Buyonga: The village where Mukajanga rests

A sign post that welcomes you at the burial grounds of the “The Loyal Royal Guard” of Buganda Kingdom. Mukajanga was buried in Buyonga, Kakiri Sub-county Wakiso District. 

What you need to know:

  • Today Christians celebrate Martyrs’ Day, a fete that attracts people from allover the world. Jane Nafula visited Mukajanga’s home village to trace the origins of a man popularly known for executing the Martyrs.

Mukajanga! To many Christian faithful, the name sticks. The name haunts. It evokes painful memories from one-and-a quarter centuries ago. He is the villain from the 1880s.

Yet to his kinsmen, the man was just a servant. Mukajanga, later called Paul Kibuuka, was a man loyal to a fault to his boss, Ssekabaka Mwanga.

 About 35km from Kampala on the Hoima Road lies a small trading centre, a few metres away from the busy Kakiri township. Mwera Trading Centre is coming of age; with retail shops, makeshift restaurants and fairly well built houses.

An imposing green signpost in the middle of the trading centre, on the left of the highway, screams a welcome note to the home of Mukajanga, ‘the chief royal guard remembered for Namugongo’.

A dirt road stretching for about half a kilometre leads you to what is emerging from a typical rural setting; with a few permanent structures and some semi-permanent structures with aging mabaati, weather beaten walls and poorly-kempt compounds.  

The road leads to Buyonga–Kikandwa Village, Kakiri Parish in Wakiso District, and the resting place – maybe he’s resting - of Mukajanga.

Clusters of banana plantations sandwich homesteads thatresidents say belong to Mukajanga’s descendants and kinsmen. Members of the Mamba-Kakoboza clan, to which Mukajanga belonged, predominantly occupy the village. 

A stone throw-away from an isolated permanent house are columns of white and red tiled graves which form what is now an ancestral burial ground of the Mukajangas.

Members of his lineage, including married daughters, are buried in this family cemetery, now existent for more than a century.

In the middle of the graveyard is a permanent old building; painted white on the front, crimson red metallic doors, and with old iron sheets.

Mr Eliasafu Nsubuga, a clan member who is also known as Mukajanga Omulamu, literally meaning Mukajanga who is alive, is at disposal to take us through the building.

He flings it open and a new world opens before our eyes.

The structure is a tomb housing 10 graves, including that of Mukajanga. His remains are said to have been interred here at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Little literature is available of the nine other graves, but Mukajanga’s stands out, draped in backcloth and white sheets, and almost a foot higher than the rest. Family members say the white sheets are the equivalent of flowers.

The nine other graves are said to belong to two of Mukajanga’s children; Nathan Mayanja who passed on in 1950, and Ssembuya Mutatya who died in 1939, according to the records slapped against each grave.  The remaining seven are for his grandchildren.  Mukajanga, we learn from his kinsmen, was a son of Gombya Salasamba from Kyadondo County, Kibiri-Busaabala.

The tomb is under the care of Nsubuga whose home is a few metres away.

Even the relatives have scanty information about Mukajanga’s life. History famed him for fathering many children, but who cannot be traced or whose mothers are not known.

Nsubuga, however, recalls that Mukajanga was born and raised from his ancestral home in Buyonga-Kikandwa, Kakiri where during his youthful days in 1882 was taken to serve in the Kabaka’s palace as a royal guard.

Mr Tobby Kiwanuka, a great grandson to the late Mukajanga, known for killing of the Uganda Martyrs, stands outside the house in which his kinsman was buried. PHOTOS / ABUBAKER LUBOWA

Due to hard work, Mukajanga wormed his way into Kabaka’s inner circle and easily rose through the rungs to earn the trust of the most powerful man in Buganda.

He became the king’s blue-eyed boy and he was soon entrusted with the responsibility of disciplining errant subjects.

Execution timeline

It is between 1884 and 1886 that he was entrusted with a bizarre role yet he had to serve the purpose. He was named Kabaka’s Chief Executor.

Mukajanga then established his offices near a water stream at the current Anglican shrine in Namugongo, Wakiso District. This is, according to the family, where he could get water for home use and also clean blood stained spears used for execution according to Nsubuga.

“Many of the Martyrs were killed on their way to Mukajanga’s office at the shrine,” he said.

For his actions, his family now is defensive, saying their kinsman was a victim of circumstances because of the effects that the ‘foreign religion introduced by the Missionaries was having on Kabaka’s subjects.

“They were convinced that if they embraced Christianity, they would not work but instead food would come from heaven. They were also told that if they died, they would resurrect on the third day like Jesus Christ did. The Ssekabaka was not happy about it and ordered Mukajanga to discipline them,” Nsubuga says.

Mukajanga under the orders of Ssekabaka Mwanga burnt to death Christian converts at Namugongo where the current Anglican and Catholic Martyrs shrines stand.

Fourteen years later, Mukajanga passed on. However, before his death, Mukajanga, whose real name was Kibuuka, embraced Christianity and by the time of his death in 1900, he had been named Paul Kibuuka. It is not surprising, according to Nsubuga, that many of the relatives are now priests. 

When he passed on in 1900, he was first buried at his home in Busabala in Makindye Sebagabo. After two years (1902) the clan members decided to exhume his remains and re-buried him at the ancestral cemetery where his tomb stands today.

Nsubuga says they have never seen a photo of Mukajanga because by that time, it was the colonialists, taking the photos, which made it hard for the family members to access.

He reveals that sculptures at Namugongo Martyrs Shrines representing Mukajanga are only representative of his looks by then.

Over 20 members from Mukajanga’s lineage are expected to attend today’s Martyrs’ Day Celebrations.

Family prayers

Nsubuga also said the family had set aside March 20 of every year as a day for holding prayers at Mukajanga’s ancestral home, in recognition of his contribution to the introduction of Christianity in Uganda.

He said the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, the Rev Samuel Stephen Kaziimba Mugalu led the first prayers in March 2020.

In January 2021, this newspaper – quoting the African Holocaust by J.F Faupel – reported that the executioner is said to have had a soft side after all.

For instance during the execution of the first martyr, Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe at Nakivubo on November 15, 1885, Mukajanga is said to have intentionally delayed carrying out his distasteful task.

He knew from experience that the Ssekabaka, especially in the case of old friends or pages, was likely to revoke or cancel the death sentences passed out in anger, and had often earned the gratitude of both Ssekabaka and victim by delaying an execution until the king had had calmed down.

Mukajanga executed Balikuddembe by beheading before placing him on the fire, apparently sparing him much pain. Around the same time, Mukajanga reportedly pleaded with his adopted son, Mbaaga Tuzinde, to renounce Christianity.

“Please do give up this foolishness which will send us to a standstill. Only say that you have abandoned religion and I will hide you.”

Well, his name is eternally etched in history as the man who spared no life. He is remembered as the loyal royal guard that ended many lives.