The first female converts were reportedly baptised in the late 1880s, and they included Malyamu Mukasa, Doti, Sara Nakima (may have been related to Mwanga), Mubulire Fanny, Princess Clara Nalumansi, Princess Rebecca Magali, Ketula and Rachel Sebulira. We see no women though on the lists of Uganda Martyrs, save for the occasional mention of Clara Nalumansi. Most female Christians, at the time, are referred to as “women” and remain nameless. Were they of weaker faith? Or was their Christian teaching different from their male counterparts?
One account says that the church council on May 13th 1892 discussed the need for work among women because “it had become impossible for the men to handle women’s issues in the absence of female missionaries.” In “A Study of Discipleship in Mark 10:35-52: A Model for Leadership Development of Clergy in the Church of Uganda (Anglican)” author Nyengenye Rebecca Ajambo quotes from Louis Pirouet’s Black Evangelists: The Spread of Christianity in Uganda 1891-1914: “We discuss the advisability of appointing female elders for the better instruction of women…there are some three or four eminently qualified to give scripture instruction, and in the absence of women missionaries, it is impossible for us to do what should be done for women…I feel confident that the church cannot be firm unless the women are taught to be good Christian wives and mothers, and this can be scarcely done until we have lady missionaries to teach them.”
There are three ways a woman could survive death for their Christian beliefs, in 1880s, despite being a faithful Gospel-spreading servant of God:
1. Have a baby (by your uterus, of course).
The first group of Christians to be captured, tortured and killed for their faith was killed on 31st January 1885 at Busega Mpiima-erebera. This group included Makko Kakumba, Noah Sserwanda and Yusuf Lugalama. There are reports of one woman, Sarah Nakima (some call her Sarah Nalwanga) being one of this group. She was captured with these young pages, marched with them to the slaughter place. However, she was not killed. She was exonerated because she had a baby and the only punishment she received was watching the deaths of her fellow Christians.
Sarah was baptized by Rev R P Ashe O’Flaherty in 1883 and after baptism, got married to Firipo Mukasa in holy matrimony. Firipo died later of small pox leaving Sarah with a baby boy.
2. Be a wife
Many of the Uganda Martyrs had wives. Given the strength of their faith, one can rightly assume that this faith extended to other members of their families: their life partners and offspring. The only people marched to execution for their faith were the men of the house. One such wife, widowed on 3rd June 1886, was Mubulire Fanny.
Mubulire converted to Christianity and got baptised in 1883. In that same year, she married Fred Kizza in holy matrimony. Fred Kizza was burned to death at Namugongo, alongside 21 other (male) Christians by royal order.
3. Above all, be a woman
A woman was actually killed, for her faith but she is not often recognised as one of the people who died. Princess Clara Nalumansi, a sister of King Mwanga, was burned to death in May 1889 by her Muslim brother Kabaka Kalema who ruled for less than a year after Mwanga.
Princess Nalumansi converted to Christianity and was baptised during the time the Christians were being persecuted. She burned all her lubaale things, got married in church and is the one that warned missionaries Mackay, R PAshe and O’ Flaherty about Kabaka Mwanga’s plot to kill them. She advised them to placate him before his anger raged on them (maybe that is how she survived execution by Mwanga’s orders.)
Prayer for the Martyrs:
Martyrs of Uganda, pray for the faith where it is danger and for Christians who must suffer because of their faith. Give them the same courage, zeal, and joy you showed. And help those of us who live in places where Christianity is accepted to remain aware of the persecution in other parts of the world. Amen