The life and Saintly journey of St. Joseph Balikuddembe, first Martyr of Uganda.
Mukasa’s birth and presentation to Kabaka
In the old days, several Kabakas had built their capitals in Mawookota, and all the clans had family estates there. On one of those estates lived, in the eighteen-fifties, a family of the Giant-Rat (Kayozi) Clan. Its head, the guardian of its property, was Mazinga, one of whose eight wives, a Munyoro woman named Kajwayo, bore him a son. Later, following a practice not uncommon in a polygamous society, she had relations with Mazinga's cousin, and bore a second son, the future martyr Joseph Mukasa. Mazinga was displeased and his cousin was obliged to flee to Ggomba, where he died.
The child, born about 1860, belonged by common law to Mazinga, to whom Kajwayo bore three further children, two girls and a boy named Bamukiinye. In due course he received his personal name, after one of his ancestors, and later, with special ceremonial, his clan name Mukasa, chosen from the dozen or so names current in the clan.
The little Mukasa, at first carried around on his mother's back as she went about her household and garden tasks, would later crawl or stagger in the dust around his mother's hut, naked but for a string of beads round his hips and bangles of bells round his ankles. When he grew older he would be given a goat-skin or a piece of bark-cloth to wear.
A common practice amongst the Baganda was to send even very young children away from home to be brought up by an uncle or other relative. A boyhood spent in the household of a more influential relative provided better opportunities for advancement and also usually better discipline. When Mukasa was about six he entered the household of a man named Kabazzi, not apparently a close relative but a man with whom Mukasa's legal father had once been involved in a lawsuit. James Miti, the son of Kabazzi, repudiates the suggestion that Mukasa was handed over by way of compensation. He says that Mukasa first came to them on a visit, to play with children his own age and, on expressing the wish to stay, was accepted into the family by Kabazzi who had grown fond of the little boy and treated him as one of his own children. Mukasa grew up healthy, bright and intelligent, tall for his age, very handsome, and noted for his skill and prowess at sports and games.
In those days, the surest road to success in life was service in the royal household and, at the age of about fourteen, Mukasa was presented to Kabaka Muteesa, to become one of his many pages. This must have taken place about the year 1874, when the Court was sited at Nabulagala (or Kasubi), a site now occupied by the royal tombs. Mukasa served for eleven years in court before he was beheaded and burnt on 15th November 1885.
After being presented to the Kabaka, the young Mukasa was handed over to the Majordomo, at that time a man named Kaddu, who assigned him to the group of pages under his own immediate command. These looked after the court of the great audience hall, the Ivory Court, the Kabaka's own quarters and also the private part of the palace enclosure. The rest of the four to five hundred pages were attached to the outer public courts and were under the command of the courtier-in-chief, head of all the royal servants.
Once accepted as a page, Mukasa received the cane necklet worn by all the Kabaka's servants and his wardrobe was augmented by a piece of white cloth, to be worn toga-wise over the right shoulder. An older page was appointed to take care of him and instruct him in his duties, which were to clean and sweep the building to which he was assigned and its surrounding courtyard, to run errands and make himself generally useful. He slept on the back verandah of the audience hall or in the building itself and, in the evenings, took part in the wrestling and other contests so popular at Muteesa's court.
Mukasa gave complete satisfaction to the Majordomo, who soon began to employ him in the Kabaka's private apartments, where extra neat and intelligent work was expected. He was also very popular with his fellow pages, though his greatest friend was Andrew Kaggwa, one of the royal drummers, a youth about five years his senior.
Scarcely had Mukasa and Kaggwa begun to receive instruction in the Catholic religion when their faith was put to a severe test. On 1 June 1880, detailed instructions about the reception of converts reached the missionaries from Bishop Lavigerie. All those under instruction were to be divided into three classes, postulants, catechumens and faithful: all converts must spend two years in the first class, and two in the second, before being admitted to Baptism which, in circumstances when any misgivings about the perseverance of the convert were entertained, must be deferred until the candidate was dying, or in danger of death. It was also to be made clear to those seeking instruction that they must be prepared to lay down their lives rather than deny their faith. The two friends were therefore called upon, at the very outset of their conversion, to make their choice; either to go away sad, like the young man in the Gospel, or to begin a long and weary following of Christ. They chose to follow.
Both the new catechumens received promotion at this time. Joseph Mukasa, now about twenty, was also chosen for a position of trust and importance. He became the Kabaka's personal attendant, a post that, now Muteesa was frequently ailing, called for tact and endurance. The young man had to be with or near his royal master day and night, ready to take messages or to lift and rearrange his patient's tall frame more comfortably on his couch. For this task Mukasa was well fitted. Tall and powerfully built, he showed exquisite gentleness, refinement of character, and a readiness to help in any way he could.
How Joseph Mukasa got the name Balikuddembe
BALIKUDDEMBE (The Catholics are now at liberty to practice their Religion)
Since the departure of the Catholic Missionaries from Buganda up to the time Mukasa saved Kabaka Muteesa from the danger of the big snake, the "Bamasia" (the Catholics) were not allowed to practice their religion freely. But because of that incidence the king said to Joseph Mukasa "Mugasa": "Due to what you have done to save the kingdom from the possible catastrophe, you are at liberty to teach and to practice your religion as much as you want and the Bamasia, (as they were called) or any person is at liberty to practice it (BALI KU DDEMBE)". "From now onwards you can go to my treasury and take whatever you want from there as long as you inform me, because you are my saviour, the saviour of my household and the saviour of this kingdom."
From that time Joseph Mukasa Mugasa added on the name BALIKUDDEMBE (they are at liberty). The Bamasia (the Catholics) took up the name BA-BALIKUDDEMBE (Followers of Balikuddembe, the hero and the saviour).
From that time, the Catholic believers who had begun to be shaky in their faith became strong and firm and many people, the Baganda in particular, and some others from other religion joined the religion of BALIKUDDEMBE the hero and the saviour of all. This trend boosted the number of the BA-BALIKUDDEMBE (Catholics) and it shot from last to first position in comparison with the three existing religions at the time, namely: Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam.
Balikuddembe took that chance to beg for leave of at least a month and it was granted him. He used that occasion to study the needs mainly of his people (the Catholics), and to collect some property necessary for them from the treasury in accordance with the permission from his master. He went round all the centres of his church, gave refresher courses, taught religion, solved various problems, and distributed property he had obtained according to his people's needs and availability of the property to share. He left practically nothing for himself. Balikuddembe had an exceptional talent of memory. He could hardly forget a person he had met once including his or her personal problems. He used to solve his people's problems satisfactorily.
Balikuddembe is elected head of the Catholic Church in Buganda
Because of the continuous threats from the Kabaka and Arabs to assassinate the Catholic Missionaries, the Frenchmen decided to abandon Buganda for a while. On 8 November 1882 the Missionaries were settled at a new station called Kamoga.
The departure from Buganda of the priests was a heavy blow to the Catholic catechumens and to the neophytes, who now numbered some seventeen, apart from those who had been baptized in danger of death. The Fathers had told them to persevere in their holy dispositions and to become apostles of their still pagan brethren.
There were four main centres of Catholic teaching; the royal palace itself with its adjoining buildings, where Joseph Mukasa became the chief shepherd and teacher, ably assisted by the catechumen Jean-Marie Muzeeyi and later by Charles Lwanga; the outer courts of the royal enclosure and the environs of the capital, where Andrew Kaggwa and the catechumen Matthew Kisuule carried on the apostolate; Mityana, the headquarters of the county chief of Ssingo, well served by the two neophytes, Matthias Kalemba Mulumba, and Luke Baanabaakintu; and finally Kitanda in Bulemeezi County, a centre about which little is known except that Charles Lwanga attached himself to it.
In the royal enclosure itself there were already about a hundred and fifty adherents of the Catholic mission, in various stages of instruction. Many of these were attached to the court of the great audience hall and to the private courts beyond it. These looked to Joseph Mukasa for guidance and instruction. As the Kabaka's trusted and favourite personal attendant, he was looked upon as a person of importance, destined for high office, and also he possessed the character and other qualities of a natural leader of men. All who knew him in those days speak of his sterling character and of the kindness which made him esteemed, and even loved, by all, Christians, Muslims and pagans alike. He displayed the charm and courtesy for which the Court of Muteesa was famous but, in his case, these were not merely a mask covering an innate pride and cruelty. He never lost his temper or struck any of the pages under his command and, although ready to perform the lowliest offices in and about the royal dwelling with the greatest humility, did not lose thereby any of the respect or loyalty of his charges, who loved to work under him. He in turn cared for their physical, spiritual and moral welfare, doing his utmost to shield them from danger and temptation, and gathering them together in small groups, so as not to arouse suspicion, for prayer and instruction in the truths of the Catholic faith. In this task, Joseph received the whole-hearted and valuable assistance of his companion in personal attendance on the Kabaka, Jean-Marie Muzeeyi.
Within the royal enclosure, the little parish that looked to Joseph Mukasa for guidance and instruction after the departure of the missionaries was restricted to the court of the great audience hall and to those in the vicinity of the royal residence. During the illness of the Kabaka, Joseph could never move far from the side of his royal master. However, the outer courts and the environs of the capital were well cared for by Andrew Kaggwa and Matthew Kisule.
After the Missionaries had left the country, Christians, already knowing Mukasa’s
ability, anonymously elected him head of the Church, a post he held until the coming
back of the Missionaries on the request of King Mwanga, Muteesa’s heir.
During this time, under Mukasa’s leadership, the Church multiplied in numbers,
instead of the 250 catechumens and 20 Christians whom the Missionaries had
left behind they found more than 500 under instruction. Moreover 130 already
dead, had received baptism from the first Christians, something that amazed
Missionaries on their return to Buganda in July 1885.
Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe challenges Mackay on the Pope's supremacy and infallibility
Though he had not learnt classical philosophy and theology; Balikuddembe challenged the learned Protestants philosophers and theologians concerning certain Dogmas.
One day, during the absence of the Catholic Missionaries, Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe visited the Protestant missionaries at Nateete for they remained his friends even though he had joined the Catholic religion. Balikuddembe met with Mackay who wanted to use that chance to convert Balikuddembe to Protestantism. He had thought that by converting the leader of the Catholics, the rest of his subjects would automatically follow. But alas, Mackay started at a wrong note when he attacked the supremacy and infallibility of the Pope. As a result, the learned missionary shamefully and miserably lost the argument to the illiterate African Balikuddembe as follows:
Mackay: I hear that you Catholics believe the Pope to be your supreme ruler and that he is infallible. Is that true?
Balikuddembe: It’s true
Mackay: But, poor Balikuddembe, you have never seen the Pope and definitely no Muganda will ever see the Pope in Buganda. The Pope will never come to Buganda as we have done. I do not see why you depend on a master you will never see in your life. That is foolish.
Balikuddembe: We believe in the supremacy of the Pope because the Pope is the successor of St. Peter whom our Lord Jesus Christ chose to lead the Church in his name on earth.
We also believe in the infallibility of the Pope when he speaks to the whole church as the successor of St. Peter, for in this case the Pope is guided by God Himself who speaks through him.
I hear right now a choir in the Church singing, is there no leader?
Mackay: There is, and there must be one.
Balikuddembe: In your community is there no Superior?
Mackay: There is.
Balikuddembe: Who is in charge of Buganda?
Mackay: (He paused for a while wanting not to answer. But when he remembered that Balikuddembe was the King's Majordomo, he answered in a low voice :) "Of course it is the king and no other."
Balikuddembe: Sir, don't you think that in the whole kingdom of Buganda there are some people who have never seen the Kabaka (king), who will never see him the whole of their lives and who are where the king will never go?
Mackay: (very shamefully and in a low voice): There are.
Balikuddembe: Suppose there is no king, how would Buganda be?
Mackay: (very much disappointed and sad): It would be chaotic
Balikuddembe: Sir, as you have proved it yourself that the Catholics in Buganda, though we have not yet seen the Pope and do not expect to see him, still we believe that his authority is on every Catholic in about the same way as the King has power over each of his subjects in Buganda. It does not matter whether the catholic physically sees the Pope or not, it does not matter whether the Pope goes to that particular area or not.
Dear Mackay, we both understand that if the choir, like that I hear singing in the church, had no leader it could not function harmoniously. We also know that if any community as yours lacked a leader it could not be properly administered. Worse still if Buganda had no king it would be chaotic. It is therefore a fact that the Catholics whose number is by far greater than the people in Buganda and are everywhere all over the world, must have a top leader. That top leader is no other than the Pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth. If the Catholic Church had no leader it would be terribly chaotic. I think that you also see the importance of having a Pope as Head of the Catholic Church.
From that time, the Protestant Missionaries took Balikuddembe as an exceptional man whom they could not tamper with on matters of religion.
Balikuddembe baptises King Muteesa I
Many writers say that King Muteesa I died before being baptised. It is true that no priest succeeded in baptizing the king. Fr. Lourdel (Mapeera) failed to baptize him because King Muteesa I refused to practise monogamy (staying with only one wife). Some writers blame Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe for failing to baptize King Muteesa I though he had a lot of opportunities. Thus they concluded that Balikuddembe was timid and fearful.
But according to one writer, Br Tarcis Nsobya, a great researcher about the African Heroes (the Martyrs), Joseph Balikuddembe assisted by Jean Marie Muzeeyi managed to baptize the king.
He writes; “…. after a long and careful research, I was informed by my grandfather Joseph Kasolo who was Balikuddembe's attendant and staying in the same house with him, that Joseph Mukasa in the company of John Mary Muzeeyi managed to baptize King Muteesa at the point of his death. As a matter of fact, he baptized him on Sunday 19th October 1884 at about 11.00 a.m. (mu makola g'ebyemisana)
The baptism of king Muteesa I as narrated by Joseph Kasolo to Br. Tarcis. He writes in his book; Martyrs are our light:
"King Muteesa I died after being baptized in the religion of the Bamasia (Catholics) by Joseph Mukasa and John Mary Muzeeyi, but very secretly to avoid many possible problems. At that time I (Kasolo) was a pagan and my master Joseph was still persuading me to join his religion".
Kasolo continued: "Sometime before the king's death, his condition worsened. The Arabs gave some medicine to cure him. Some of the medicine had prescription that urged him to abstain from sex. He tried it but soon rejected it. However the time came when he was forced to abandon his wives totally. In October 1884, a few days before his death, his condition became terrible, the smell emanating from his room drove many away and the king remained with mainly two of his most faithful servants, namely Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe and John Mary Kiwanuka Muzeeyi to attend to him. The Katikkiro (Prime Minister) went to his villages, the princes and princesses would seldomly go to see him. They were driven away by the terrible stench. The people started saying "He has taken long to die, when will he die?" The king heard and understood all that, perhaps it may have been the reason why he asked for baptism from Balikuddembe, or it could have been his two faithful servants who convinced him of the urgency of it. This is not easy to ascertain but what I am sure of is that slightly before his death he was baptized by Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe."
"On Sunday 19th October 1884 at about 9.30 a.m. (between Kalasamayanzi and Katamyaboosi) Joseph Mukasa took out the laundry, leaving Muzeeyi to attend to the sick king. It is not certain whether it was the king who asked for baptism or Muzeeyi who suggested it. But one of the king's wives who was behind the curtain and was able to see through it witnessed the whole scene and gave the account later."
The wife said: "When Joseph Mukasa had taken the king's laundry out and Muzeeyi was left to attend to the sick king, the king spoke in a very low voice to Muzeeyi who immediately rushed out to Balikuddembe.
“Within a wink of an eye, they both returned to the sick, Balikuddembe holding a gourd containing some water. Joseph Balikuddembe poured some water over the king's forehead while uttering some words I could not understand. I thought that they were giving him medicine (as Muzeeyi was a traditional healer, but not a witch-doctor). Muzeeyi left Balikuddembe seated holding the king's head, hurried to hide the gourd where Joseph was washing and rushed to call the Queen sister and other princesses. They also hurried to the king who was in a hopeless condition. They were shocked and stayed there for some time but slowly most of them moved away one by one leaving just a few. Soon the king breathed his last peacefully while Joseph Balikuddembe still supported his head. It was about 11.00 a.m. (Makola ga byamisana). , The Katikkiro (Prime Minister) was still away on a visit to his villages."
King Muteesa I died at the age of 42 and had reigned for 28 years (1856-1884). He was buried in great honour, on Friday 24th October 1884 at Kasubi in his lodging house called Muzib’azaalampanga.
Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe pleads for Bishop Hannington’s life
"A friend in need is a friend indeed." A person can have no greater love than one who lays down his life for his friend. Such love was manifested by Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe, the leader of Christians and a proto-catholic martyr, when he bravely gave his life to save the life of a protestant missionary, Bishop Hannington. Pleading with King Mwanga II to spare Bishop Hannington's life, was one of the reasons why Balikuddembe was killed. Though Balikuddembe was certain that pleading for the sparing of the life of the Protestant Bishop tantamounted to losing his own, still he went on to do whatever possible to save the life of the missionary of a different religion.
In the meeting that condemned to death the protestant missionary Bishop who had come through the "back door" route to the King's palace, Balikuddembe was absent and had no prior knowledge of it. He had led some prominent and enthusiastic Catholics to Tanganyika (Tanzania) to congratulate their first Bishop of Nyanza Vicariate (Uganda and part of Northern Tanganyika) on being consecrated Bishop.
When Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe returned, he learnt of the death sentence meted out to the innocent Protestant Bishop Hannington for having come via the back of the King's palace i.e. Busoga. At that time King Mwanga II had just ordered and sent his executioners to Busoga for the execution of the decision which had previously been taken. Balikuddembe did his very best to have the king spare the life of Bishop Hannington but all in vain.
Finally, after some delaying tactics, the King said to Balikuddembe scornfully: "I allow you Balikuddembe to run and stop my executioners from killing that MUZUNGU (European). But I do not think that you will arrive before my dogs (executioners) devour their prey (kill the offender)." In fact even though Joseph Balikuddembe was a very fast runner, he could not make it; for it was the second day since the executioners had set out for Busoga to kill the missionary.
Perhaps, one would wonder why Bishop Hannington's case of coming to Buganda via Busoga was considered a serious threat. It had historical connotation. From the time of King Ndawula (about 1700-1710), the 20th king of Buganda in the lineage of King Kato Kintu onwards, the king's official residential house (TWEKOBE) had to face the west with its back facing the east (the side of Busoga). The East was considered by the Baganda as the king's back, and any foreigner who happened to come to the palace via the East (Busoga) was taken to be a very dangerous element to the king and to the whole of the Buganda Kingdom. This was interpreted and stressed by some of the prominent Buganda priests and priestesses, attached to the gods:
Mukasa, Kibuuka, Musisi, Kawumpuli and others who had already foretold that the greatest and most dangerous enemy to the king and the whole of Buganda come from the East via Busoga.
To prove this belief, when King Mwanga II was condemning his Majordomo Balikuddembe to death for teaching and practicing Christianity, he furiously added, "You Balikuddembe pleaded for that MUZUNGU (White Man) who came by the back route which was very dangerous, and even abused me when you said that my father had not killed any white man but I wanted to do it."
Joseph rebukes Mwanga over homosexuality
Joseph did all in his power to guide and protect his charges in these difficult circumstances.' He zealously instructed them in the faith, told them that they should always obey God rather than man, and urged them never, even though it cost them their lives, to give in to the evil demands of the Kabaka and his vicious companions. He even attempted, with considerable success, to spare them the importunities of their royal master. Whenever Mwanga sent for one of the younger and more handsome pages, under circumstances that appeared to him suspicious, he would send the lad scampering off to Andrew Kaggwa or to Matthew Kisuule for a catechism lesson and then report to the Kabaka that the lad was absent. At other times he would countermand orders, intercept messages or sidetrack those who brought them. Also, taking his life in his hands, he would attempt to persuade Mwanga to give up his evil ways.
'O my Master,' he would plead, 'I beg and implore you, do not act like that, because God detests uncleanness. Leave my Christians alone, and rather leave to the Muslims the vileness with which Satan inspires them.'
Mukasa is sentenced to death
When Balikuddembe pleaded for Mwanga not to kill Bishop Hannongton, telling him that even his father Muteesa would never have done such a thing the royal master perceived the request as an insult and started accusing his Majordomo day in day out of acting against his kingdom wishes. So, after the killing of the Anglican Bishop, J. F. Faupel in his book African Holocaust writes. “…if only the Englishmen had remained in ignorance, the killing of Hannington and his party could have been passed off as the result of an unfortunate and regrettable misunderstanding but, because they knew of the arrest of the Bishop almost as soon as he did and were thus able to make representations to him before the killing was accomplished…” “….Knowing that he (Mwanga) had been put in the wrong, he laid the blame, not on himself, but on those who had helped to reveal his actions in their true light.” “To a man of Mwanga's character, it was necessary to find a victim upon whom to vent his ill-humour, and the obvious one, Joseph Mukasa, was close at hand.
Mwanga had engaged himself in homosexuality, which vice Joseph Balikuddembe as a Christian constantly disapproved and had encouraged the Christian pages in their stubborn refusal to accede to their master’s shameful demands on them.
These refusals were already sufficiently humiliating to a monarch who expected from his subjects the blind, unquestioning and slavish obedience which rulers of Buganda had been accustomed to receive from time immemorial, and the taunts of his Muslim courtiers, that he was no longer a king when even young boys dared to 'insult' him by refusing certain of his demands, did nothing to sugar the pill or lessen his resentment against the Christians and, especially, against their acknowledged leader at Court. Even so, Mwanga, true to type, found it necessary to work himself up into a rage before he could take action against the man he knew, in his heart, to be a true and loyal friend: so, after brooding over his imaginary wrongs, he called Joseph to him and began to upbraid him.
It is said that the session lasted all night, the Kabaka, at one time heaping abuse on the head of his devoted servant, at another threatening to exterminate all Christians. What Joseph answered to the various accusations and threats is not known, but the outcome shows that he did not do what was expected of him, did not grovel to the Kabaka and admit that the latter could do no wrong.
When the ordeal was over and morning had come, Joseph Mukasa walked down to the Catholic mission, heard Pere Lourdel's Mass and received Communion from his hands. Leaving the church, the young chief was just telling a few friends that the Kabaka had been storming at him during the night, when a page, called Kafulusi, came up and told him that His Majesty wanted to see him at once.
Mwanga, meanwhile, having worked himself into a satisfactory state of fury and given himself the added grievance of a night without sleep, had summoned the Chancellor and some of the timeserving chiefs to obtain their approval and moral support in the new injustice he was about to perpetrate. James Miti gives the following account of the proceedings.
Having assembled the Chancellor and a number of chiefs, the Kabaka said to them:
Since I have been here, I have been eating in one pit with a venomous snake. My slave (Joseph Mukasa) has long since decided on a plan to kill me; he arranged with the white men that they should find a new road to Buganda; he for his part would dispose of me in a cowardly fashion. For, surely, that white man managed to get to Busoga because someone in Buganda lit up his way.
Thereupon, the chiefs, accepting their cue, exclaimed: 'Indeed, it was he that became their guide.' The chiefs were then dismissed and Tabawomuyombi, one of the executioners, was sent to call Joseph into the royal presence.
The martyr was on his knees praying when the summons came, and he at once rose and went to the Kabaka's house. On his arrival, Mwanga began to detail his grievances to the Chancellor who was also present:
This fellow has informed on me through Pere Lourdel, by betraying our plans to the white men. He has caused obstruction, and even insulted me by saying that it was wrong to kill the white men in Busoga and that my father, Muteesa, would never have done such a thing. He is also the man who attempted to poison me by asking Pere Lourdel to give me the medicine which almost killed me. I have often forbidden him to practise the white men's religion, but he does not listen. He even teaches that religion to my servants here at court, and has incited them against me. They no longer do a thing that I tell them.
The Chancellor eagerly followed his master’s lead.
This fellow, Mukasa, has not a grain of respect for me either. He has even taught that religion to my own children. From his attempt to poison you it is apparent that we have a sorcerer before us. Well then, since he wanted to kill you, let him precede you to the abode of death. Give him to me and I will rid you of him.
Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe is beheaded and burnt
After all the accusations had been made against this loyal and faithful servant, the Katikkiro (chancellor or prime minister) decided to have Balikuddembe put to death.
Outside the doorway, the executioners were waiting to do the Kabaka's bidding. Calling in Mukaajanga, their chief, the Chancellor said, 'Tie this fellow up at once!' The Kabaka signified his assent and then, keeping up the pretence that his life had been in danger, said to his Chancellor, 'You have saved me! Now there will no longer be two Kabakas at this Court.' Then, as the prisoner knelt before him with his hands tied behind his back, he added, 'This is the fellow who always wanted to teach me, and told me to put away my charms “I am, then, to die for my religion”, replied Joseph.
When Balikuddembe was tied up, the king mocked him, saying, 'This is the fellow who was always wanting to teach me, and told me to put away my charms.' Brave lad, Mukasa! Thou hast witnessed faithfully for thy Master here below. Enter into the joy of thy Lord.
Turning to the chief executioner, the Kabaka gave the order, “Go to the court-house at the entrance gate and fetch firewood to burn him”. The Chancellor, making no attempt to conceal his elation, added, “Do not let him live the night”. Then Joseph was led away by Tabawomuyombi, while Mukaajanga went to arrange about the firewood.
Meanwhile, unaware of what was afoot, Pere Lourdel arrived at the royal enclosure. On the way, he had heard that the Kabaka was well again, his eyes completely cured, and had been talking the whole night through. As he entered the main gate, a young page came up to him and said in a low voice, 'The other day you did not want to baptize me, yet I was right in saying that you would soon be driven out of the country'. The priest expressed surprise, and the youth continued, 'The Kabaka has been saying very bad things about you during the night. He pretends that you wanted to poison him and to place another prince on the throne, and has made up his mind to drive you away or even to put you to death'.
Continuing on his way, Lourdel read anxiety in the faces of the catechumens and neophytes. For the first time since his return to Buganda, he was not admitted at once to the royal presence, but told to wait until the Kabaka should send for him. The priest sat down to wait, very ill at ease. Then, from one of the inner courts, a young catechumen, with a look of terror on his face, rushed out to tell his fellow pages that their chief, Joseph Mukasa, had just been tied up and was being taken off to execution.
Overcome with grief, Pere Lourdel went home and told his fellow priest, Pere Giraud, what had happened. Both realized the seriousness of the situation, but could do nothing but put their trust in God and in our Blessed Lady, and commend themselves and their flock to their protection and care.
After leaving the royal presence, Mukaajanga told his assistant to remove the bonds from their prisoner. This honour, of walking unfettered to their place of execution, was accorded to chiefs; and Mukaajanga, the grim old taker of lives who liked the man he was to put to death, was determined to show no lack of respect for his victim. Joseph, when Tabawomuyombi was undoing the cords that bound him, said approvingly, 'That's right. I am going to die for my religion. You need not be afraid that I will attempt to escape.” Then he stepped resolutely forward, unfettered.
On the way, which did not lead through the court of Stores, where Lourdel was waiting, a number of pages, moved with compassion for their leader, attempted to join the little procession, but Mukaajanga drove them away, shouting, 'Go off! Do you want to make a king of him?” Two or three, however, persisted in following the little group, and later found themselves in trouble for doing so.
A walk of about half a mile down Mmengo Hill brought the party to the valley between Mmengo and Nakasero Hills through which runs the river Nakivubo, no more than a trickle except after heavy rain. Here there was a flimsy prison building and near it one of the recognized places of execution. This spot seems to have been chosen because the stacks of firewood, used to feed the Sacred Fire and kept near the main gate of the palace, made it possible to carry out the sentence without much delay.
Even so, old Mukaajanga did not hurry about his distasteful task.
He knew from experience that the Kabaka, especially in the case of old friends or pages, was liable to revoke or commute the sentences of death passed in anger, and he had often earned the gratitude of both Kabaka and victim by delaying an execution until the royal anger had had time to cool. On this occasion, although he had rightly assessed the fickleness of the Kabaka, he had underestimated the vindictiveness of the Chancellor. As he and his men were going about their task of building the pyre, in a leisurely fashion, a messenger was seen coming down the hill. If, at first, they thought that the expected reprieve had come, they were quickly disillusioned. To their dismay, they found that the Chancellor had sent the man to make sure that the execution had taken place or, according to another version, to order the executioner ’to bum the fellow at once before the Kabaka repented’.
Mukaajanga dared not incur the enmity of this powerful and unscrupulous man by disregarding so definite an order, but he could perform one act of mercy for his victim. His orders were to burn his prisoner to death. In fact, the sentence, 'Bamwokye' 'Let them roast him', was often carried out to the letter, as in the case of Charles Lwanga, the victim being roasted over a slow fire. Mukaajanga had Joseph brought to the place of execution and told him that he would have him beheaded before placing him on the fire.
The executioner's words recalled the martyr to earth and to consciousness of the terrible wrong about to be committed. They also brought back to his mind the thought of the Kabaka whom he had served so loyally and so well, his wayward friend whom he had tried to convert to better ways. One last effort would he make to appeal to Mwanga's better nature, and to show his loyalty: 'Friend', he said to Mukaajanga, 'tell Kabaka Mwanga from me that he has condemned me unjustly, but that I forgive him. However, let him repent, for, if he does not, I shall be his accuser before the judgment seat of God.' The old executioner answered, according to one report, 'The Kabaka will shelter behind me and we shall plead our cause together.' According to another witness, Mukaajanga said, 'I shall begin the defence of our cause as your opposing counsel'. The same witness goes on to point out that this actually happened, because the old man died before his master.
When all was ready, Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe was tied on a rough framework, under which fuel was heaped. Then Mukaajanga gave a signal to one of his men called Lukowe; the long curved knife flashed through the air, and the life-blood of the martyr soaked into the soil of the country he had loved, and served so faithfully. The pyre was lit with a torch from the Sacred Fire, and the martyr's remains were slowly burnt to ashes.
Balikuddembe died on 15th November 1885 at Nakivubo, now St. Balikuddembe Market, formerly known as Owino.
Mwanga pardons Mukasa
Mukaajanga and his men were still watching the fire, and feeding it with dried grass and wood, when a second messenger rushed down the hill with orders from the Kabaka not to burn Joseph, but to keep him prisoner. Mwanga had repented too late: even he had failed to realize how his ruthless Chancellor could hate.
In the evening, the chief executioner arrived to report the completion of his task, and to deliver to the Kabaka Joseph's last message. Mwanga pretended to laugh this off, but was in fact so deeply impressed and disturbed by it that he gave orders for another victim to be burnt on the same spot, and for his ashes to be thoroughly mixed with those of Joseph Mukasa. The mingling of the ashes, over which the spirits of the deceased were believed to hover, was sup¬posed so to mix up and confuse the spirits of the two victims that they would be unable to accuse him or take their revenge. 'How can he now plead against me?' said Mwanga.
Mukaajanga, chief executioner admires Mukasa
After burning Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe to ashes under the command of king Mwanga and his chancellor, Mukaajanga expressed his feelings to friends. “I was moved with compassion for that child." He said this because the good qualities of Joseph had pleased him immensely.'
What Missionaries had to say about Mukasa
The cause of his death, as the facts prove, were his inviolable attachment to the Catholic religion, his hatred of witchcraft, his disapproval of Mwanga’s adoption of homosexuality, and above all the reproaches he made to the king on the occasion of the death of Bishop Hannington.
The execution of Joseph Mukasa left the Protestant Missionaries (Mackay and his brethren) fairly indifferent, because Joseph was a Catholic and because a native instructed by the French missionaries was necessarily, especially in the eyes of Mackay, opposed to the English occupation.
A number of references to Joseph Mukasa made by the two English missionaries, Mackay and Ashe, quoted by various writers, show no animosity against the Catholic leader but rather admiration for his sterling qualities, tinged with some perfectly natural disappointment that he had gone over to the Catholic Faith. In spite of this, their accounts of Joseph's martyrdom are fair and their tributes to him generous. Ashe, for instance, wrote:
That same day news reached us that Balikuddembe, a young chief who learned to read at our mission, but who joined the French priests' pupils afterwards, had been seized, and that he was under sentence of death by fire.
That afternoon a whole troop of pages came down from Mwanga bringing 8,000 cowrie shells, as a part payment for some things which he had bought from us. One of the boys, Tito, drew me aside and told me that Balikuddembe was dead. This young hero had dared to tell the tyrant that he did unwisely to kill the white men. Mwanga immediately sent for the Katikkiro. 'See,' he said, 'this fellow wants to insult me,' and forthwith the cruel sentence was passed. The chief executioner was a friend of Balikuddembe and mercifully killed him with a sword before committing his body to the flames.
Mackay, named by Nicq as the principal offender, expresses himself even more warmly in his appreciation of the Catholic martyr. In his journal, reproduced in the Intelligencer of 1886, he wrote:
We had intended, some of us, to go to court to-day to teach....
Now we think it better to remain quiet until we hear how Mwanga's eyes turn out. Any evil happening to him will certainly be laid at our door, as they believe strongly in human power to bewitch.
A force of men passed by our gate this forenoon. We hear that they are Mujaasi's, and that they have been ordered to rob and burn alive the king's head page, Balikuddembe, also called Mukasa. The accusation seems to be that he informed on the king. This fine, tall lad has been a faithful servant of Mwanga, ever since he became king. Formerly he read with me a Gospel and the Acts, along with Mulumba, Mwana wa Kintu (Baanabakintu) and others. Afterwards the Roman Catholics got hold of all these, and since then he and Kaggwa have been leading men among the Romish converts. He has, however, continued friendly to us, and spoke well for us to the king last February when we were in deep trouble. May the Lord and Saviour, in whom he has learned to trust, be with the poor lad in this hour of horror and death and give him a joyous entrance into the happy land!”
One further testimony to Joseph Mukasa's character and courage may be quoted. It also comes from a Protestant source, from James Miti, the young page who had accompanied Joseph on the afternoon of 25 October 1885. Writing many years later, after his retirement from public service, when he was Kabazzi, Head of the Genet Clan, Miti says:
As to Joseph's character, he was a staunch Catholic convert, unambitious, little in his own eyes, obedient to his superiors, kind to his equals and indulgent to his inferiors. His charity was unbounded: He loved all for God's sake and tried to consider the interests of others at all times, even at his own expense, as we find in his endeavour to intercede for Bishop Hannington, whom he had never seen, and who did not belong to his own Faith. And thus, a martyr of charity, Joseph Batuuka Balikuddembe laid down his life in his endeavour to save that of an unknown (to him) European missionary.
Joseph Mukasa's claim to be counted among the noble company of Christian martyrs needs no arguing. No one, knowing the facts, can doubt that he died in defence of justice and of the sanctity of human life; in defence of the virtue of chastity; in defence of the Catholic Faith; and, immediately, because of the implacable hatred of Mukasa, the Chancellor, for Christianity and all that it represented.