Missionary work and the coming of Christianity

Tuesday June 2 2020

Sculptures at the Anglican Shrine in Namugongo

Sculptures at the Anglican Shrine in Namugongo showing how the different martyrs were killed. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA. 

By Henry Lubega

Muteesa had a special liking for Stanley because his arrival had been foretold by the queen mother, Muteesa’s mother. She told her son, through a dream she had seen the coming of a White man.

Asking to be enlightened at the palace, Stanley described Muteesa as ‘great Caesar of Africa’.
As an explorer, not a missionary, it was in the later days of his stay at the palace that he was asked about the White man’s God. Baffled by what they heard, Muteesa ordered to have some of the things Stanley said about the White man’s God to be written down.

The writing was entrusted with Stanley’s interpreter, Darlington Bafutuwa and Masudi, the Arab traders’ interpreter who had written the Arabic alphabet for Muteesa.

In one of Muteesa’s address to his court in Stanley’s presence, Muteesa said: “When I became king, I delighted in shedding blood because I knew no better. I was only following the customs of my fathers …I gave up the examples of my fathers, and beheadings became less frequent……Now, God be thanked, a white man, Stanley, has come to Buganda with a book older than the Koran of Mohammed. My boys have read out of it to me, and I find it is a great deal better than the book of Mohammed, besides it is the first and oldest book….. Now I want you, my chiefs and soldiers, to tell me what we shall do…”

According to Uganda’s White man of Work: a story of Alexander M. Mackay by Sophia Lyon Fahs, having listened to some of his chief’s responses, including the Katikkiro at the time, Mukasa, Muteesa said: “The Arabs and the white men behave exactly as they are taught in their books. The Arabs come here for ivory and slaves, and we have seen that they do not always speak the truth….The white men, when offered slaves, refuse them, saying, ‘Shall we make our brothers slaves? No; we are all sons of God. And I say the white men are greatly superior to the Arabs, and I think, therefore, that their book must be a better book than Mohammed’s……..”

The chiefs agreed with Muteesa and he turned to Stanley. “Stanley say to the white people, when you write to them, that I am like a man sitting in darkness, or born blind, and that all I ask is that I may be taught how to see, and I shall continue a Christian while I live,” writes H.M. Stanley in Through the Dark Continent.


On April 14, 1875, Stanley penned an article about his latest African adventure to the editor of The Daily Telegraph. In the article, he echoed Muteesa’s call to be enlightened with his people.

The article read in part: “King Muteesa of Uganda (Buganda) has been asking me about the white man’s God. Although I had not expected turning a missionary, for days I have been telling this black king all the Bible stories I know. So enthusiastic has he become that already he has determined to observe the Christian Sabbath… He has further caused the Ten Commandments…..to be written on boards for his daily reading.

“Oh, that some pious, practical missionary would come here. Muteesa would give him anything that he desired houses… It is not the mere preacher that is wanted here. It is the practical Christian, who can teach people how to become Christians, cure their diseases, build dwellings, teach farming, and turn his hand to anything, like a sailor this is the man who is wanted. Such a one, if he can be found, would become the savior of Africa.

“Here, gentlemen, is your opportunity embrace it….You need not fear to spend money upon this mission, as Muteesa is sole ruler, and will repay its cost tenfold with ivory, coffee, otter skins of a very fine quality, or even in cattle, for the wealth of this country in these products is immense.”

Before the publication of Stanley’s article, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) had set up a committee called the Secretaries of the Church Missionary Society. Its work was to look for funds to finance missionary expeditions to different parts of the world.

After seeing the article, the committee of secretaries gathered at its Salisbury Square office in London, UK to plan a response. They drew up a £24,000 (about Shs112.3 million) budget to fund the mission to Uganda.

Within three days of the publication, the committee received an anonymous letter with a £5,000 (about Shs23.4 million) donation. The letter read: “The appeal seems to show that the time has come for the soldiers of the cross to make an advance into that region. If the committee of the Church Missionary Society are prepared at once and with energy to start a mission to Victoria Lake, I shall gladly give you £5,000 (about Shs23.3m) with which to begin. I desire to be known in this matter as An Unprofitable Servant.”

Another anonymous donor gave a similar amount. Also sent out were calls for people to volunteer as missionaries to the Uganda Mission.
Of the first seven people to respond, only one had a church ministry background. The rest were a mixture of professions, including a retired Navy officer, an architecture, an engineer, an artisan, a physician, and a carpenter.

Alexander Mackay who ended up being the most popular was a late addition to the list. He was an artist drawing large industrial engine plans in Germany. He wrote to the committee in December 1875 saying: “My heart burns for the deliverance of Africa, and if you can send me to any one of these regions which Livingstone and Stanley have found to be groaning under the curse of the slave-hunter, I shall be very glad.”

The journey
In April 1876, the men were given their final instruction. Before leaving London, UK, Mackay told the committee not to be shocked when they hear news of death from the departing team. “…. I want to remind the committee that within six months, they will probably hear that one of us is dead.… When the news comes, do not be cast down, but send someone else immediately to take the vacant place.”

After five weeks on the sea, they landed at Zanzibar Island, the gateway to East Africa’s interior. They followed in the footsteps of the Arab traders walking on foot in a single file. They were split into caravans each leaving at a different time.

They walked from sunrise to noon and rest for the rest of the day. Whenever they reached a suitable place to spend a night, they pitched the tents, goods piled up either in a tent or under a tree. If the area was infested with wild animals, a fence of thorns was built around the camp and fire set up.

In June 1877, the caravan of Lt Sheegold Smith and Rev C.T. Wilson arrived on the showers of Lake Victoria at a present day Port Bell. They were held at the port to report their arrival to the king first. Muteesa sent a royal escort to bring them to his palace. The next morning, the two missionaries met Muteesa and his royal entourage.

Pilgrims pray in front of portrait of Martyrs
Pilgrims pray in front of portrait of Martyrs Daudi Okello and Jildo Irwa at Wipolo Martyrs shrine in Paimol Subcounty Agago District. File photo.

Muteesa arose and shook hands with the two men before showing them the two stools near him. Through his interpreter, he asked his guests to tell him the story of their journey.

They started by presenting a letter from the CMS in London, UK. After reading the letter, the missionaries retired to their huts. But they were recalled to the royal hall by Muteesa. He said: “There is one word I want to say to you. I was afraid to speak it this morning because the Arabs were present. Did you bring ‘The Book’? That is all I want.”

He was excited when he saw the book. He took the two men out into the palace grounds and pointed out two sites which he said he would give them, one for a mission house and the other for a school.
Three months later, Mackay also arrived. A year and half later On February 17 1879, two Catholic missionaries, Fr Simeon Lourdel and Br Amans Delmas landed at Kyattale now Kigungu in Entebbe.

They were part of a five-man team of the White Fathers, which had set off from Marseilles in France on April 21, 1878.
Buganda was an accidental home for the Catholic white fathers. Their target was the Equatorial Africa. Archbishop Lavigerie who organised their mission was concerned with the activities of King Leopold’s International African Institute in present day DR Congo.

The Brussels based institute was promoting the spread of Anglican and Freemasons at the expence of Catholicism.
Archbishop Lavigerie considered Buganda a point of departure for the evangelisation of the interior of Equatorial Africa. In 1878, Archbishop Lavigerie had received a Papal consent to send catholic missionaries to evangelise the region.

Buganda was to be used as a support centre for the missionaries going to the eastern part of the Equatorial Africa. He instructed the missionaries to focus on converting King Muteesa first as an important factor in their cause.


Killing of teenage boys

On January 31, 1885, three teenage boys who were with two missionaries – Mark Kakumba, 16, Joseph Lugalama, 12, and Noah Serwanga, 19 – were killed at present-day Busega Anglican Martyr’s Church. Their executioner, Mudalasi, a Muslim, first asked them if they admitted being followers of Jesus Christ before burning them. Mudalasi them if they believed they would resurrect if they died. Their answers angered him and he threatened to burn them. But they never relented in their resolve. Serwanga was the first Ugandan to shed blood when he had his arms cut off before being thrown in the fire. Kakumba suffered the same fate. Lugalama pleaded saying: “Please do not cut off my arms.... only throw me in the fire.”

The first converts
On October 8, 1881, the first Ugandan to convert to Christianity, Sembera was baptised. He was one of the pioneers of Mackay’s class. Five months later, another group of four converts were also baptised.

Catholic converts
On March 27, 1880, less than a year of their arrival, the catholic missionaries baptised their first converts. These were Paulo Nalubandwa, Cypriano Mutagwanya, Petro Ddamulira, Karoli Buuza, Gabriel Kintu, Yosefu Lwanga, and Leon.

The catholic baptism was against the orders of Arcbishop Lavigerie. He had instructed: “I forbid you to administer baptism, even after four years, to anyone who does not offer serious moral guarantees of perseverance, particularly in abandoning polygamy for good.”

In the second part tomorrow, we look at the killing rituals.