I woke up late this morning to the sound of a choir singing at the nearby church. Today, Ugandans celebrate Martyr’s Day, commemorating the 22 Catholic and 23 Anglican Buganda who were speared/beheaded/burned alive at Namugongo by Kabaka Mwanga II for their faith and their refusal to give it up. In honor of the national holiday, businesses are closed and many people have the day off work to celebrate the religious freedom that has now been established in this country.
A brief history lesson (from Wikipedia and some more reliable books/people):
Uganda earns its name from the Buganda kingdom, ruled by the King/Kabaka and covering much of central Uganda. (Actually, the colony’s name was meant to be “Buganda,” but the French seemed to have trouble pronouncing this and so the B was dropped and the Ŭ became a Ū.) Europeans like John Speke and Henry Stanley arrived in the 1850’s to explore “The Pearl of Africa,” and their search of great lakes and moon mountains led the Buganda to dub them “muzungu” from the Bantu word “whachizungu” or aimless wanderers. The explorers were followed by missionaries, both Anglican and Catholic fighting for souls, and these Christians were competing again with Arab traders who had been practicing Islam in East Africa for centuries. The missionairies found many rapt audiences, and today the vast majority of the Ugandan people practice Christianity. In the North which borders Sudan, Islam is more common and was the religion (although he was raised Catholic) of famed dictator Idi Amin. The Kabaka of Buganda (now more of a figure head than an actual political player) is a member of the Anglican Church, and actually even Mwanga II converted close to the end of his life, forging a political alliance with the British who had by then claimed Buganda as a protectorate.
Mass was offered on this feast day, and I was able to go to one of the English services offered just around the corner from our guest house. The church overflowed, and at least 3 other masses were offered the same day for the small population of Mbarara. On a tour later on Sunday, we also passed the Anglican church of All Saints, currently under construction, where a large mass of people were celebrating their own service outside under a tent. It is astounding to see the difference in religious practice here, where attendance is clearly much higher at church and participation involves singing and swaying and generous giving to church and charitable funds. As a Catholic I am excited to pray in this space and with these people, and as a student I am excited to learn more about the culture and practices of the community that has been so kind and welcoming.
For Martyrs’ Day, we technically have the day off, but since our summer is so short we spent most of the day preparing for the focus group discussions we will begin next week on obstetric fistula. The topic is a private one and may be difficult for some women, and especially some men, to discuss, so the planning is going to be very important. It is estimated that about 5% of women in rural areas (like Kashongi and Kitura) suffer fistula in Uganda, but this data is as unreliable as all numbers derived from rural populations where many people never see a government health center and instead give birth with traditional birth attendants and rely on community wisdom for healing and care. When a woman lives in such a remote area and experiences prolonged and obstructed labor due to her young age, a complicated pregnancy, or a narrow pelvic bone, she might not be able to reach a health center let alone a hospital capable of caesarean section in time to deliver a living baby and avoid a fistula and the resulting incontinence. It’s a terrible problem, one that is unthinkable in the US with transportation and health care infrastructures that make access to care, although still lacking in many ways, far better than what we have seen in our partner communities here in Kashongi.