Uganda Martyrs: The Story Behind It All

  • Uganda Martyrs: The Story Behind It All
    Thanks to the thousands of pilgrims who thronged Namugongo to pay tribute to the Uganda martyrs who died for religion between 1862 and 1887.

    KAMPALA - As thousands of pilgrims thronged Namugongo to pay tribute to the Uganda martyrs who died for religion between 1862 and 1887, this year, Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) organized a special martyrs walk on June 1 that took pilgrims to the unsung places where other martyrs were killed.

    While many more were executed across Buganda, the 23 Anglicans, 22 Catholics and 22 Muslims burnt at Namugongo remain the face of the group.


    This is where Mwanga's wrath was born and his intent to kill the believers was made clear. On the afternoon of Tuesday, May 25, 1886, Mwanga decided to go hippopotamus hunting. Mwanga left his palace at Munyonyo at about 2pm with just twenty attendants, for a king used to moving with not less than 200 people.

    No hippo was sighted; so, after shooting at a few birds, the royal party returned to this lake-shore at about 5pm. On his way back, tragedy struck as he lost his modern rifle to the lake. It is reported that 14-year-old St Kizito, who was supposed to be behind Mwanga to take charge of the rifle was not only absent, but was in church at the time.

    On arrival, the Kabaka, already disgruntled at the failure of his hunt and a loss of his firearm, walked a few paces before finding Musa Mukasa whom he reportedly shouted at: "I do not see any of my attendants here. Where are they? They better not be spending time praying with the missionaries; that would mean rebellion," before unleashing his wrath on Mukasa whom he speared to death.

    It is reported that all the martyrs-to-be were away praying at Nalukolongo at the time. "All my servants are away, leaving me lonely - without royal service. This is a disgrace, this religion has caused rebellion, whoever admits to believing in this religion, and is away from duty at my palace leaves me no option, but to sentence him to death; to fire, to Namugongo."

    Denis Ssebugwawo's site, Munyonyo

    The following day, May 26, 1886, Mwanga was in a raging temper and Ssebugwawo was his next victim. Using a small spear (Muwabutwa), which had belonged to his father Muteesa I, Mwanga savagely assaulted the boy, stabbing him on the head, neck and chest, until the spear broke in Mwanga's hand.

    Then, seizing the stunned boy by the arm, he dragged him out of his own courtyard, into the audience hall, shouting wildly for men to take Ssebuggwawo away and kill him. Two men stripped Ssebuggwawo, dragged him to this site in Munyonyo and an executioner hacked Ssebugwawo to pieces.

    Ssebugwawo was Muteesa's page and a page in personal attendance to Mwanga. He belonged to the Musu [cane rat] clan.

    Uganda Martyrs Shrine, Munyonyo

    This is where Andrew Kaggwa, the Kabaka's chief musician was killed and buried. When the storm of persecution broke out on May 25, 1886, Kaggwa was not at the palace and missed the meeting where fellow Christians were sentenced.

    But the following day, Mukasa, Mwanga's chancellor, reminded Mwanga that Kaggwa was still at large. Mwanga could not afford to lose his chief drummer who had now become a principal Christian instructor of the king's pages and other servants. Kaggwa was summoned to Munyonyo palace where he confessed his Christianity. Mukasa ordered Kaggwa's execution and asked the executioners to bring him his hands.

    Eight executioners led Kaggwa to a thicket near the Katikkiro's home, threw him to the ground, cut off his arms, his head, chopped up his body and scattered the pieces, taking away his life. This was about 3pm on Wednesday, May 26,1886. Today, Kaggwa is the patron saint of Munyonyo shrine.


    Naalya, formerly called Lubaawo, is the spot where Gonzaga Gonza died. Gonzaga was a Musoga from Kamuli district. On arrival in Buganda, he joined the mpologoma [lion] clan, whose role is to lay the foundation wherever the Kabaka decides to build a palace, and to fine-tune the royal drums (mujaguzo).

    Mujaguzo are special drums sounded upon a royal birth and upon the death of a reigning king in Buganda. Gonzaga was not in charge of the mujaguzo, however; he was a page of the private courts under Muteesa I and a page of the audience hall under Kabaka Mwanga.

    He was part of the death march from Munyonyo in May 1886 to Mengo where he spent the night in chains, with some chains digging so deep into his flesh that he couldn't remove them in the morning, making it much harder for him to walk to Namugongo, about 16 kilometers away. This is why he is the patron saint of prisoners and the afflicted.

    Before long, blood started to flow from his wounds, attracting flies for ten kilometers. He collapsed at Naalya and was speared to death. Mukaajanga, the chief executioner, repeatedly speared the boy's body, leaving him by the road side to bleed to death. A few days later, the murder site only had hair, meaning that wild animals must have eaten his body.





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