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Nakiyanja-Namugongo wakes up

By Vision Reporter

Added 24th October 2015 09:00 PM

Like his predecessors, Pope Francis will pay a visit to the Anglican Martyrs Shrine at Nakiyanja-Namugongo on November 28, at 8:30am

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Archbishop Nkoyooyo shows the art depicting the road to martyrdom which will be central in the museum. Photos by Juliet Lukwago

Like his predecessors, Pope Francis will pay a visit to the Anglican Martyrs Shrine at Nakiyanja-Namugongo on November 28, at 8:30am

Like his predecessors, Pope Francis will pay a visit to the Anglican Martyrs Shrine at Nakiyanja-Namugongo on November 28, at 8:30am before he returns to the Catholic Martyrs Shrine to celebrate the jubilee year of the Uganda Martyrs. Juliet Lukwago profiles the place where most of the martyrs were burnt alive.

Nakiyanja is a few kilometres away from the Catholic Martyrs Shrine in Namugongo. It is the exact place where most of the martyrs were killed on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga.

Twenty-six young men, 3 Catholics and 13 Anglicans, were burnt together to death here on June 3, 1886 after they refused to renounce Christianity.

The Anglican community honours 25 martyrs according to the brochure of Uganda Martyrs by the Church of Uganda.

A total of 13 martyrs were killed at Namugongo (10 burnt and 3 clubbed to death) and the rest, including Bishop James Hunnington and Archbishop Janani Luwumu, were killed elsewhere.

But for long, the Anglican shrine has been overshadowed by the Catholic shrine. During the last Martyrs Day, on June 3, President Yoweri Museveni criticised the Anglican clergy over failure to popularise the Protestant martyrs.

The President, who was chief guest, said he initially thought there were only Catholic Martyrs and asked the Church of Uganda to emulate their Catholic counterparts.

“Church of Uganda suffers from the disease NRM suffers: Working and not talking. When you work and keep quiet, people think you do not work,” he said. “Mobilisation and promotion is something that you need to work on. I am sorry, but you do not bring it out very well,” he said.

However, the President was happy with the developments that have taken place at Nakiyanja. Museveni said this transformation from being local to national was laudable but challenged the leadership to look beyond.

“I want you to be international. Where I have been (Catholic shrine), it is more exciting and I used three languages because they made theirs international,” he said.


According to retired Archbishop of Church of Uganda, Livingstone Mpalanyi Nkoyooyo, this is what is happening right now.

Nkoyooyo says the land at Nakiyanja, covering 48 acres, was donated by Tefiro Kisosonkole the former Katikkiro of Buganda, in 1938.

Kisosonkole also built a small church at the place. The archbishop, who insisted on referring to the place as Namugongo, said he did not know where the name Nakiyanja came from.

According to local literature, Nakiyanja refers to the two wells at the place which are said to have been pools for washing bloody machetes after the executions.

Nkoyooyo says the place is called Namugongo. It is derived from the Luganda word Omugongo, which means the back.

“The 25th king of Buganda, Kabaka Kyabaggu, in 1760 apparently gazetted the area as an execution site, mostly for the notable personalities like princes, princesses, chiefs and pages whom he considered a threat to his throne,” he narrated.

“The convicts would be made to travel long distances to this place and many would get exhausted on the way. Whoever collapsed or resisted would be dragged on their backs (emigongo) all the way!

They would reach the place with terribly bruised and wounded backs showing bare bones. That is why the place was referred to as Namugongo,” he says.

The Anglican shrines under construction.

Prominent visitors

The place has hosted the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, who is head of the Anglican Communion. He made a pilgrimage in January 1984.

The place has also been visited by two popes so far– Pope Paul VI on Saturday, August 2, 1969 and Pope John Paul II on Sunday February 7, 1993.

Main building

Nkoyooyo says the martyrs site has seen big developments in recent times. What used to be the main building, housing the remains of the martyrs, has been expanded and two new structures attached to accommodate the newly planned functions.

The structure is being constructed in a traditional Kiganda way like a hut, with a large opening that enables visitors to see what is inside without entering.

The new middle section has an artistic impression of Mukajanga’s command centre sculpture.

Mukajanga was the chief executioner during the reign of Kabaka Muteesa I and Kabaka Mwanga II. |

Although Mukajjanga was responsible for the execution of martyrs, he died a baptised Christian who confessed salvation. He was baptised Daniel and was buried at Kakiri-Buyoga.

The place also hosts Ndazabazadde, the tree on which Mukajanga tied the pages before killing them (it has been preserved over time) and more sculptures depicting the burning of the martyrs.

The sculptures are made of a mixture of cement and clay, covered with iron which gives a final metallic look.

The only real item that was preserved from the 1886 martyrdom is Ndazabazadde, the dried tree where the martyrs were tortured from, beaten and their hands cut off.

The third section will be the Martyrs Chapel, whose altar is built at the exact spot where the remains (bones and ashes) were buried. In this chapel, there is a plaques that was donated by Pope Paul VI during his visit in 1969.

The museum

According to Nkoyooyo, the middle section of the main building is being expanded to become a museum.

The museum’s plan brochure says it will be a tower of three floors.

The ground floor will accommodate administration offices, washrooms, reception, cash office and an area initiating the visitors into the museum after.

The first floor will contain the art work for the road to the martyrdom and history that already exists.

The second floor will accommodate the library, resources centre and education facilities. The third floor will have stationery services.

Nkoyooyo says the planned Uganda Martyrs Museum project will provide unique and meaningful artefacts to reflect the rich religious, cultural, social and political history of the Anglican Church in Uganda.

“The museum is intended to make the place attractive and also to give honour to the brave Ugandans who sacrificed their lives for the Christian faith,” Nkoyooyo, who is also the chairman of museum project, said.

The Uganda Martyrs Museum website says the project will cost sh36b. It will be a profit-making venture to sustain itself, grow the project and contribute to the overall development of the church.

“So far, we have already used sh1.5b,” he says.

Pope Francis’ visit Nkoyooyo said by the time the Pope visits, only the main building floor will have been fixed but construction will continue after.

“Our target of completing this Uganda martyrs museum was two years. We started on May 20 2014, even before the news of the Pope’s visit was broken,” Nkoyooyo says.


Nkoyooyo says the future plan is to build staff houses in the neighbourhood and transform Namugongo Church of Uganda Primary School into a modern boarding primary school.

There is Uganda Martyrs’ Seminary, Namugongo in the premises.

The seminary was founded by Namirembe Diocese in memory of the martyrs and also to mark the centenary of Anglican Church in Uganda in 1977.

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