Uganda Martyrs' Shrine, Namugongo
CHARLES LWANGA
Uganda Martyrs' Shrine, Namugongo/Charles Lwanga

Charles goes to King’s palace
How Charles Lwanga became a Christian
Lwanga is nicknamed Lugaaju

Charles argues with Rev. Ashe on fasting
King Mwanga convinces Charles to leave his religion
Lwanga rebukes King Mwanga
King Mwanga warns Lwanga on Sunday services
Charles Lwanga succeeds Balikuddembe
Lwanga gets enemies and suffers brutal death
Charles and others are sentenced to death by fire
Charles finally breathes his last

Charles goes to king’s palace
On the ascession of Mwanga, Charles Lwanga went to the capital where he entered the Kabaka's service. It says much for the person¬ality of this young man that he was at once given a position of authority in command of the pages who served in the court of the great audience hall, and immediately won the confidence and affection of his charges. His physical prowess at the wrestling con¬tests, so popular at Court, made him something of a hero to his younger charges, but they also, as well as his equals and superiors, recognized in him qualities of leadership, gentleness and nobility of character.
To Joseph Mukasa, his immediate superior, Lwanga's arrival at Court was quite literally a godsend, filling more than adequately the gap left in the Christian ranks by the departure of Jean-Marie Muzeeyi. More and more did Joseph come to rely upon Lwanga in the instruction and guidance of the pages and in the increasingly difficult task of shielding them from the temptations that beset them at Mwanga's court. He also appointed Lwanga one of the overseers of the task, entrusted to him by the Kabaka, of excavating the small lake at the foot of Rubaga Hill, known as the Kabaka's Lake. This lake seems to have been something of an obsession with the young Kabaka because four years later he was to force a number of chiefs and senior officials themselves to take an active part in the filthy and menial labour of enlarging it, and so infuriated them that none remained loyal when he was deposed.
Lwanga succeeds Mukasa
Did the priests give Lwanga the baptismal name of Charles-after Charles Cardinal Lavigerie, as Lourdel says-because they saw in him a similar quality of leadership? Certainly, this young man of twenty-five, animated by a new life on the night of his baptism, seized the banner that had fallen from the hand of his martyred friend Joseph, and took over the leadership of the young Christian pages, sustaining their faith and virtue by word and example and, within a few months, leading them on the way to martyrdom.

How Charles Lwanga became a Christian
Charles Lwanga had been brought up to become a priest to god Mukasa at Bubembe Island in Lake Nalubaale (Lake Victoria).
According to Kiganda culture, anybody to become a priest to god Mukasa had to be a virgin. When Lwanga learnt that his great grandfather Ssemaganda had failed to become a priest to god Mukasa simply because he had been married, the child made up his mind to become a priest to god Mukasa and never to fail like his great grandfather Ssemaganda. That idea became stronger and stronger as Lwanga grew up.
Anything against his virtue of chastity made the boy unhappy and furious. People and even his age-mates who came to know about it were always careful not to annoy or trouble him.
While Lwanga was still enjoying that state of life, catholic missionaries arrived into Uganda. He very carefully observed the behaviour of the white men and found out that the Catholic Missionaries and those they taught such as Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe and John Mary Kiwanuka Muzeeyi were strictly keeping the virtue of chastity almost like him. That is why Lwanga decided to become a Catholic and gave up the idea of becoming a priest to god Mukasa. It was Joseph Mukasa who converted him to Catholicism, after teaching him the religion and convincing him into abandoning tribal gods. Later, Lwanga became a very powerful instrument of Catholicism and a successor to Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe as the leader of the Christians right to their 'Calvary'

Lwanga is nicknamed Lugaaju
In many cases in our societies, some people have to work hard only when somebody in charge sees them and tend to relax when the overseer is away. The same applied to Lwanga. When he was away, of course for a good reason, some of his workers relaxed. One of the lazy workers used to climb a tree to watch out for Lwanga's return. And on seeing him from a distance he would shout "LUGAAJU" meaning, "LWANGA IS COMING," as a signal to his fellow workers. The lazy ones would all resume work seriously. Lwanga had a dark brown complexion and they used to compare him to a brown cow in Lunyankole called gaaju. Thus "LUGAAJU", became a nickname of Lwanga.

From; “Martyrs are our light” by Br. Tarcis Nsobya

Charles argues with Rev. Ashe on fasting
During the Lent of 1884 when the Catholic Missionaries were still in exile in Tanganyika (Tanzania), an argument between Rev. Ashe and Lwanga, the head of the pages in the King's palace took place.
One day when Lwanga was repairing his gun, a piece of metal badly pierced his hand. As the Catholic missionaries were absent, he rushed to the Protestant missionaries who were his friends for assistance.
Rev. Ashe willingly assisted Lwanga and gave him proper treatment that soon cured the big wound. On a certain Sunday during the Lent of 1884, Lwanga took some gifts to Rev. Ashe in appreciation for what the missionary had done to heal the dangerous wound he had. This was in line with the Kiganda custom of showing gratitude for the help given.
Rev. Ashe was pleased with the gifts given to him by Lwanga. He thus used this occasion to try to convert Lwanga to Protestantism. But, alas! Rev. Ashe used wrong approach and failed to estimate the degree of Lwanga's religious knowledge and intelligence. He opened up an argument on fasting, rather absurdly and it ended up in a shameful and comic manner. It was as follow:

Ashe: It is said that you Catholics fast, is it true, Lwanga?

Lwanga: Yes, it is true.

Ashe: (in a mockery manner) Fasting existed in old days not now in modern times. It was during Kudiidi's times, as you Baganda say. Does it mean that today you will not eat, Lwanga?

Lwanga: Dear Rev. Ashe, I did not come for any argument concerning religious affairs, but as you want it, allow me to ask you a few simple questions dealing with that point.

Ashe: Yes, ask me.

Lwanga: You and I, what are we?

Ashe: We are Christians.

Lwanga: Who is a Christian?

Ashe: The follower of Christ.

Lwanga: What did Christ do?

Ashe: (after a pause and in a low voice) He fasted for 40 days and 40 nights.

Lwanga: If we are Christians, that is, the followers of Christ and Christ before starting his important mission of teaching fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, do you think that I, his follower, am wrong if I fast? What do you think of that?

Ashe: (Did not answer, but after pausing for some time, he changed to another topic.)

When Rev. Ashe informed his fellow missionaries how he had looked a fool before Lwanga in a religious argument on fasting, the story of Balikuddembe was resumed. From that time all the Protestant missionaries realised that it was not only Balikuddembe who was smart on religious matters. They concluded that other Catholics, even though they looked simple and poor, were not dull as they had taken them to be. From that time on no Protestant missionary dared to argue with any of the Catholics on religious affairs.

King Mwanga convinces Charles to leave his religion
It was not only the Protestants that hoped to wean this outstand¬ing young man from his allegiance to the Catholic Faith. Kabaka Mwanga, during this period, tried hard to persuade him to leave the white men and their religion alone, but Charles remained firm and, in spite of prohibitions and threats, managed from time to time to go to Mass and receive instruction at the mission.

Lwanga rebukes King Mwanga
Days after Mwanga had killed Joseph Balikuddembe, head of Christians, Kabaka addressing Charles Lwanga in a kind fatherly tone, said, 'My friend, it seems to me that during the past few days you all approach me with a cer¬tain fear. Do you think I wish to put you to death like Mukasa? If I had him killed, it was not because he prayed to God, but because he insulted me by opposing the order to put the Englishmen to death, and because he informed the white men of my plans. I know that you do not do that; you have, therefore, nothing to fear. I do not forbid you to practise religion; only pray here, and do not go again to the white men. Besides why do you go there at all? They make you no presents; you gain nothing by going to their place. If you should still want to visit them, you would give me to understand that you are betraying me, like Mukasa. In that case I should be forced to drive away the strangers, and you with them, in order to save my kingdom. Then they will treat you as slaves; pile work upon you; make you carry stones and handle the hoe; and you will then be sorry for hav¬ing disregarded my advice.'
Charles replied, 'You accuse the white men of wanting to take over your kingdom, and us of helping them to carry out that wicked design. Yet, the religion which they teach commands me to serve you loyally. Up to now you have looked on me as one of your most faithful subjects. Know, then, that I am still ready to lay down my life in your service.'
These noble words undoubtedly surprised the Kabaka, for he im¬mediately broke off the discussion. Possibly he also reflected on the contrast between this young Catholic and his immediate superior, the Muslim Bwami Kirungi, who had that very week compromised himself with the Princess Royal.

King Mwanga warns Lwanga on Sunday services
King Mwanga seriously ordered Lwanga and all the Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, never to go to the missions. If and whenever they wanted to pray particularly on Sundays, they had to pray inside the palace. But if they dared continue going to the white men (Bazungu), the king threatened to banish them out of the kingdom with the white men.
Lwanga politely replied saying: "Your Majesty, you think that the white men and their followers have an intention of overthrowing the Buganda Kingdom. This is not true, because the religion they teach obliges us to obey our superiors, to love them and to work for the good of our country. Ever since you called me, your faithful servant, and definitely I am. I am ready to lay down my life for you and for my kingdom. Since I joined your services I have never committed any offence against you, you can ascertain it yourself." The king stared at Lwanga in admiration and wonder at such faithfulness and he marched away stressing his earlier order trying to recall any mistake he had ever found in Lwanga's life, though, as a matter of fact, Lwanga had served for more than a year in the king's service as a chief page in the palace and was a common figure in the king's sight.

Charles Lwanga succeeds Balikuddembe
After the martyrdom of Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe, Charles Lwanga was unanimously elected successor to Balikuddembe as head of Christians, both Protestants and Catholics. Charles Lwanga, after taking over the responsibility of leading the Christians, gave up his life for the good of the others without discrimination. Being sure of the pending Christian persecution, Lwanga encouraged, guided, directed and often reminded both Protestants and Catholics to get prepared for the persecution and be ready to die for Christ. He was at the service of everybody, always defending all; ready to give up his life for the others.
As a matter of fact, if it were not for Lwanga's good leadership, devotion, sacrifice and struggle, some of the martyrs both Catholic and Protestant would probably not have opted for martyrdom
The Christian persecution broke out on Wednesday 26th May 1886. On the day the Christians were condemned to death, King Mwanga ordered the condemned Christians to sort out themselves and go to a certain spot which he pointed at. Without hesitation Charles Lwanga, holding Kizito by the hand, said: "What one knows to be true one would not deny." They moved to the indicated spot and all the Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, soon followed Lwanga.
In protecting and guarding his charges amidst these dangers and temptations, Charles Lwanga adopted the methods of his martyred friend. Resembling Joseph Mukasa in appearance, he resembled him still more closely in greatness of soul, chastity, obedience, self-control, kindness, prudence and courage. Even as a catechumen he had been an eager learner and teacher of others. Now he was untiring in his zeal to instruct his boys, and as many others as came to him. With¬out the advantage of the high standing at Court enjoyed by his predecessor, he managed to win the respect, admiration and affec¬tion of his charges, whom he instructed, advised and, as far as pos¬sible, shielded from bad company. On no account would he allow any boy of bad character to sleep in the audience hall, which served as a dormitory for himself and his helpers.

Lwanga gets enemies and suffers brutal death
The construction of the Kabaka's lake reveals Lwanga's ability in administration. The king had ordered every capable man in Mmengo palace and the neighbourhood without exception, to dig the lake under the command of Lwanga, a young man of about 23.
But Ssenkoole, a keeper of the king's sacred fire (Ggombolola) and an Assistant Chief Executioner, considered himself superior to Lwanga, and so refused to be commanded by him. Lwanga talked to Ssenkoole in a friendly way and advised him to obey the king's command. But Ssenkoole laughed off Lwanga scornfully a number of times whenever the young official commander tried to convince him to work.
Finally, Lwanga called a meeting of other administrators under him and presented Ssenkoole's case. Ssenkoole was summoned to the meeting and he pleaded guilty. He was ordered to work on the lake construction and to pay 2 calabashes of banana beer plus a goat as ransom which had to be enjoyed by the workers.

And because of that case, Ssenkoole bore a grudge against Lwanga for about 2 years, always trying to get a chance to retaliate. That is why by Thursday 3rd June 1886 when Lwanga was condemned to death because of his religion, Ssenkoole singled him out from the group, and decided to punish him severely in a slow fire at Namugongo Busaale, saying "Ono gwe nneeririddemu obuzza" (This one is of my own selection for torture). Ssenkoole ordered his executioners to burn him in a slow fire from feet to head so that he would feel much pain. Lwanga was praying for him and begging Ssenkoole to become a Christian.

Charles and others are sentenced to death by fire
After the death of Balikuddembe, the following months up to the days of holocaust were full of tension on the side of Christians. This, however, did not change any of the young Christians’ hearts.
To Charles, tension was a means of strengthening their faith. 'He experienced such great happiness on those days,' wrote Pere Lourdel, a few months later. 'Not having been able to assist at Mass on Easter Sunday, be¬cause it was feared that the Christians would be arrested at the mission, Charles said to me afterwards: "We have failed at Easter, but we shall make up for it on Ascension Day. On that feast we shall not fail to be there! How we shall celebrate it!", How truly he spoke! He died, a martyr, on Ascension Day.
On the day Mwanga’s frenzy reached its maximum because of the Christians’ refusal to renounce Christianity and to succumb to his vices he gave orders for all the pages to be assembled and brought before him. Charles Lwanga because he was next in rank to the Majordomo, he supervised the gathering of the pages from the private courts. When all had assembled, Charles said in a firm voice, “Let us go in”. Cries and taunts of derision from the hundreds of executioners who had gathered accompanied the pages as they matched into the king’s own courtyard. Charles led the way to the threshold of the house, where he prostrated before the Kabaka and gave the usual greeting, to which the Kabaka replied.
When all pages had greeted him, Kabaka asked if they were all around him. Being assured that all were around, Mwanga said, “Now, let everyone who follows the religion of the white men go over there. If anyone of that religion tries to hide himself amongst those that remain, he will be beheaded immediately. Those who are not Christians must remain near me.'
At once, Charles Lwanga stood up, saying as he did so, 'That of which a man is fully conscious he cannot disavow.' Then address¬ing himself to the Kabaka, he said, 'You, Sire, are always telling us that we must do our duty, and you know that we have never shirked it despite the threats of your enemies. Today then, once again, we take up the position you command.' Then, taking Kizito by the hand, and closely followed by the other Christian pages, he walked calmly to the spot indicated by the Kabaka. His face and the faces of his companions reflected the joy they felt at being called upon to confess their faith in this way.
Then Mwanga ordered the executioners to tie up all the Christians at once and take to Namugongo to be burnt.

Charles finally breathes his last
After the order to burn all Christian pages had been given, others of the captives were put in the stocks, or had their necks fastened in forked tree branches. Charles Lwanga was one of those put in the stocks for having said to Mukaajanga, 'We know very well that you are going to kill us. Why do you make us wait?'
James Miti one of the Christians who survived the holocaust gave more of Charles’ determination and trust in God.
“I saw Charles Lwanga come out, laden with cords that bound him to his companions.
Strength of purpose showed on the face of Charles. His eyes were slightly misted with tears, not because he feared death, but on account of the emotion which the bitter reproaches of Mwanga had aroused in him.'
From Munyonyo, the pages were led to their ‘Calvary’ (Namugongo) by a group of executioners who were all the time brandishing their spears and knives, beating drums and uttering their chants.
Already, because of the grudge he had had on Charles after the excavation of the Kabaka’s Lake, Miti said, “Senkoole had singled out Charles Lwanga, our gallant leader, declaring, 'You, I am keeping for myself, to sacrifice to Kibuuka, Mukasa and Nende. You will make a prime offering.'
In taking leave of the rest of us, Charles said, 'My friends, we shall before long meet again in Heaven. I stay here and go on ahead of you. Keep up your courage, and persevere to the end.'
In choosing his own personal victim, Senkoole was following the traditional procedure of a ritual execution, which prohibited the presence of the Guardian of the Sacred Fuse at the actual scene of a large execution. He was, instead, expected to select one victim and burn him apart from the others. The rite of tapping each of the con¬demned with the Sacred Fuse was designed to render the ghosts of the victims powerless to take their revenge upon the spirit of the Kabaka. According to Miti, the words uttered by Senkoole, when tapping each victim, were, 'Your own disobedience is responsible for your death, and not the Kabaka'. Before proceeding on their way with the main body of prisoners, the executioners probably lit, from the Sacred Fuse, the torches with which they were to ignite the main pyre.
After they and their victims had passed on, Senkoole took Charles Lwanga to a spot about fifty yards from the road (where the Catholic Martyrs stands), not far from the tree known as Ndaazabazadde, where a smaller pyre had been pre¬pared. Senkoole's assistants, among whom was Sebabi, to whom we are indebted for the details of this martyrdom, then tied up their victim so that his legs were held firmly together in the extended posi¬tion and his arms fastened tightly to his sides. Abdul Aziz, who saw the martyr in his agony, says that he was wrapped, like the other martyrs, in a section of reed-fencing, constructed very much like a picket fence but with the pales closer together. He also says that Charles had a slave-yoke attached to his neck. When the executioners began to strap him down, Charles Lwanga said to them, 'Will you please untie me and allow me to arrange the pyre myself?' His request was granted, and the martyr arranged his own death-bed of firewood. Then lying down, he was tied and strapped as before. Senkoole lit a torch of grass from the Sacred Fuse and set fire to the wood under the martyr's feet. Slowly the flames burnt his feet and legs to charred bones, leaving the rest of his body unharmed. Senkoole, as he went about his task of con¬trolling the fire so that it should not spread too quickly, said to Charles, 'Ah, let me punish you properly, and let us see whether your God will come and deliver you from the fire.' Charles, bearing his agony without a murmur, replied, 'You poor foolish man! You do not understand what you are saying. You are burning me, but it is as if you were pouring water over my body. I am dying for God's religion. But be warned in time, or God whom you insult will one day plunge you into real fire.' After this exchange, Charles lay quietly, praying and waiting for the moment when his soul should be set free from his tortured body. The fire spread slowly. Just before it finally stopped the beating of his heart, Charles Lwanga cried out in a loud voice, 'Katonda! (My God)', and so died.
Charles Lwanga died on the morning of Ascension Thursday, the feast to which he had been looking forward with joyous anticipation ever since his failure to celebrate Easter in a fitting manner. 'How we shall celebrate that feast!' he had said to Pere Lourdel.

At the death of Charles Lwanga Senkole said, 'We have not killed you, but Nende and Kibuka and all the gods whom you have despised, they are the cause of your death',

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