The historical deaths that rocked Buganda Kingdom


Group portrait made at Ham Mukasa’s house in Nasuti. Without Ham Mukasa and with governor Andrew Cohen

BY G.H.K VIA UGANDANS AT HEART forum

I grew up hearing a lot about the great Baganda chiefs including this late Oweekitiibwa Ham Mukasa. His death was a real shocker to the entire Buganda Kingdom. He was a person associated with many things including the building of King’s College Buddo and the donation of huge expanses of land on which many leading institutions in Mukono are constructed. His death, before we heard it on the then Uganda Broadcasting Service, had just been brought to our notice by the Ssaza Chief ( County chief ) of Mawokota County ( Mpigi district) where at that time my late dad was the Deputy Ssaza Chief, and I was a primary school kid. So whenever the Ssaza chief returned from his safari he would stop at our place and give a brief to dad.It was on that similar occasion that we all heard him say in Luganda : Kitalo nnyo mwattu, Omukulu Ham Mukasa afudde!

Then the two chiefs together with their spouses made arrangements to attend the funeral at Namirembe Cathedral. We the children stayed behind.On their return they told us many things about what they qualified as a very triumphant funeral that assembled thousands of people and hundreds of vehicles. Africans, europeans, and Asians attended the event. And it was indeed a very historic funeral. The aggrieved Kingdom which had just celebrated Kabaka Muteesa II’s very much triumphant welcome from exile and his glorious visit to all Buganda’s counties just a couple of months earlier, continued to land in a spate of further episodes of grief with the deaths of other eminent personalities almost all in the same period ( 1956 – 1957). Buganda was very much saddened with the death of the Kabaka’s mum, Lady Irene Drussila Namaganda who passed away in a London hospital where she had been sent for treatment. Her body was brought back for burial in the compound of Namirembe Cathedral. As soon as it arrived at Entebbe it was taken to the Cathedral for the official funeral service which was attended by the Kabaka, the Governor, and other prominent personalities including religious leaders such as Bishop J. Kiwanuka (then Bishop of Masaka). It was public holiday in Buganda Kingdom but there was no classical wake that invoves an all night watch with lamentations due to the fact that the chief mourner was naturally supposed to be the Kabaka, but whom tradition bars from mourning. So things went on almost as rapidly as possible but in very deep sorrow judging by the overall reaction in the Kingdom and at the Cathedral where countless thousands assembled. the entire neighbourhood acted as a parking lot for the estimated 900 vehicles that transported mourners from all over Buganda.

“Canon Apolo, a great Native Missionary & Pigmee Elders”
Card published by East African Standard, Nairobi. Photograph by Dr. A.T. Schofield. 1930s?


Several hours after the sealed coffin had been lowered in the deep grave whose construction was still in motion some Baganda officials, eager to ascertain that the body in the coffin was that of Lady Irene Namaganda took to the formal but private opening of the coffin. And they shed away their doubts when they gazed at the body of the great Lady who was well-embalmed and well-dressed in a silk dress with the hands perfectly in white gloves. And there arose a murmur of delight for proposals to thank the British Government for this honesty!

More or less in the very same period another great lady passed away in a convent in the USA. This was the great Reverend Mother Kevin, popularly known in the entire East African region as Maama Kevina. She was a very much beloved nun who founded the leading institutions at Nkokonjeru, Nsube,Naggalama, and Nsambya Hospital and the very prestigious Mt St Mary’s College Namagunga! She also founded two religious congregations which
are very active in the region. She built a leprosy centre and a school for the blind. She died at 82 in an American convent where she had retired. She was first buried there before she was subsequently re-buried in her native Ireland. On learning the news of her death which spread like forest fire in Africa plans were made to exhume her body and bring it to Uganda for funeral at Nkokonjeru. One of the initiators of this idea was the then Katikkiro of Buganda
Mr Michael Kintu who at the time of Mother Kevin in Nkokonjeru had once been the ggombolola chief ( sub-county chief ) of the area. My late mum who was at that time a student at Nkokonjeru / Nsube told us that the first time she saw Mr Michael Kintu was when he came as ggombolola chief to visit the place. It seems Kintu was impressed by Mother Kevin’s work and personality which inspired many in the area. When the idea went through thanks to
the many contributions made, the nun’s body was exhumed in Ireland and airlifted to Entebbe. Hundreds of people had pitched camp at the airport. There were tears and crying for dep sorrow as the coffin was moved from the plane and put on an ambulance. Over 100 cars lined in procession to follow the ambulance to Nsambya cathedral where a requiem mass was held in presence of the then Protectorate Governor of Uganda and other dignitaries.

From Nsambya another procession of vehicles, three miles long, accompanied the body to Nkokonjeru Convent where thousands of people had gathered, just as they had gathered all along the route from Mukono to Nkokonjeru! The body spent the night in the Sisters’ chapel. Many OGs of the place, including my mum, held an all-night watch in the chapel. The following day, after another Requiem Mass was the official burial in the convent’s cemetery.
Tens of thousands of people from all over East Africa turned up for the great send off whose impact created a special memorable image in many minds.

In and around Nkokonjeru this nun was usually addressed as a Ssebo ( Sir ) and not as a Nnyabo ( Madam ) ! This type of address to ladies is reserved only to princesses, the Kabaka’s queen ( Nabagereka ), and the Kabaka’s mum ( the Nnamasole ). The local population had indeed elevated Mother Kevin to great heights in appreciation of her contribution to their welfare and prosperity!

Death created another shocker in the demise of a great Buganda Minister of education, Hon Mr Kassim Male, the only Moslem Minister at Mmengo at that time. The whole Kingdom regretted this Buganda statesman who was trriumphantly buried by countless thousands of people. Mr Kassim Male was later to be replaced by young politician Abubaker Mayanja who had just finished his studies at Cambridge. This appointment was a great consolation to the Kingdom as well as especially to the Moslems whom Abubaker Mayanja represented so well in Mmengo.

Death continued to take its toll and Buganda continued with the mourning. This time it was the famous Omutaka Andreya Kyemwa (82) who had been a very notable chief in the Kingdom where he was county chief on many occasions, a Lukiiko member representing Mawokota County, an adviser to the Kabaka, and finally a Regent of Buganda Kingdom appointed by Muteesa towards the end of his exile in London.Kyemwa was also a pious Catholic
who was knighted with the Papal Order of St Gregory the Great! His death was a loss both to the Kingdom and to the Catholic Church.He was a family friend and we were very proud of him! He died at Lubaga Hospital one Monday morning and his body was brought home late in the afternoon. Thousands of mourners assembled there for the two days that preceded the funeral. The day Kyemwa was buried was decreed by the Kabaka as a public day of mourning. All offices in the then Buganda government were closed. Other crowds of mourners, again in their thousands, flocked to his village to attend the burial. Vehicles rolled in from every corner of the land. Dignitaries who included Bishop Kiwanuka, the Katikkiro of Buganda and many Buganda Ministers and very many chiefs and eminet personalities were very visibly present. And of course many members of the clergy including numerous priests of the White Fathers Society to which one of his sons and heir belonged. Omutaka Kyemwa who had the honour to host the Kabaka in his home when he came to visit Mawokota county after his return from exile ( 1955 ), was mourned everywhere in Buganda. And his death was a big blow to Mawokota county where he was once a notable county chief and where he retired as a respected figure of the region.

Now Kyemwa dead and buried, death stubbornly robbed the Kingdom of the person who had been a leading active mourner at Kyemwa’s home. This was the famous Hon Mr Rafaeli Kasule, the very first Speaker of the Buganda Lukiiko, who succumbed to a strong high blood pressure at Mulago Hospital where he had been driven in agony. Rafaeli Kasule was also a native of Mawokota County and his home was near Mitala Maria township. But on his death he was buried at Ggoli village near Ggoli Catholic Parish to which he had donated a lot of land. His burial took place on a Sunday and very many people turned up. Vehicles filled the vast entire parish compounds. From his Mitala Maria ( Buwama ) home to Ggoli the late’s body was accompanied by a very long procession of cars. There was a short service in the Church before the coffin was carried by notable personalities of the Engeye clan ( his clan). The distance from the church to the burial ground was about half a kilometer. Thousands of people including Katikkiro Michael Kintu and all Mmengo Ministers, Lukiiko members, Members of the Legco, and all kinds of chiefs followed the coffin. And there was a lot of emotional scenes when the coffin was lowered in the grave. And, on behalf of the members of the Engeye clan, Rev Père Karoli Lutwama, heir to the late Omutaka Andreya Kyemwa, paid a very touching tribute to the memory of Oweekitiibwa Rafaeli Kasule.So triumphantly was indeed Buganda Lukiiko’s first Speaker buried!

Another great departure that shocked so much the whole of Buganda was that of a very heroic Lukiiko member from Masaka, Mr Ssendikwanawa who was one of the founder pillars of DP in Masaka and one of the richest persons in Buganda. He was a coffee magnate marked for his colourful generosity.My parents attended his funeral in Kabwoko township. On their return back home they described the funeral as having been a real triumph with an attendance numbering countless thousands of people and an unusually large number of cars, lorries, and buses.

Sometime later, a great Buganda chief living in Mubende Town passed away. That was the famous Mukulu Ssenkaatuuka Kiyimba who had been a notable county chief in many places in Buganda. Ssenkaatuuka had lived Kabaka Mwanga’s days and was one of those who narrowly escaped Christian martyrdom. However Ssenkaatuuka had later on to undergo castration under Mwanga’s orders and he lived this dehumanization till death at 85. He had built a near palatial bungalow near Mubende city and he was buried in that same house. His funeral was a real glorious ceremony presided over by two bishops, Archbishop J.L. Cabana of Lubaga, and Bishop Joseph Kiwanuka of Masaka. He had willed a lot of land to the Church for special projects among which was the famous Ssenkaatuuka Fund to raise sponsorship for the education of the poor!

Another death which had to be felt as a real shock was that of Mrs Mulyanti, a pragmatic lady very well known in many circles. Thousands of people including my parents attended her funeral. News of her death was also brought to the attention of my father by the Ssaza Chief who was returning from his mission in Kampala. All chiefs at that time knew very well Mwami Mulyanti who had one time been a dynamic Chief of Kyaddondo county ( the Kaggo ).
And very many chiefs from all over Buganda were at the funeral.

Forumists recalling this 1956 / 1957 period can add more names on the list of the eminent personalities Buganda lost in that period! A very sad milestone in Buganda’s history because it marked a period that cost buganda of some of her very heroic individuals.

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