The Ugandan Martyrs: Charles Lwangwa and Companions

There have been many reports recently about the strong anti-gay sentiment and legislative measures emerging in Uganda, such as this report today from  Box Turtle Bulletin: Ugandan Parliament Takes Up Anti-Gay Bill, or Homosexuals Face Death Penalty in New Vision (Uganda), forwarded by email from Other Sheep.  What I have not seen in any reports, is any reference to the story of the Ugandan Martyrs (commemorated in the Church calendar on June 3rd each year, as the feast of Charles Lwangwa and companions), which makes an ironic contrast to the current persecution.

Some years ago, I did a great deal of reading on African history, including one book on the colonial exploration and development of East Africa. From this book (the title of which I no longer recall) I remember very clearly, the story of these martyrs – although you will not find the full account in the mainly sanitised abbreviated stories at the top of a Google search.

This is the story as I read and remember it.

Uganda_Martyrs

Soon after the “discovery” of the source of the Nile by Burton and Speke, European missionaries arrived in the Kingdom of Buganda, now incorporated into the modern state of Buganda.  There they quickly became entangled in numerous political cross-currents   of the day, some which annoyed the Bugandan king.  To make matters worse, they also interfered in the Royal household, which included as substantial entourage of young page boys.  Discovering that the King expected these pages to do double duty as a harem for his sexual pleasure, they “taught” the boys that this was morally wrong, and encouraged them to resist the king’s advances, which they did.

Although Mwanga had shown some love for the missionaries as a young prince, his attitude changed when he became king. The once lively and enthusiastic prince in support of the missionaries turned into an intolerant and vicious persecutor of Christians and all foreigners. He felt, with good cause, that the powers and authority his predecessors had enjoyed were dwindling, and had disintegrated under the influence of the missionaries and their converts. The converts had diverted their loyalty to some other authority and their allegiance at all costs could no longer be counted on. For Mwanga, the ultimate humiliation was the insolence he received from the pages when they ( the least subservient of servants) resisted his homosexual advances.

-(The Christian Martyrs of Uganda, from the home page of teh modern kingdom of Buganda)


Enraged, the king had the boys executed by burning. Thus the boys achieved martyrdom by resisting sexual advances.  The legislation now being advanced entrenches the sexual standards of the colonial missionaries, ignoring the pre-colonial history of Buganda and its king.

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