My life with Luwum, the man crazy about God

Saturday August 17 2019

Unease.  President Idi Amin (circled) poses

Unease. President Idi Amin (circled) poses with Archbishop Janani Luwum, his wife and other bishops after a meeting in Nakasero, Kampala in 1977.  

Courtship and marriage
We initially didn’t know each other. We first met in church.
So one day, he [Janani] asked me: ‘Hey girl, where do you come from?’
I answered that I come from Karwaa, Bura clan [in Mucwini, Kitgum District].
‘Ah, today I am also going to Karwaa with you’.

After church service, we walked home – just as every boy and girl would walk together.
Once home, Janani discovered I lived with one of his clan sisters. He struck up conversation.
‘Oh, the matter has again become intricate; is this your daughter?

‘Yes’, she replied, and he said ‘ah, I had really fancied her, unfortunately, she is a relative.’
Janani was disappointed with the discovery.

But when I stepped out, they talked some more and she told him the truth.
She told him I was not her biological daughter, but a niece and she was a foster mother since my mother passed on.
She said if he had true feelings for me, it wouldn’t matter.
Janani was excited and promised to return.
I first gave him headache.

As a little girl, I didn’t want to get married. I didn’t flirt as did my peers with boyfriends.
I was a herds girl looking after goats. So Janani one day walked up to me and proposed.
But I gave him a cold shoulder.

‘Ah, I cannot get married. I’m a herds girl. Girls who are married are those without cattle, but we have cattle. I will stay home here’.
But he insisted: ‘I’ll bring more cattle and add onto yours …’
But I told him ‘for now it’s impossible. I am a herds girl.’


My brother, Nekolai ‘Mark Four’, who used to tend our herds, had joined the army, leaving the animals unattended.
I was the only girl at home with no boys to herd our cattle. So I took over tending the cattle and goats.

Janani was then a primary school teacher. After school, he would sprint down the meadows straight to where I tended our livestock.
And it was in the open, lush green meadows where the wind whistled that he proposed and I accepted him.
Our relationship blossomed.

But even then, I would still remind him: ‘I am a herds girl, if you don’t have many cattle, I won’t go to your home’.
He would retort: ‘I’ll buy cattle, I am a teacher’.
I asked him; ‘how about goats?’
‘I’ll buy all those too’, he retorted.
We soon got married. Even in marriage, we kept our easy familiarity and lived like brother and sister.
We had no tiffs, no fights in our house until death did us part.

Janani receives Christ
But it took only about four months after our matrimony before Janani became saved [Born-Again].
Janani then developed his strong and an unmatched faith in Jesus Christ.

It all started when Janani was posted to Kitgum Primary School [near current seat of the Anglican Diocese of Kitgum].
A medical officer, Eriya Lubulwa, employed at Kitgum Hospital, used to come here [now, All Saints Cathedral – neighbouring Janani’s school] for evangelism.

After service, Lubulwa would station himself at the entrance and preach the Gospel. He did not speak Luo and asked Janani to translate his preaching into Luo.

Lubulwa preached every Sunday and never missed.
Then one day, Janani came and asked me: ‘Mary, what do you think about this man’s preaching? He knows people’s failings. I feel I’m suffering all the transgressions he cites’.

I replied: ‘Ah Janani, you mean in the past you sinned all those many sins?’ I asked.

‘At least one would touch me’, he said. I’m going to get saved just as the man says, ‘if you get saved, all your sins will go away’.
But I said: ‘As for me, I don’t understand well these translated preaching, it confuses me. If you really want to get saved, there’s no problem’.
That very Sunday, Janani got saved. He confessed in front of a multitude of Christians.

‘I, who is translating for you evangelism today, I’m henceforth Born-Again’, he declared.

I asked him: ‘So, today you are really saved? We shall now see how your character will change’.
And we joked about it, just the two of us, we still didn’t have any child.

Janani continued to pursue his new-found faith with vigour and became an evangelist. He would daily pick up his Bible and set out to preach the Word.
Isn’t this becoming madness? I wondered. And he would joyfully say: ‘I’m not mad, it’s only a burning desire that tickles my heart and makes me happy. When I preach, I feel lightened and relieved.’

I soon noticed a new personality in Janani. Some of his fickle ways disappeared. Even on days when we should be moody whenever I did something bad, he would simply ask me: ‘Mama, why did you do such a thing again?

And I would tell him, ‘don’t you see? You have become a complete fool’.
We continued living like that [misunderstandings] for some time.
Mother, father receive salvation
Then one school holiday, we went home [Mucwini]. His father was a retired catechist. He asked me: ‘We hear that the two of you are always quarrelling and there’s no end to it?’

No, things have improved. Janani has changed for the better. He has become humble, we no longer have quarrels as we used to. We now live like friends, like he is son of my own mother.

Then his father said: ‘Okay, then that is good’.
While in Mucwini, Janani also preached to his father. In the second term holiday when we returned to the village, his father received Christ.
Then his mother followed suit. I was the only one not saved in the family. I told him, ‘ah, Janani, alcohol is something I cannot abandon’.
I used to drink a lot (she laughs heartily). So I was like; ‘I am used to alcohol.
He told me ‘but don’t come close to me, the smell of alcohol makes me uncomfortable’.
So I struggled with him.

Janani, the crazy man of God
Every morning at dawn, Janani would wake up, climb a termite mound just behind our house and preach in the loudest of voices.
He would shout: ‘If you don’t get saved, you will burn in your houses because adultery is sweeping across the world’.

Verses he cited from the Bible would get me both confused and worried in the house (laughs). I would ask him: ‘Sir, why do you abuse people?’
He would say: ‘I’m not abusing people, I’m only crying out for their souls. I’m telling them to get saved’.

In our neighbourhood lived Norah Langa, who was also saved. Only Jeremiah [Langa, the husband of Norah] and I were left out.
We would chat with Jeremiah and he would lament: ‘These people [Janani and Norah] have become mad people. What kind of madness would lead you to go public and talk about your adultery and other transgressions? These people have become wasted! One day, I will just have to beat up Norah’.

But I told Jeremiah: ‘Please, don’t beat her up. Even if you beat her up, this thing [salvation] is impossible. It has invaded them like spirits’. So, they [Janani and Norah] really loved one another. Even if you abuse them, even if you reject what they were saying, they would not mind. So let’s tolerate them like that.’

After one year, even the church people rose up against Janani for making lots of noise at dawn.
One church leader said Janani be transferred to a government school, Opette [Primary School on the outskirts of Kitgum Town] where government was building a new school. ‘We shall give the mad man [Janani]… (Mary laughs heartily) to the government,’ said the church official.

Soon, Janani was moved to Opette. We didn’t find a house there, but the Christians quickly built us a makeshift structure.
One Ogaba was the head-teacher while Janani deputised him.

But transferring Janani there was like the proverbial throwing of a tortoise into water. As soon as class ended at midday, Janani would head straight to Kitgum Town, about five kilometres away to preach the Gospel, and would even sleep at Langa’s home [in Mican].

I used to lament: ‘Ah, Janani has really become a mad man, from where will I again get another man?’ Then I would see him emerge [in the mornings], sweat all over his body. Riding a bicycle with such vigour and at such great speed.

‘Did you sleep hungry’, I would ask. Then he would reply: ‘What hunger? Jesus cooked for me. We ate Jesus’ food, His food was in plenty. I slept at Norah’s, preaching the Gospel. We went up to this and that place’.

Janani transforms prisoners
Sometimes after classes, Janani would join the prisons contractors at the school and preach to them. All the workers got saved, they became balokole. You could hear them singing Tukutendereza Yesu as they worked. [She hums the popular Luganda Christian revival praise song].
The workers’ voices would boom all over, enjoying their work. The prison warders too, became Born-Again.

During school holidays, there was no resting as Janani would set off for evangelism to Lango and other far-off places. He would return home and stay only for a few days [before the next school term began].

Janani heeds God’s call
One day, Janani asked me: ‘Mary, I’m having this feeling to go to serve in the church’.
I taunted him: ‘The other day, I already assured you that anything you want to do, I won’t stop you. Just go if you feel like because your father had already introduced you to loitering and you now know how nice loitering is’ (laughs).
But looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I realise I was insulting him.
But he graciously replied: ‘Thanks to God for releasing me to go’.

So Janani went to Buwalasi [Theological College in Mbale] to study to become a priest.
He also continued to preach the Bible. After completing, we were posted to Lira Palwo Primary School in Agago District, where we stayed for three years.
Again, Janani was returned to Buwalasi as principal. But soon, he received news that then archbishop Erica Sabiiti wanted him as his provincial secretary.
He said: ‘Where God calls me, I will answer, and just obey and go’.
Quickly, Janani was elected the first bishop of the Diocese of Northern Uganda and later Archbishop to replace retiring Erica Sabiiti.

Trouble with Idi Amin

Life was good when he was elected bishop, but not as archbishop, as Idi Amin’s soldiers followed Janani all the time.
One day, president Amin invited Janani to [State House] Entebbe, so I told him that ‘since you’re being sent to Entebbe, they are going to kill you today’.

We should go together; I don’t want to remain a widow. I have always urged you that you flee into exile but you have always refused’.
When we entered Amin’s office, I saw several soldiers positioned in a corner. I tapped Janani and pointed out that that is where they are going to kill you later. Then he replied; ‘please you stop such silly talks’. Then Amin asked me which languages I spoke, I told him I only spoke Acholi. He then proceeded to speak with Janani.

Amin told Janani that he heard [former president, Milton] Obote had ferried guns to his residence in Namirembe.

But Janani told Amin that there were no guns at his home. ‘I have my Bible here; it is my bullet. It is me who wants people to live peacefully, why would I be the one again to kill them? My bullet is the Bible. If you want me to read for you a verse that talks about killing, then I can read for you’.

Amin continued that some people had telephoned him from London, UK, that he had arrested and imprisoned Janani.
I told Amin: ‘You can even arrest him’. Amin (speaking in clear Acholi), said: ‘I thought you had said you don’t understand any other language?’
I told him that Acholi also refers to prison as pirijon, so I can understand.

It was now past 6pm, yet we had not eaten since we arrived in the morning. Amin invited us to go down for a meal; but I said ‘I won’t eat your food’.
I remained in the room as they went to eat.

Given the cruel reputation of Amin, I was not scared of him. I wished they had allowed me to be the one to talk to him [instead of Janani]. I didn’t like the way he [Janani] answered Amin back, forcing me to respond. But Janani would tell me to keep quiet. Had I talked more, maybe he would have killed us both or maybe Amin would have allowed both of us to live.

Amin was talking nonsense like: ‘I know how to cook malakwang (local Acholi dish), I can cook it tastier than Acholi women’.
I told him: ‘maybe Acholi women who were not properly mentored by their mothers’.
I actually quarrelled with Amin that day.

Amin the Jack of all trades
Amin knew Acholi dialect very well. He even spoke good Luganda. He was speaking to Janani in Kiswahili. He knew many languages. Amin was mischievous, even cooking Acholi dishes that he claimed to know he could have actually known it.
When we returned home, I stood in the compound and pleaded with Janani. ‘Please, go to another country and preach the Gospel from there.’
He simply kept quiet, he didn’t answer. I implored him to go and sleep in the Guest House, but shortly after I had locked the door, I heard the doorbell ring again. On opening, I found Janani and asked him what had brought him back. He said he had forgotten something in the chapel. He entered there and went into prayers.

Soldiers raid Janani’s residence
The following night, soldiers stormed our home at night. They cut the wire fence near the gate to force entry. They entered with a vehicle on the bonnet of which they had tied up a man named Ben Ongom. Ongom was made to knock the door pleading: ‘your Grace the Archbishop, please open for me the door, it’s Ongom. You know I was imprisoned but just got released’. The moment Janani opened the door, we saw soldiers on either side of the door. One of them shoved the barrel of his gun into Janani’s rib cage, barking: ‘bring the guns that Obote hid here’. Janani answered that ‘guns for killing people cannot be kept in my home here’.

That was around 3am, the soldiers then searched every part of the house, looking for the so-called guns.
The children were hurled on the floor as they tossed mattresses about. Foam from the mattresses were scattered all over the floor.
Outside, Ongom was crammed back into the car boot and he chattered in fear. ‘Your Grace, if there is any Acholi with a gun just tell me so that I take these people there’.

I told Ongom that since he was saying he wouldn’t die alone and like a sheep (silently) like [minister Erinayo] Oryema in detention, ‘you go and find out on your own someone who would show you where any guns are’.

I advised Ongom to persevere and die like a man and stop incriminating innocent people.
He said: ‘I won’t die just like that’ (Mary Luwum mimics Ongom’s accent).
With the soldiers gone, we rushed Janani to Mengo hospital, with his rib cage swollen badly from blunt stubs from muzzles of guns.

D-Day arrives
Janani was killed about a week after the soldiers invaded our home. On the day, they called the archbishop out at about 5am, actually at nearly 6am, instructing him to call all the bishops for an urgent meeting at the Command Post in Nakasero that very morning.

Janani asked how the bishops were going to travel since roadblocks were mounted across all of the country’s highways.
Amin told him to tell the bishops to fly flags at the front of their vehicles and he would instruct soldiers manning roadblocks throughout the country to not disturb them. So many people went to attend the meeting because they all wanted to find out the issue between the archbishop and Amin.

I didn’t go because he [Janani] told me not to go but to remain home to give medications to one of our children who was sick. I informed him that we were greeting each other for the last time, that I just knew that he wasn’t going to come back. Then he said ‘stop thinking like that. Instead, put everything in prayers.’

How Archbishop Luwum was killed there, I don’t know.
But the bishops soon started arriving to our home at Namirembe one by one. I asked them if the meeting was over. They said ‘people were being released one at a time from the meeting to go back home, that’s why we have come’.

The last to arrive was the bishop of Kabale, Amos Bisungura, who said he had left the archbishop with ministers Erinayo Oryema and Oboth Ofumbi.
Shortly after, the driver of the archbishop arrived, saying he was instructed to remove his official vehicle from the meeting venue. I told him ‘let’s go back there’. When we arrived, the soldiers immediately surrounded our vehicle while others stood at the ready by the fence. One soldier came and held firmly the hand of the driver, asking him: ‘who again brought back here the vehicle?’ Another soldier, an Alur, whispered to me to return home, otherwise, I would get the driver killed.

I saw the dark menacing eyes of the soldiers around, so I heeded his advice and we returned home. I wondered whether the archbishop was still alive.
Two days later in the morning, a certain son-in-law of mine who worked with Radio Uganda phoned home that there was information that the archbishop, together with Oryema and Oboth Ofumbi, had died in a fatal road accident. One retired bishop who was staying at our home soon left, saying he was going to look for a coffin because there was nothing else that could be done. If the body was brought, we would view it from home.

Shortly afterwards, soldiers stormed our home surrounding the whole of Namirembe, even born-again Christians from Soroti who had thronged home upon hearing that the archbishop had been killed, were forcefully dispersed. The soldiers didn’t want people to gather at Namirembe.

The next day, there was information that helicopters had carried the bodies of the three to their respective homes. That His Grace was taken to Kitgum, Oryema to Gulu and Oboth Ofumbi to Tororo. But the archbishop’s remains were mistakenly driven off to Madi-Opei, some 14 kilometres past Mucwini, his home. At Madi-Opei, the soldiers found the Rev Jekirani Obwor, the Anglican parish priest, who redirected the soldiers back to the archbishop’s ancestral home in Mucwini. The Rev Obwor entered the vehicle to direct them, and once at the home of Mama Irene, the mother of Archbishop Luwum, the soldiers asked her where the body should be buried.

Mama Irene said she had already offered Janani Luwum to the church long ago, and that they should bury his remains at Church [St Paul’s] atop a hill [Wigweng], that has become a pilgrimage site.

On the day Janani was murdered, we sneaked out of Uganda and fled to Kisumu, Kenya, using a special hire taxi that kept on dodging roadblocks. We drove past Mukono and Busia. Our children asked where we were going, I told them we were headed to Kisumu to visit Bishop Henry Okullo. They inquired where their dad was, I told them he had been killed by Idi Amin and was already buried. They fell quiet. I cried silently.

We found the Christians in Kenya waiting for us at the border, singing songs of praise as though Janani had not even died.

At the home of Bishop Okullo, we were offered off-layer chickens and broilers to rear. They also gave us a small plot in the compound to plant tomatoes and other vegetables. Somehow, we survived. We used to sell surplus cocks and tomatoes to get some money for our upkeep.
Life in exile is never comfortable, but gladly, the children continued to study normally.
We stayed in Kenya for about three years before returning to Uganda in 1979.

Life back home without Janani
Back in Uganda, I continued farming. I would travel to the village from Kampala and farm during the rainy season. We left two of our children in Kenya to complete their education. I continued to farm and sell second-hand clothes to cater sustain the family.
Even now, when I am quite old, I still farm.

Luckily, as support dried up, some friends from London sent me a Land-Rover, which helped me in my trade. The church contributed some money too as I also struggled to top up school fees for the children. But the church stopped her remittances after some time, for some unclear reason, so I soldiered on, on my own.

But lately, the government offered to build for the family a house in Mucwini, but it remains unoccupied.
Mama Mary Luwum passed on last week without occupying President Museveni’s ‘little’ gift house.
Fare-thee-well Mama Mary Luwum.