A History of Christianity in Uganda

Topics: Christianity, Buganda, Protestantism Pages: 34 (11554 words) Published: October 2, 2013
A History of Christianity in Uganda

Kevin Ward

Buganda and Christianity

Buganda in the 19th Century [1]

Christianity came late to Uganda compared with many other parts of Africa. Missionaries first arrived at the court of Kabaka Muteesa in 1877, almost a century after the missionary impetus from Europe had begun. And yet within 25 years Uganda had become one of the most successful mission fields in the whole of Africa. What were the causes of this phenomenal success?

Any discussion of Christianity in Uganda--the creation of colonialism at the end of the 19th Century--must begin with Buganda--the ancient independent kingdom on the northern shores of the lake which the Baganda call Nalubaale (the home of the balubaale gods) and which the British christened "Victoria." Over the centuries Buganda had evolved a complex system of government under a Kabaka (king), a system unusual for its high degree of centralization and internal cohesiveness. Another feature of Kiganda society, of importance in explaining the eventual success of Christianity, was its remarkable adaptability and receptivity to change.

In 1856 Kabaka Muteesa inherited a kingdom which was already the strongest in the region. During his long reign of 28 years he consolidated and enhanced that power. A major part of Muteesa's strategy as rubber was to open up Buganda to the outside world. Swahili and Arab traders from Zanzibar were encouraged to trade their cotton cloth, guns and luxury items for ivory and slaves. But outside influences did not stop at trade; Islam was soon exerting a profound religious and cultural influence on Buganda. By the time Christianity arrived, the impact of Islam had already been felt for a generation.

The Impact of Islam [2]

In the 19th Century two "world" religions--Islam and Christianity--were both making significant advances in Africa. Often they were in serious competition; and this indeed was the case in Buganda. But this should not disguise the fact that both Islam and Christianity were in many ways complementary. Both were called "dini" in contradistinction to the traditional African religious heritage. Both offered a "worldview," a universal explanation of life with all its opportunities and problems. Such systems seemed increasingly relevant to societies, like Buganda, which were being drawn into a larger world. In this sense, Buganda, Islam, despite its rivalry, prepared the way for Christianity in a number of ways. In fact, Christianity arrived al strategic time--when Islam had awakened among Baganda certain needs and aspirations, but before Islam had become 50 entrenched in society that Christianity failed to find a foothold. Islam had, for example, created a thirst for literacy, especially among the young pages (bagalagala) at court. Christianity was able to build on this interest, and with its printing presses and distribution of cheap books in the vernacular or Swahili, was able to satisfy that interest to a much greater extent than Islam was able to do.

But Islam had prepared the way in other ways. The idea of a holy book, of a holy day, of a God above all gods who was interested in the affairs of this life and in the moral life of the individual, the expectation of the resurrection of the body and of a judgment after death--these were concepts pioneered by Islam which received further emphasis from the Christian missionaries.

But how far did the Baganda already acknowledge such a supreme Gad? Certainly neither Islam nor Christianity needed to import a foreign name in order to proclaim their God. The Baganda already knew of Katonda, the Creator. But the status of this Katonda has been the subject of controversy within the religious historiography of Buganda. Was Katonda just one, very insignificant lubaale? Or had he always been regarded as superior to the balubaale, high above Mukasa and Kibuuka and Muwanga, but remote from the life of the nation and of the individual, and...
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