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The Story of the Life of MacKay of Uganda
Chapter XVII - The King is Dead


“They told of the feats of his dog and gun,
They told of the deeds his arm bad done;
They sung of battles lost and won,
And so they paid his eulogy.”

J. G. PERCIVAL.  

MACKAY made several other journeys to the south side of the Nyanza, in the year 1884. On one occasion he had been unable to get any plantains on board, at the port of Ntebe; so he and his men endeavoured to land on the large island of Sesse in order to buy some, but the natives met them with mad brandishing of spears and shields, and they just managed to keep beyond the range of the stones which were pelted at the little vessel. He says: “We held up cowries and said we only wanted to buy food, as we were very hungry, but they only shouted that we were not to land, and continued throwing stones and dancing wildly. More natives came down the hill and joined in threatening us, saying ‘they would kill us.’ They were now many, and lighted fires on the beach, and beat their drums, preparing to watch all night. I refused to allow any of my crew to reply to their insulting language, and quietly cast anchor for the night. So they yelled away in vain. In the morning I asked them to bring food in a canoe to sell to us, if they were afraid of us landing, but they did not.

“Centuries of misrule and robbery by the Baganda have made the poor people naturally anxious to keep away all strangers. Only a week ago, Mugula, with fifty canoes, went ashore on this same island, and was met with stones. He shot half a dozen of the natives and robbed their gardens. But the Mirembe is not a fighting boat. God give us tact and prudence to act patiently, even in provocation and hunger. He will give us our daily bread.

“Most probably had we landed they would all have run away, but that would bring us no nearer buying food, so I turned the boat’s head eastward and set sail. They then gathered courage and slung stones, some falling inside the boat. We simply held farther out and departed in peace. A thick fog then came on, and we had great difficulty in finding our way out of this labyrinth of islands. Thunder was then heard to the east through the fog. I dropped the end of lightning-conductor into the sea. Soon a severe squall arose and merciless rain. No inch of canvas could stand, so we just let her drive in trough of sea. After many hours of tossing we approached Alice Island, when the wind fell. I woke up crew, rowed into harbour, and found two or three fishermen, who seemed very frightened at us, but I assured them we had no desire to hurt them. By-and-by, they became friendly, giving me a dried fish, and I presenting them with a string of cowries. Afterwards they brought me a pot of honey.”

While at Kagei on this voyage, he writes: “God’s holy name be praised! He has saved me from two great perils this day. Said bin Saif and some other Arabs, who came to meet me yesterday, told me that there was a good sandy anchorage round the point east of Kagei village. This morning Said sent his dhow captain to show me the place. We rowed round, and the Arabs met me on the beach. Left boat in charge of men and went ashore to Said’s house. Had breakfast, and got mail which had arrived a month ago. Just as I was opening my letters I noticed the sky lowering. Made haste to boat, but crew all gone ashore, save two men and two boys. Pushed off and pulled, but gale rose before I got many boat-lengths. Drifting into rocks which were hidden before, but now visible in the waves. Threw out both anchors. Rode out gale for an hour in dangerous proximity to rocks on both sides and stern. God alone saved us. Had sea risen much more, boat had been dashed to pieces by rock under bow only five feet below. The Arabs came and watched. When the gale lessened we sailed back to anchorage. Later on I waded ashore. On returning I meant to bathe. The natives drove cattle down to drink close by; and just as I was about to enter the water a crocodile dragged off a large cow. I have learned, I hope for ever, not to bathe or wade in this lake.”

“Thus boat saved, and my own life and my men’s lives in one day. God be praised!”

King Mtesa had been ailing for several years, and latterly had been getting more and more feeble. As a natural consequence, he was far less powerful in the land than in the early days of the mission, when he was able to get about.

He continued friendly to the C. M. S. missionaries, but to their great sorrow showed no sign of a change of heart.

The katikiro (prime minister and judge) was also very friendly, as also several of the other chiefs; but some would have liked to banish every foreigner out of the kingdom.

Writing home, Mackay says: “Our future is in God’s hands alone, but I think we are justified in using every lawful means to help to secure protection for our mission in case of emergency.”

“I do not know that I have ever hinted to you of the extreme peril we should probably be in were our king suddenly gathered to his fathers.”

“Heretofore, in the history of the country, such a time has always been one of plunder and much bloodshed. Mtesa's reign of late has been one, of internal peace, but Baganda still remain the same greedy, plundering, murderous knaves. Only the strong arm of the law keeps them down.”

“It is agreed by all of us foreigners, Arabs, and English, that were it not for the protection given us by the court, not a single foreigner could be a day in the country without being plundered, if not also killed.”

“But God will provide for us, as He alone can in any such serious circumstances. We are by no means anxious, for our defence is omnipotent, and He hears prayer. He has preserved us in great peril before now, and will preserve us again.”

The condition of the king was kept a great secret, and he was dead some days before the report was announced, on October 9th, 1884.

Mackay was away at the lake at the time, giving the boat a thorough repair. He had it hauled up on the beach under a large tent, and was quite unaware of the trouble which the news had caused his brethren at the mission.

Four of his men, whom he had sent back to the capital, were robbed of their clothing on the way, and had to run for their lives.

Next day, a messenger arrived to tell him of the sad event, and that already the people had commenced to rob each other, and that the mission boat would be plundered.

Very unfortunately, he had now few men with him, but after many hours’ hard work the boat was launched, anchored near shore, and all necessaries put on board. He quite expected the mission-house would be destroyed and that the brethren would have to seek refuge on the lake. He watched all night, but received no news of them.

Next day a band of a hundred armed men arrived from the katikiro to escort him to the palace, as he wished the king’s coffins made at once.

What follows is in his own words: “Reached Kitebi after dark. The escort feared to take me farther in case of a fight, as many might take my arrival at the capital, at night, with a force, as an attempt at the throne. Slept in a very dirty house, but the people were very kind, and did everything to make me comfortable.”

Oct. 12th. - Reached palace early. Main court and space outside filled with freshly-made huts.”

“The corpse was laid in state in the Kadulubare’s house (the largest within the grounds), while a grave was being dug in the centre of the building. Thousands of women were wailing and men roaring. The katikiro and chiefs told me that Mtesa had expressed a desire to be buried without delay or pomp. They wished therefore to do as he wanted, and set the new king at once on the throne, so as to pacify the country. The first act of the new king is to bury his father. He is not king till then.”

“They wished three coffins made immediately, but at last consented to let two suffice.”

Mackay went to the mission-house for his tools, and for the zinc lining of old cases, which had been sent there from England, with stores. He then returned to the palace, and, with a lot of native artificers, set to work at once. By dawn next morning, the huge chests were completed, to the satisfaction of all, and the king placed therein and buried.

A prince was then selected. The katikiro and some others wished to elect a little boy, but they soon found that his appointment would be disputed by rebellion. They therefore chose Mwanga, a lad of about seventeen years of age, and his father’s image.

The missionaries felt thankful that this young man, whom they knew well, as he had frequently visited their house, had been elected king, and they were still more thankful when the news reached them that the princess chosen to be Lubuga, [The Kabaka, or King of Uganda, must always have a queen-mother (Namasole) and a queen-sister (Lubuga). If the king’s own mother be dead, then an aunt is chosen to support the title. The Lubuga is chosen from the princesses.  See “Two Kings of Uganda” p.87. ] or maiden queen, was one of their Christians, baptised as Rebecca.

Some of the chiefs proposed robbing both the Arabs and the missionaries, but the katikiro restrained them. Mackay says: “Our Heavenly Father has watched over us during this time of danger, while we have been helpless. His holy name be praised!”

Mr. Ashe tells how on one occasion, after he had given Mwanga some instruction, he asked “how he would treat his old friends the missionaries, if he became king?”  The reply was, “I shall like you very much, and show you every favour;” but he was no sooner raised to the throne than he forgot his promise.

The very first time the three missionaries went to pay him their respects, in order to show his sense of his new importance he declined to see them.

As the king was only in temporary quarters, and daily occupied in receiving the chiefs and subs, who went with their serfs to swear allegiance to him, Mackay thought it best, before attempting another interview, to return to the lake and finish repairs and refitting of the boat.

One day he had a scare, as the Bavuma, hearing of the death of Mtesa, went and robbed the country at the mouth of the bay. Fearing that they might go farther up, and sight the boat, which was rather conspicuous, being white, with a black point of forest in the background, he got his men to cut green branches, and closed up the landing-place.

After ten days he returned to the capital, and on the way met Mr. Ashe, who informed him that in his absence he was accused by some of having gone off without seeing the king, while the Arabs said he was robbing plantains, and fortifying himself afloat. This rumour was widespread, and Mwanga had given orders to have his movements checked.

Some extracts from his log are now interesting:-

Nov. 5th. - We all three went to see the katikiro, by appointment, taking a present of four good jorah. We thanked him for his good government of the country at the past critical time.”

Nov. 6th. - Ashe and I went to court, taking king present of three jorah of fine cloth, and an umbrella. Found him in audience, but very haughty. He wore a magnificent leopard skin. By his side was the magic horn (a white tusk of ivory), in his hand was a small mirror, while a larger one was placed in front of him. He soon left, but ordered us to remain to see him privately.”

"At the second reception we found him lying on the floor on some rich carpets which the Arabs had given him. He tried to upbraid me for having gone to the lake without leave. Next he tried to bully me into taking a messenger of his own choosing with me to Msalala, to fetch our brethren. I had to positively decline taking this man and prevailed, getting another, who is a Christian, appointed in his place.”

Nov. 7th. - Started for lake.    Launched boat. Several of our Christian friends came with me to see me off, and spent night at lake.”

Nov. 10th. - Strange to say, as many as nine Christian lads on board with me. This is a rare treat, and God grant us a prosperous journey.”

"Boys talked till late on politics and religion. I was astonished at Sembera giving them an hour’s exhortation on Christianity, especially on the idolatry of the Romish Church, and the need for diligence in seeking after real truth.”


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