Kizito was aged fourteen or fifteen when he died, the youngest of the Catholic martyrs of Uganda. No baptismal name of his has been recorded, since he was baptized in haste by Saint Charles Lwanga during the night of May 25, 1886, before being sentenced to death for his faith by King Mwanga the following day. Kizito’s biological father was Lukomera of the Lung-fish (Mamba) Clan and his mother was Wangabira of the Civet Cat (Fumbe) Clan. Because of a blood-pact between the Lung-fish and Leopard Clans, and the assistance given by a member of the Lung-fish clan to Kiggwe of the Leopard clan, Kiggwe’s son Nyika adopted Kizito. Nyika had been Kangawo or county chief of Bulemezi and is mentioned by the explorer John Hanning Speke on his visit to Buganda in 1862. Speke calls him “Congow.”
However, in 1874, only a few years after Kizito’s birth, Nyika lost the royal favour and was demoted to the petty chiefdom of Kajongolo. It was about this time that Nyika decided to adopt one of Lukomera’s sons, and was entrusted with Kizito. King Mutesa I restored Nyika to favour and his son Mwanga, on his accession to the throne in 1884, appointed him Guardian of the Royal Umbilical Cord. This was a post second in importance only to that of the Chancellor (Katikiro), for according to Ganda traditional belief, the umbilical cord was a person’s double and was the object of much ritual. Kizito was made a page in the king’s private apartments. He was a handsome boy, though small for his age, with a spirited and lively character.
Nyika was well disposed towards Christianity and members of his family were among the first Ugandans to be baptized by the Catholic missionaries. Kizito, also, became an eager and fervent catechumen. After the martyrdom of Joseph Mukasa, he was more and more aware of the danger in which he was placed and constantly importuned the missionaries for baptism. On one occasion he stayed the night at the mission, refusing to leave until his baptism date had been set. Another time, the missionary, Siméon Lourdel, took the child in his arms and bundled him out of a ground floor window, in order to get rid of him. The missionaries felt that he was too young, and not yet well enough instructed, for baptism. At length, Lourdel promised to baptize him in a month’s time. Before that month was over, he had received both baptism and martyrdom.
Kizito was employed as the king’s errand boy. On the morning of the fateful day May 25, 1886, he was sent to collect canoes for Mwanga to go hippopotamus hunting. He was also regularly sent to drive cattle to the butchers, who slaughtered them for the royal table. Being young and good looking, Kizito was an object of the king’s homosexual lust, but he was mature enough to understand the evil that threatened him. Strengthened by the counsels of Charles Lwanga, he perilously resisted the king’s unwelcome advances. The murder of Denis Ssebuggwawo, his fellow page in the royal apartments, and the castration of Honorat Nyonyintono, the majordomo, had unnerved the small Kizito. Charles Lwanga reassured him on the evening of May 25: “If we have to die for Jesus, we shall die together hand in hand.” Together with four other catechumens, Kizito was baptized by Charles Lwanga that night in the audience hall of Munyonyo.
Next day, in the court of the audience hall, the king sentenced them all to death by burning at Namugongo. The pages and royal servants were roped together in two groups of the taller and smaller boys. Lourdel, waiting outside in vain for an audience with the king, saw them depart. He noted that little Kizito was laughing at their odd situation, looking as happy as if he were at play with his friends. Having reached Namugongo, the young martyrs had a week of waiting. Although they were bound or shackled with ropes, iron rings and slave yokes, they spent the time praying and singing. The Catholics recited morning and evening prayers, grace before and after meals, the Angelus and the rosary. Their executioners were amazed at the calmness, resignation and joy of their charges.
On June 3, 1886, at Namugongo, the thirty-one young men and boys, Kizito among them, were tied with fibre thongs and then wrapped in matting. These human faggots were then placed on the pyre. As the flames rose, their voices could be heard praying and encouraging one another. Kizito’s last words were “Goodbye friends, we are on our way.” Kizito was among the twenty-two Catholic martyrs of Uganda, beatified by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. They were canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964.
Aylward Shorter M.Afr.
J. F. Faupel, African Holocaust (Nairobi, St. Paul’s Publications Africa, 1984 ).
J. P. Thoonen, Black Martyrs (London: Sheed and Ward, 1941).
This article, submitted in 2003, was researched and written by Dr. Aylward Shorter M.Afr., Emeritus Principal of Tangaza College Nairobi, Catholic University of Eastern Africa.
Encyclopaedia Britannica (complete article): Martyrs of Uganda