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: –
- Keeping men-servants was for chiefs, how then could foreigners also enjoy the same benefit!
- 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.