A neglected tombstone along the Mumias-Musanda Road, a stone’s throw from the headquarters of the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) Mumias Diocese, marks the site where Anglican Bishop James Hannington’s remains were once interred before being exhumed and transported to Namirembe, Uganda for final burial.
Within seven years, Hannington’s remains were exhumed twice and buried three times.
Hannington arrived in Mombasa in January 1885 and travelled to Uganda, where he was assassinated on October 29, 1885.
The superior socio-political organisation of the Buganda Kingdom drew pioneer missionaries in the late nineteenth century.
Many white missionaries established bases in Uganda, where some, like Anglican Bishop Hannington, were assassinated on King Mwanga’s orders. Many black and white Christians were martyred in the Namugongo area, mostly by dismemberment and burning on the orders of the King.
For example, in January 1885, three Buganda Anglicans, Joseph Rugarama, Mark Kakumba, and Noah Serwanga, were dismembered and burned. Bishop James Hannington was speared to death on October 29, 1885, in Kyando village, Mayuge district, Uganda.
Thus, October 29 marked the 137th anniversary of the assassination of Bishop James Hannington, the first Bishop of the Anglican Church of the Diocese of Eastern Equatorial Africa.
Every year, the Mumias diocese of the Anglican Church holds a special mass, and the Church of England celebrates ‘Bishop Hannington’s Feast Day’ in England.
“Hannington was the first Anglican Bishop of Equatorial Africa,” Bishop Joseph Wandera, the third bishop of the ACK Mumias Diocese, explains. “Hannington was born in England in 1847. At the age of 37, he was consecrated and was very zealous about sharing the story of Jesus,” Wandera says.
“After landing in Mombasa’s Frere town, Hannington set out for the hinterland with the intention of spreading the gospel,” Wandera says, adding, “On his way to Uganda, he stopped briefly in Mumias, where King Nabongo Mumia welcomed him.”
Stay informed. Subscribe to our newsletter
“Aware of the long journey, Mumia assigned guides and porters to accompany Hannington to Uganda.”
He did, however, warn Hannington not to approach the kingdoms of Busoga and Buganda from the East because “any stranger who came from the East was regarded as an enemy” in both kingdoms.
Hannington ignored the warning and approached Buganda from the east, putting himself in a dangerous position. The arrival of missionaries in Uganda, as well as the growing number of Christian converts, posed a challenge to Kabaka’s absolute power over his subjects.
The prospect of losing absolute control infuriated Kabaka Mwanga, who set out to eradicate Christianity from his kingdom, launching a violent campaign against white missionaries and their local converts.
Mwanga is said to have buried alive all 60 of his brothers when he took over the throne from his father, Kabaka Mutesa, in 1860.
After Hannington’s murder, his body was rejected by communities for fear of bringing a bad omen, and it was taken to Busoga, where his remains were interred.
Following the assassination of the bishop, the Buganda Kingdom experienced a severe and unprecedented famine.
To avoid further tragedy, they recommended that Hannington’s body be removed from their property. As a result, Hannington’s remains were exhumed and transported to Mumias where King Nabongo Mumia provided a 41-acre plot on which the remains were buried and a church was built.
According to H. B. Thomas of the Imperial East Africa Company in the Uganda Journal, September 1940, “Bishop Tucker got Hannington’s remains from Mumias in 1892, on his way from the Coast to Uganda, and he brought them with him back to Uganda, and he was buried at Namirembe Hill on December 31, 1892.”
This assertion is supported by Bishop Wandera’s narration. “Hannington’s body was temporarily buried here before being transported to Uganda for burial. Our records aren’t clear on the specific dates,” he says.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that King Nabongo Mumia donated 41 acres of land to the ACK church for expansion, the church claims it does not own the donated land. Cartels and intrigues in national and county governments have conspired to deny them ownership.
“The land on which Hannington’s monument stands is no longer the property of the church because it now belongs to the county government of Kakamega,” says Wandera.
“We are in talks with Governor Fernandes Barasa to gain ownership of this land so that we can build a larger monument where faithful and historians can come to document the history of the Anglican Church,” Wandera says.