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Clara Nalumansi, the first recorded woman martyr

By Vision Reporter

Added 29th May 2009 03:00 AM

The story of the Uganda martyrs is often a story about men. After all, the 22 canonised by the church are all men. Meet Clara Nalumansi the unlikely martyr. Her story as told in the Bradt guide on Uganda, paints one very unusual woman – for her time at

The story of the Uganda martyrs is often a story about men. After all, the 22 canonised by the church are all men. Meet Clara Nalumansi the unlikely martyr. Her story as told in the Bradt guide on Uganda, paints one very unusual woman – for her time at

By Lydia Namubiru

The story of the Uganda martyrs is often a story about men. After all, the 22 canonised by the church are all men. Meet Clara Nalumansi the unlikely martyr. Her story as told in the Bradt guide on Uganda, paints one very unusual woman – for her time at least.

First, she converted to Islam. Then she changed her mind and crossed to the Roman Catholic Church in 1886. She was not behaving in anyway unusual for the time except for this one complication – she was Kabaka Mwanga’s sister. Her brother, the king, loathed converts with venom. His kingdom was being torn apart by the pressures the new religious loyalties of his subject and he was intolerant to rebels or any divergent views for that matter. By converting to the foreign religion, Nalumansi was setting off on a collision course with the king.

She decided to do it with quite a bang. First, she sent shockwaves across the kingdom by getting married. At the time, Buganda princesses were forbidden from marrying, having sex or bearing children. As a Christian, Nalumansi saw it her right and so tie the knot she did with one of Mwanga’s former pages.

As if to undo this transgression, Nalumansi was appointed caretaker of the tomb of Kabaka Jjunju. This position would have required her to camp at the tomb alone and fill the rest of her life with the rituals and chores of taking care of the tomb. Once again, Nalumansi shocked the kingdom. First, she took along her new husband and they camped near the tomb. Then, she collected all the fetishes in the previous caretaker’s house and burnt them!

She was not done. Later, she unearthed her long carefully kept umbilical cord, tore it to pieces and discarded it. That was before she had an elephant tusk that stood at one of Buganda’s sacred shrines removed.

By mid 1888, some Baganda had had enough. In August that year, Nalumansi was shot dead in her own house by unknown persons. Naturally, Kabaka Mwanga is suspected to have had quite a hand in this assassination but even if he did not, obviously Nalumansi was killed for her Christian practices and beliefs.

Clara Nalumansi, the first recorded woman martyr

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