikiti- Erthrina Abyssinica, which is a cursed tree according to the Buganda belief.

In the Buganda tradition when a dog dies it is thrown on this tree until it rots, signalling some kind of disrespect. Having kaloori Lwanga disgraced by being killed as a dog, Ssenkoole’s revenge was fulfilled. This so happened at a place called Busaale, now the Catholic site, where Ssenkoole had a house. The rest ofthe young men were taken to Namugongo official site, located at the Anglican site, where they were all burnt en masse.

Kaloori Lwanga was a catholic and it was for this reason that the Catholic Martyrs Basilica is built at the spot of his death to honour this martyr’s bravery.

On reaching the martyrdom site, they were instructed to sit down. During their last conversation, they said to each other, this is the door way to heaven and in a little while, we shall see the king. They seemed to be as happy as people waiting for a person they indeed love. This story makes us remember the incidence of Meshach, Shedrach and Abadinego who were thrown in the fire flames but they did forget their GOD. Indeed, one Mbaga Tuzinde was a Catholic and a son to Mukaajaanga’s brother, when he was arrested, Mukaajaanga pleaded with him to forsake his beliefs. but the young man refused and dared the stake. Even on the fateful day, Mukaajaanga pleaded with him to forsake Christ, but the boy refused. Tuzinde’s appearance even at the eleventh hour called for a courageous applause from all fellow martyrs shouting, Tuzinde has overcome Satan.

It was a string of reasons that led to the massacre of the young men who later became the Uganda Martyrs. According to the Kabaka (King), the martyrs committed the following crimes:

  1. They deserted their traditional faith and they decided to worship the new GOD brought in by foreigners.
  2. They disobeyed the king. King (Kabaka) came back from hunting and found no one (servants) in the palace because they gone to study with the missionaries. Catholics in Nalukolongo (Mapeera) and Anglicans to Natete (MacKay). They had shown disobedience and disrespect to the king. This act threatened his authority and could act as a basis of dissention.
  3. They said and believed that there is a KING who is coming and he is the King of Kings; this always worried the Kabaka (King) of Buganda.
  4. He thought that the Queen of England would come and rule in Buganda. In fact, that’s why he killed princesses Carol Nalumansi because he thought that the English, imitating their own, would make her the Queen, the next ruler of Buganda.
  5. The Kabaka told them never to go back to the missionaries but they defied his orders by sneaking out of the palace.
  6. The lightening that struck the King’s houses; all the blame was put on the Christians that they had bewitched the.killed or they wanted to kill him.
  7. The Muslims refused him from leading prayers (Swallah) because he was not circumcised.
  8. He (Kabaka) invited Muslims to a feast and they refused to eat the meat that was prepared because a Muslim did not slaughter it. So they said the King (Kabaka) was not a Muslim (kaffir).

Those were some of the reasons for the execution of the Ugandan martyrs.

It had been organized that all servants to the King who were Christians be executed, but the King had many beloved servants among those set to be executed whom he wanted to pardon.

Among those pardoned by the King after reaching the site of murder were:-

  1. Ham Mukasa who was the King’s chief in charge of Kyaggwe county (Ssekiboobo), an Anglican.
  2. Eriya Kagiri a paternal grandfather of the Retired Archbishop Dr. Livingstone Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo -an Anglican.
  3. Ddonoziyo Kamyula who was a Catholic
  4. Kalooli Werabe
  5. Simeo Ssebutta who was a Catholic.

The racing messenger arrived at Namugongo and gave Mukajaanga the message of pardon from the King. The pardoned were released from racks and set aside to act as spectators to what was going to happen and learn what was believed to be a lesson. Mukaajaanga served the rest local brew, as was the custom, then hurled curses at them from his gods Nnende, Kibuuka and Mukasa as he challenged their God to save them.

Torture was mainly done at a tree called Ndazabazadde, where martyrs were brutally beaten, limbs amputated, private parts dismembered, eyes plucked out and all other forms of torture

The fateful day was the 3rd of June 1886. Mukaajaanga’s men set up to start the painful execution of the Christian converts. Torture was mainly done at a tree called Ndazabazadde, where martyrs were brutally beaten, limbs amputated, private parts dismembered, eyes plucked out and all other forms of torture. After all that, Mukaajaanga instructed that the Christians be tied between racks; arranged embers of fire atop fireplaces which had been already made.

They lifted the racked victims and put them atop embers and put more wood atop them, at around 12:00 noon, they set the beloved martyrs ablaze! But all this was taking place while the martyrs were singing, they never cursed their executioners nor did they utter woes of pain. Whenever embers decreased, Mukaajaanga’s men added more wood to ensure that the victims turn to ashes completely. They did this brutal work until late at 6:00pm!

The CORE SITE being developed at the Anglican site is the exact spot where the 25 martyrs, (13 Anglican and 12 Catholics) were burnt in masses.

The remains of the Martyrs who were massacred are safely placed under the Alter of the Martyrs Memorial Chapel

Spectators and viewers of this incident were awed by the behaviour and’ response of martyrs towards their executioners. Even to the executioners, this was an extra ordinary group that they had never before encounter. The executioners had always been used to receiving insults, curses and abuses of every kind but this time, they only heard hymns of praise and statements of encouragement from one fireplace to another being exchanged between martyrs, till each had his last breath.

Mukaajaanga the chief executioner left the scene of operation deeply troubled and went to elaborate what had transpired to the King and his subordinates, but the King insisted that these were rebels to his Kingdom.

The Kabaka’s anger was brought to the climax when princess Nalumansi was baptized
and she got a Christian name “Clara”. She got rid of all her amulets and other superstitious things that were supposed to protect her.

The Kabaka got worried thinking that if the princess collaborated with the missionaries, his power would be at risk. He thought that the missionaries would easily enthrone princess Nalumansi as the Queen of Buganda, overthrowing King Mwanga. Because of this suspicion, she was as well to meet her death. Therefore in 1888 the King himself killed princess Nalumansi. Several voices ague that princess Clara Nalumansi should as well be declared a Uganda Martyr, nevertheless this has not come to pass. At Namugongo core site, at the Anglican side, princess Nalumansi is honoured at the Ndazabazadde tree.

Princess Clara Nalumansi - The first recorded woman martyr
  1. End of Brutality
    The climax of the brutal killings including the martyrs on 3rd June 1886 and the killing of the martyrs was the last blow to the brutal rule of Kabaka Mwanga. When he combined force with Kabalega the king of Bunyoro to fight the British who were behind the spread of the Christianity faith, the two kings were captured on 9th April, 1899 and exiled to the Seychelles Island.
  2. Christian Victory
    The killing of the Martyrs ended the brutal acts by the regime at the time because after the capture of King Mwanga and being exiled to the Seychelles Island, the execution site was closed and hence Christianity victory prevailed. Mission schools, churches and Hospitals were built all over Uganda by 1910.
  3. The remains of the Martyrs
    The remains of the Martyrs who were massacred are safely placed under the alter of the martyrs memorial Chapel. We are proud that we know where the remains of the Martyrs were placed and are safely stored.
  4. 48 Acres of Land
    The execution site established by Kabaka Kyabaggu in 1760 and commanded by Mukaajaanga was given to the protestant (Anglican Church) Kisosonkole. We are proud to own such a large piece of land in the suburbs of Kampala. Kisosonkole would have given that land to another faith.
  5. 3rd June
    The Government declared 3rd June a Public Holiday to allow Christians free time to remember and honour the Martyrs.