Mukasa’s parentage and conversion to Catholicism
Mukasa Kiriwawanvu, the son of Lumanyika of the Sheep (Ndiga) clan, who held, successively, a number of sub¬-chieftainships in various parts of the kingdom. It seems probable that Lumanyika also began his career as a page at Court, and he must in his youth have been a notable athlete, since he managed to defeat Kabaka Muteesa, no mean opponent, in a friendly wrestling bout. In recognition of his prowess, the Kabaka gave him a Musoga slave-girl called Malokuvawo, who was the first of his wives and bore him five children. The fourth child was the martyr Mukasa Kiriwawanvu.
The youth was born, between 1861 and 1866, at Nakasawula in Kyaggwe County at a time when his father was assistant to the chief, Serumbe. Taking after his father, he grew up tall and powerful, long of limb and dark coloured, and was presented at Court by Kawulukisi, a village chief in Ssingo County, to whom Lumanyika was at the time attached as an assistant.
He was one of the future martyrs attached to the court of the audience hall. One of Kiriwawanvu’s tasks at Court was to help in the serving of food to the Kabaka’s guests, of whom there were often large num¬bers. Only the most important personages were invited to dine with the Kabaka himself, but hospitality was liberal and food was pro¬vided for all those who we’re waiting for an audience. The young man must often have served Lourdel and the other missionaries when they came to visit the Kabaka and accepted his hospitality. The meal on these occasions consisted of the golden-yellow matooke (plantains wrapped in the leaves of the plant and steamed), beef or goat meat, salt and plantain wine.
Mukasa Kiriwawanvu, the only one of the twenty-two beatified martyrs to die without the baptism of water, was a fervent catechu¬men but when at the height of the crisis Charles Lwanga baptized the other catechumens, he was already in prison for striking his fellow-page Gyaviira. He was between twenty and twenty-five years of age when he died at Namugongo.
Mukasa Kiriwawanvu is imprisoned after fighting a fellow ‘Martyr’
Musoke Gyaviira was a small boy of about 15 and Mukasa Kiriwawanvu was between 20 and 25. Both of them were pages working in the King’s palace in the outer enclosure mainly connected with the audience hall.
Kiriwawanvu, as his name indicates, was extraordinarily tall and big: Because of his size, Mukasa was nicknamed “KIRIWAWANVU”. He was somehow comfortable with this nickname. But in addition, his fellow pages had given him other nicknames that were unpleasant to him, namely “Magulumpaali” (Long-¬legged), “Muwanvaaduma” (Rumbling giant), and “Njiijiiri’ was as a result of his type of work. Mukasa was in charge of serving food both to his fellow pages and to those who used to come to the audience hall for various meetings. One day the meal delayed and his fellow pages called out to him “We are hungry, please give us food.” “It is not yet ready,” he replied. “But we are hungry,” they went on. In a joking manner Mukasa continued “K’ebalume akajiijiiri” (let the hunger punish you). From that time he was nicknamed “Njiijiiri.”
But one day when Gyaviira and Mukasa were chopping fire-wood, young Gyaviira who wanted to enjoy the fun called him “Magulumpaali”, (long-legged), one of the nicknames Mukasa disliked. Kiriwawanvu was so annoyed that he hit Musoke with a splinter that scratched his belly and some little blood oozed out. Musoke Gyaviira rushed to the king who was not far away and reported Kiriwawanvu’s action to him. The king did not give Mukasa a chance to defend himself, but ordered him to be taken to Bumbaale prison as a punishment. Bumbaale was King Mwanga’s prison near Munyonyo palace where he had moved after Mmengo palace had gone ablaze. This prison was under the command of one prominent executioner, SSEBATTA, one of Mukaajanga’s assistants.
When Gyaviira saw his comrade being taken to prison, he was terrified and regretted being the cause of Mukasa’s imprisonment. He forgave him with his whole heart and went back to the king begging for forgiveness and the release of Kiriwawanvu. But the king did not reverse his sentence. At the same time Mukasa Kiriwawanvu wholeheartedly forgave Gyaviira and regretted what he had done to the young boy.
God also accepted the repentance of his repentant servants, namely Gyaviira and Mukasa Kiriwawanvu, and gave them the grace and chance of dying together as martyrs. Otherwise if they had not forgiven each other they would probably have missed martyrdom. They were both burnt to death for Christ in the Namugongo furnace on Thursday noon 3rd June 1886.
On the fateful afternoon of 26th May 1886, the day King Mwanga condemned Christians, one catechumen, Mukasa Kiriwawanvu was in prison for striking his fellow page and future martyr Gyaviira Musoke.
In the course of a quarrel with Gyavira, Mukasa had struck the younger boy on the abdomen with a piece of wood and drawn blood. Probably more frightened than hurt, Gyavira had run in tears to the Kabaka, who roundly abused the culprit for striking a boy smaller than himself, and sent him to the prison of Mukaajanga, the chief executioner.
When Mukaajanga was leading condemned Christians to their last places, he arrived at his encampment and formally announced to Kiriwawanvu the sentence of death passed upon him, saying:
‘Are you not the Mukasa who practises the religion of God? The Kabaka has condemned you to death. I must take you away at once.’
‘I am grateful to the Kabaka for condemning me thus,’ replied the young man. ‘I am anxious to die for my religion.’
Mis¬givings about Mukasa Kiriwawanvu may however have remained in the minds of some of his companions, because he had but recently become a regular catechumen and had been absent in prison when Charles Lwanga baptized the other catechumen pages. One witness suggests that a practical difficulty prevented him from being bap¬tized during the journey to Namugongo, or during the week’s imprisonment there; namely, that even if he was fortunate enough to have had a Catholic companion in his prison, the latter would have been unable to give the sacrament with his hands confined in the stocks. There is certainly no record of this catechumen having received the sacrament.
Mukasa was moved in stocks with fellow Christians and burnt alive in the Namugongo furnace on 3rd June 1886.