THE HEROISM OF A FEW BLACK BOYS MAKES UGANDA AFRICA'S MOST CHRISTIAN CORNER
Black Martyrs. By the Rev. P. Thoonen. (Sheed and Ward. 12s. bd.).
Reviewed by ER. HERBERT KELDANY cj OME years ago I met in Rome a missionary priest from East Africa who told me that he was collecting material for a book on the first Christians of Uganda which their numerous descendants could treasure as a popular martyrology.
For a time I watched him carefully sifting the evidence, much of which lay unexplored in the records of non-Catholic missionary societies; later I learnt that he had eompleted his task but that he was missing as a result of the invaaion of the Lowlands last year. It was therefore with not a little interest that I opened Fr. Thoonen's book. Black Martyrs will certainly he a great success in Uganda, where every family among the many who claim kinship with the martyrs will want to own a copy, but for others all over the world it will provide a fascinating addition to the all too scanty literature which gives a " close-up " picture of mis
sionary "work. Because the story is little more than half-a-cemury old it enables the reader to trace the hand of Providence in a section of the extraordinary growth of the Church in the recent past.
raaliE modern history of Uganda, as of many parts of Africa, begins with the coming of missionaries. True, the explorers, Speke and Grant, were the first to discover this comparatively civilised kingdom on the banks of the great lake which we call after Queen Victoria, as early as 1862. But it was not until Stanley, who had become famous for his relief of Livingstone, sent a famous letter to the Daily Telegraph in 1$75 that any white men thought of settling there. Here are a few extracts from the letter ;— " What a harvest is ripe for the sickle of civilisation! Oh, Muf some pious, practical missionary would come here ! Not a mere teacher, but a practical Christian tutor, who can teach people to heroine Christians. cure
their diseases, construct dwellings. . Such a one, ii he ran he found, would become the saviour of Africa.
" He must be tied to no church or sect, but profess God and His Son, the moral law. and live a blameless Christian, inspired by liberal principles. charity to all men. and devout faith in Heaven. He must belong to no nation in particular, but to the entire white race.
" The People on the shores of the Nyanza rail upon you."
THIS almost perfect epitome of missionary A instructions roused a generous lesponse in England. By 1887 the first envoys of the Church Missionary Society had reached Uganda. They were barely established, however, before they received news of the arrival of Catholie missionaries from France. These were the White Fathers founded by Cardinal Lavigerie for the conversion of Aft ica, The particular band ol priests had so little a desire to queer the Protestant pitch that, hut for the loss of a letter, they would have proceeded by a totally different route that might have delayed their coming indefiniteln. Naturally enough they were not welcomed by MacKay, the leading Protestant, who was already faced with a cross-fire in his efforts to get a hearing with the King.
The traditional religion was monotheistic, but the Mohammedan Arabs, who controlled the trade, were spreading their faith, too. Now there would be four faiths competing for the soul of Uganda. Nevertheless, for political reasons, the King gave some en
couragement to the White Fathers. They were French and his one concern was to preserve his feudal kingdom against the inroads of imperialists, a series of whom, including General Gordon, had threatened his peace of mind, so quite early on he suggested that he would like to put Uganda under the protection of the French Government; later he sent a mission to England instead.
THE simple and orderly life at Mutesa's court which was the scene of this tangle of competing voices forms a colourful background to the description of the future heroes, most of whom formed part of his household. The result is a carefully documented picture which is likely to prove definite at least in the English language. One leading character suffers in the process. Pere Lourdel does not stand out as clearly as he might. But his loss is the gain of Mapera'e spiritual children, which is doubtless as he would like it. In their struggles, victories, and martyrdoms three grown men stand out as rounded characters: Joseph Mukasa, the King's major-domo and protomartyr, Charles Lwanga, the chief page; and Andrew Kaggwa the soldier. Not a little of their fortitude is ascribed to the sound moral training received in the royal courtyard long before the martyr's palm was in sight. They had transferred their loyalty to Jesus as deliberately as the Sebastians of Rome.
Of the remainder of the twenty-two martyrs who were beatified in 1920 not so much can be made, for the simple reason that they were for the most part young pages of whom little is recorded save that they endured a painful death by slow burning at Namugongo in 1886. Most of them suffered for standing up to the vicious solicitations of the successor of Mwanga. That fitful and doubtless exasperated king. Wiese. was persuaded by his ministers and the Arabs to exterminate the Christians despite the fact that they were his Most trusted servants. But the immediate cause of their execution was moral and not political, so Catholics and Protestants perished together and in some cases only with great care can they be distinguished, but all .are in the eyes of God (rue martyrs.
THE subsequent events enable its to follow the designs of God. " The blood of martyrs is the seed of faith," wrote Tema
Han. Whatever the case elsewhere this was certainly so in Uganda, for so far from intimidating would-be converts the deaths
at once produced a crop of catechumens. Their numbers increased so that the traditionalists were able to foment a war between them that resulted in the taking over of the capital by Lord Lugard in 1890. To-day Uganda is the most Christian part of Africa. Although there were scarcely a. couple of hundred baptised at the time 'of thc martyrs, to-day more than half the population of Uganda is Christian. Out of 900,000, nearly 300,000 arc Catholic: some 250,000 are Protestant, and 70.000 Mohammedans. The Protectorate is not only the most Christian, but also the most progressive and independent corner of Africa. It was therefore most fitting that when the Pope came to choose the first African Bishop of modern times in 1939 he elected Bishop Joseph Kiwanuka., a kinsman of two martyrs, to undertake the case of this most densely Catholic part of Africa. The fil Mass offered by his Lordship was in the great cathedral at Rubaga on the very site of Mutesa's enclosure where the black marlyrs, to whom it is dedicated, were condemned to death 'rather more than fifty years ago. A new era in the Christian story of Africa has begun. Geo Gratias.