Celebrating The Uganda Martyrs. The heroes of religion in Uganda

Every year on June 3rd, the global Christian community celebrates the story and the sacrifice of the Uganda Martyrs. These were the 45 young boys and men who were killed in the Buganda Kingdom by Kabaka Mwanga between 1885 and 1887 in colonial Uganda - for refusing to renounce their new Christian faith.

Both the Anglican and Catholic faith was introduced into Buganda at the start of the 1880s when Kabaka Mutesa was the reigning king of Buganda. Together with Islam which had been introduced some years earlier by the Arab traders, Buganda now had 3 new religions that were competing for new converts.

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uganda martyrs celebrations

The untimely death of the King - Kabaka Mutesa led to the ascension to power of his son, the prince, Mwanga - who was previously very friendly with all foreigners and their different faiths. The new king felt threatened by the growing influence and power of the Christian faiths on his kingdom, and his attitude changed to an unfriendly one.

Being a Christian meant that the newly converted people had to renounce the traditional religious practices.

Why June 3rd.

June 3rd was chosen as the day to remember and celebrate the Uganda martyrs because that is when most of them we killed. 25 Catholic and Anglican martyrs were killed by being burned alive, at Namungongo on June 3rd.

Apart from the June 3rd massacres, there were other Christians who we killed before and after. All of these are celebrated in the celebration of the Feast day of the Uganda martyrs.

The Seed To Religion

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namugongo uganda martyrs basilica

While the killing of the Christians was intended to curtail the growth and influence of foreign religion on the local people of Buganda, many believe that it facilitated the growth of the same Christian faith in Buganda and the whole of Uganda. 

Recent population statistics indicate that more than 80% of Ugandans belong to the Christian faith, the other major religion is Islam.

It is said that there were other martyrs of the Islam faith, but the information on this is quite scattered.

Related article: Things to see and do in Kampala.

Important Dates

The popularity of the Martyrs and their unwavering faith has continued to grow throughout the years. These are some dates that are fondly remembered in the Story of the Uganda Martyrs.

  • 6 June 1920 the 22 Catholic Martyrs were beatified by Pope Benedict XV
  • 18th October 1964, Pope Paul VI canonized all the 22 catholic Martyrs as Saints 

All The Uganda Martyrs

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uganda martyrs sculptures

These martyrs comprised of mainly young boys and men from the Buganda Kingdom. However, some were from other parts of Uganda such as Ankole or Bunyoro.

Uganda Martyrs and how they died
  MARTYR RELIGION DATE OF DEATH MANNER OF DEATH
1. Kakumba Makko Anglican Jan 31st, 1885 Dismembered & Burned
2. Rugarama Yusuf Anglican  Jan 31st, 1885 Dismembered & Burned
3. Sserwanga Nuwa Anglican Jan 31st, 1885 Dismembered & Burned
4. Balikudenmbe Y Mukasa Catholic Nov 15th, 1885 Beheaded & Burned
5. Mukasa Musa Anglican May 25th, 1886 Speared
6. Kaggwa Anderea Catholic May 26th, 1886 Beheaded
7. Ngondwe Ponsiano Catholic May 26th, 1886 Beheaded & Dismembered 
8. Ssebugwawo Denis Catholic May 26th, 1886 Beheaded
9. Bazzekuketta Antanansio Catholic May 27th, 1886 Dismembered
10. Gonza Gonzaga Catholic May 27th, 1886 Beheaded
11. Mbwa Eriya Anglican  May 27th, 1886 Castrated
12. Muddu Aguma Anglican May 27th, 1886 Castrated
13. Mulumba Matiya Catholic May 27th, 1886 Dismembered 
14. Muwanga Daudi Anglican Unsure Castrated
15. Kayizzi Kibuuka Anglican May 31st, 1886 Castrated
16. Mawaggali Nowa Catholic May 31st, 1886 Speared, ravaged by wild dogs
17. Mayanja Kitoogo Anglican May 31st, 1886 Castrated
18. Muwanga Anglican May 31st, 1886 Castrated
19. Lwanga Karoli Catholic June 3rd, 1886 Burned
20. Baanabakintu Lukka Catholic June 3rd, 1886 Burned
21. Buzabalyawo Yakobo Catholic June 3rd, 1886 Burned
22. Gyaviira Catholic June 3rd, 1886 Burned
23. Kibuuka Ambrosio Catholic June 3rd, 1886 Burned
24. Kiriggwajjo Anatoli Catholic June 3rd, 1886 Burned
25. Kiriwawanvu Mukasa Catholic June 3rd, 1886 Burned
26. Kiwanuka Achileo Catholic June 3rd, 1886 Burned
27. Kizito Catholic June 3rd, 1886 Burned
28. Ludigo Mukasa Adolofu Catholic June 3rd, 1886 Burned
29. Muggaga Catholic June 3rd, 1886 Burned
30. Sserunkuma Bruno Catholic June 3rd, 1886 Burned
31. Tuzinde Mbaga Catholic June 3rd, 1886 Burned
32. Kadoko Alexanda Anglican June 3rd, 1886 Burned
33. Kifamunyanja Anglican June 3rd, 1886 Burned
34. Kiwanuka Giyaza Anglican June 3rd, 1886 Burned
35. Kizza Frederick Anglican June 3rd, 1886 Burned
36. Kwabafu Anglican June 3rd, 1886 Burned
37. Lwakisiga Mukasa Anglican June 3rd, 1886 Burned
38. Lwanga Anglican June 3rd, 1886 Burned
39. Mubi-azaalwa Anglican June 3rd, 1886 Burned
40. Munyagabyangu Robert Anglican June 3rd, 1886 Burned
41. Muwanga Njigija Anglican June 3rd, 1886 Burned
42. Nakabandwa Danieri Anglican June 3rd, 1886 Burned
43. Walukagga Nuwa Anglican June 3rd, 1886 Burned
44. Wasswa Anglican June 3rd, 1886 Burned
45. Muzeeyi Jean-Marie Catholic Jan 27th, 1887 Beheaded

The Paimol Martyrs

In addition to the Uganda Martyrs of the mid-1880s, there were 2 more Ugandan Martyrs some 30 years after the Uganda Martyrs in Buganda. Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa were two young catechists who were martyred in the time immediately following the founding of the Kitgum mission of Comboni Missionaries in 1915.

Daudi Okelo and Jildo Irwa died at Paimol in 1918 and we beatified in 2002. They have not been canonized as saints.

Final Thoughts

The Killing of the Uganda martyrs shaped the direction of Uganda in terms of religion, politics, and the overall life of the people. 

While the killings were aimed at stopping religion, they only pushed it forward in Buganda and all over Uganda and East Africa 

The Feast day of the Uganda Martyrs celebrated on 3rd June every year is an important event in Uganda. Ugandans from all corners of the country pilgrimage to celebrate in Namungongo where they are joined by other faithful Christians from all over the region and Africa.

This goes to show that the martyrs didn't die in vain and that they are still remembered and celebrated by people from far and near.

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