Uganda Martyrs

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For the university often referred to as "Uganda Martyrs", see Uganda Martyrs University.
Charles Lwanga
and Companions
Karoli Lwanga and his followers.jpg
Died 1885–1887,Uganda
Martyred by Mwanga II
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Anglican Communion


by Pope Benedict XV

18 October 1964

by Pope Paul VI
Major shrine Basilica Church of the Uganda Martyrs, Namugongo
Feast 3 June
Notable martyrs Charles Lwanga
Andrew Kaggwa

The Uganda Martyrs are a group of 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic converts to Christianity in the historical kingdom of Buganda, now part of Uganda, who were executed between November 1885 and January 1887.[1][2]

They were killed on orders of Mwanga II, the Kabaka (King) of Buganda. The deaths took place at a time when there was a three-way religious struggle for political influence at the Buganda royal court.

A few years later, the English Church Missionary Society used the deaths to enlist wider public support for the British acquisition of Uganda for the Empire.[3] The Catholic Church beatified the martyrs of its faith in 1920 and canonized them in 1964.


Publication in Britain of an 1875 letter purporting to be an invitation from the king of Buganda, Muteesa I, to send missionaries, resulted in the arrival of missionaries of the Anglican Church Missionary Society to Buganda in 1877. A group of French Catholic White Fathers appeared two years later. This was followed by a Zanzibar-based Arab attempt to introduce Islam.[4] This led to a three-way religious struggle for political influence at the Buganda royal court. By the mid-1880s, many members of the court had converted and become agents in the religious and political conflict being played out in the court. Kabaka Mwanga II, upon his ascent to the throne at the age of 16, was concerned at the increasing role of priests and missionaries, which he felt threatened his power, attempted to destroy their influence.[5]

Mwanga's father had played off the three religions, Catholic, Protestant and Islamic, against each other and thus balanced the influence of the external powers that were backing each group in order to extend their reach into Africa. Mwanga II took a much more aggressive approach, expelling missionaries and insisting that Christian converts abandon their faith or face death. A year after becoming king he executed Yusufu Rugarama, Makko Kakumba, and Nuwa Serwanga, who had converted to Christianity. On 29 October 1885, he had the incoming Anglican archbishop James Hannington assassinated on the eastern border of his kingdom.

For Mwanga, the ultimate humiliation was the insolence he received from the (male) pages of his court in resisting his sexual advances. According to old tradition the king was the centre of power and authority and could dispense with any life as he felt. It was unheard of for mere pages to reject the wishes of a king. Given those conflicting values Mwanga was determined to rid his kingdom of the new teaching and its followers. Mwanga therefore precipitated a showdown in May 1886 by ordering converts in his court to choose between their new faith, and complete obedience to his orders and sexual desires.

A summary of the event published on Gay Star News explains: "It is documented that King Mwanga II had many young men in his palace and was sodomizing them at his will. On their conversion to Christianity, they started denying Mwanga the usual 'pleasure' he used to get from them. He instructed the killing of all the young men who disobeyed him. The murdered young men were considered martyrs because they resolved to die for their new religion rather than surrendering their bodies to the king."[6]

In total at least forty-five Catholic and Protestant neophytes went to their deaths; although the actual number is likely to be higher.[7] Twenty-two of the men, who had converted to Catholicism, were burned alive at Namugongo in 1886 and later became known as the Uganda Martyrs. Among those executed were two Christians who held the court position of Master of the Pages, Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe and Charles Lwanga. They had repeatedly defied the king by rescuing royal pages in their care from sexual exploitation by Mwanga which they believed contrary to Christian teaching.[7]


In 1888, the Imperial British East Africa Company was authorized to administer the territory assigned to Britain in its 1886 treaty with Germany. With support from the company, a rebellion by Christian and Muslim groups who supported Mwanga's half brother defeated Mwanga at Mengo in 1888. Mwanga's brother, Kiweewa Nnyonyintono was elevated to the throne. He lasted exactly one month and was replaced on the throne by another brother, Kabaka Kalema Muguluma. However, Mwanga escaped and negotiated with the company, with which he signed a treaty granting the company certain powers over revenue, trade and the administration of justice. In exchange for this loss of some of his sovereignty, he obtained the company's backing and swiftly removed Kalema from the throne in 1889.

Frederick Lugard was Military Administrator of Uganda for the Imperial British East Africa Company from December 1890 to May 1892. He stepped in to support the Protestants against the stronger Catholic side in the 1892 Battle of Mengo. With the aid of the Church Missionary Society, which used the deaths of their martyrs to win broad public support in Britain for acquiring Uganda, he successfully dissuaded Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone and his cabinet from abandoning Uganda.[3] The powers of the company were transferred to the British Crown on 1 April 1893 and on 27 August 1894 Mwanga accepted Buganda being made a British protectorate. However, on 6 July 1897 he declared war on the British. Defeated on 20 July in Buddu (in today's Masaka District), he fled to German East Africa. He was declared deposed on 9 August. After a failed attempt to recover his kingdom, he was exiled in 1899 to the Seychelles, where he was received into the Anglican Church. He died in 1903, aged 35.[8]

Charles Lwanga and his companions[edit]

Saint Charles Lwanga and his companions, the Catholic "Martyrs of Uganda", were a group of 22 who were executed on the orders of Mwanga II.[9] Pope Benedict XV beatified them on 6 June 1920, and Pope Paul VI canonized them on 18 October 1964. In the ceremony of canonization of the Catholic martyrs, Pope Paul mentioned also the Anglican, saying: "Nor, indeed, do we wish to forget the others who, belonging to the Anglican confession, confronted death in the name of Christ."[10] Their 3 June feast day is included in the General Roman Calendar.

They were:[11]

  1. Achileo Kiwanuka
  2. Adolphus Ludigo-Mukasa
  3. Ambrosius Kibuuka
  4. Anatoli Kiriggwajjo
  5. Andrew Kaggwa
  6. Antanansio Bazzekuketta
  7. Bruno Sserunkuuma
  8. Charles Lwanga
  9. Denis Ssebuggwawo Wasswa
  10. Gonzaga Gonza
  11. Gyavira Musoke
  12. James Buuzaabalyaawo
  13. John Maria Muzeeyi
  14. Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe
  15. Kizito
  16. Lukka Baanabakintu
  17. Matiya Mulumba
  18. Mbaga Tuzinde
  19. Mugagga Lubowa
  20. Mukasa Kiriwawanvu
  21. Nowa Mawaggali
  22. Ponsiano Ngondwe

The Ugandan Martyrs were featured in the film Millions.

The two martyrs of Paimol[edit]

Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa
Born c.1900 (Daudi); 1906 (Jildo)
Died 18 October 1918,Paimol, Uganda
Means of martyrdom pierced with spears
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church

20 October 2002

by Pope John Paul II
Feast October 18

There were also two Ugandan martyrs of a later period, who died at Paimol in 1918 and were beatified in 2002.[12] These have not been canonized.

The martyrs, Blessed Daudi Okelo and Blessed Jildo Irwa, were two young catechists from Uganda. They belonged to the Acholi tribe, a subdivision of the large Luo group. They lived and were martyred in the years immediately following the foundation of the mission of Kitgum by the Comboni Missionaries in 1915.[13]

Anglican martyrs[edit]

When commemorating the martyrs of Uganda, the Church of England includes Archbishop Janani Luwum, who was murdered in 1977 by Idi Amin's henchmen; they also commemorate Luwum separately on 17 February.


  1. ^ Martyrs of Uganda. "Encyclopaedia Britannica". Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. 2014. Retrieved 3 Jun 2014. 
  2. ^ "The Christian Martyrs of Uganda". The Buganda Home Page. 
  3. ^ a b Apter, David (1961). The Political Kingdom in Uganda: A Study of Bureaucratic Nationalism. Princeton University. p. 77. ISBN 9781136307645. 
  4. ^ Leggett, Ian (2001). Uganda. Oxfam. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-85598454-0. 
  5. ^ "Long-Distance Trade and Foreign Contact". Uganda. Library of Congress Country Studies. December 1990. Retrieved 6 June 2009. 
  6. ^ Morgan, Joe (28 February 2014). "Pope will fly to Uganda to worship martyrs who rejected gay sex". Gay Star News. 
  7. ^ a b "Kabaka Mwanga Ordered the Killings of the Uganda Martyrs". [dead link]
  8. ^ Buyers, Christopher (2001). "The History and Life of Kabaka Mwanga II". 
  9. ^ "Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions, Martyrs of Uganda". Catholic News Agency. 
  10. ^ "Pope Paul VI's homily at the canonization of the martyrs of Uganda" (in Latin). 18 October 1964. 
  11. ^ "Martyrs of Uganda". 28 May 2014. Retrieved 3 June 2014. 
  12. ^ ZENIT News Agency, "Ugandan Martyrs to Be beatified This Sunday"
  13. ^ "Daudi Okelo (1902 ca.-1918) and Jildo Irwa (1906 ca.-1918)". the Holy See. 

External links[edit]