Project Canterbury

Tucker of Uganda, Artist and Apostle 1849-1914

By Arthur P. Shepherd

London: Student Christian Movement, 1929.

Chapter VI. The Peacemakers

UGANDA was in a parlous condition. Owing to the long-drawn-out war between the Mohammedans and the Christians the country was in a state of desolation, gardens were uncultivated, food was scarce, a cattle pest had taken almost all the beasts, and plague had decimated the people. Tucker began to realize this as soon as he arrived, for, sick as he was, he was unable to get milk until Captain Lugard, the new B.E.A. representative, sent him one of his own cows.

For the past six months, as described in a previous chapter, the Protestants and Roman Catholics had shared the power with ever-increasing suspicion of each other. They were only kept from an outbreak by the knowledge that, divided, they would be at the mercy of the Mohammedan faction, who in Bunyoro were only awaiting an opportunity to regain the capital.

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholics, who had the ear of the Kabaka (king), were in touch with Emin Pasha, the German explorer at the south-west of the lake, and were plotting to buy rifles in order to establish their position by force. They showed their confidence in their ascendancy by treating Mr Gedge, who was then the B.E.A. Company's representative, with extreme contempt. Nine days before Bishop Tucker reached Uganda Captain Lugard had suddenly arrived in Mengo from the north-east, as the Company's new representative, sent with authority to make a treaty on their behalf. He had only a small force, about two hundred and seventy porters, fifty Sudanese soldiers, and a worn-out Maxim gun. His men carried rifles but there was very little ammunition, either for them or for the Maxim. Lugard, however, had two great assets. He was a strong personality who never lost heart or head in a crisis, and he had marched into Mengo and camped on Kampala Hill almost before the Baganda knew of his arrival. This attitude, and the belief that several boxes of beads he had brought with him contained ammunition, gave him a strong position. But his trump card was a copy of the Anglo-German treaty giving Britain sole right of influence in Uganda.

Immediately on his arrival Lugard presented a proposed treaty to Mwanga and for days the country was on the brink of war. Mwanga's old fear of British reprisals deepened, and the Roman Catholics and their missionaries, disappointed of their German hopes, supported him in a determined opposition, while the Protestant chiefs, who had hoped for the entire backing of Lugard, were disappointed at his determination to be fair to all parties. It was a desperate and delicate situation, but Lugard's tact and strength prevailed, and the day before Tucker arrived the treaty had been signed. But the trouble was not over. From that day Lugard found himself the centre of conflicting passions, the Roman Catholics and Mwanga resisting every effort to readjust the questions in which they had in the past months wronged the Protestants, and the latter intensely disappointed that the turn of the wheel had not given them the opportunity of retaliation.

Moreover, Lugard's difficulty was increased because he did not know the language and in every matter the chiefs always consulted their missionaries. The Protestants, at any rate while Tucker was in the country, gave helpful advice; but the Roman Catholics held aloof, declaring themselves averse to politics, but still hoping against hope for German aid.

Dark as this picture is there was a brighter side. In spite of the suspicions and jealousies of newly acquired power, there was among the Baganda Christians a real spiritual life and a zeal for greater knowledge that had been strengthened by persecution, and in exile from their missionaries they had learned a measure of independence of spirit. Here was already the foundation of the great Church in Uganda.

This was the situation which Tucker found, and on the morrow of his arrival both aspects of it were brought home to him. It was a Sunday. Very early he was wakened by the murmur of voices and the tramping of many feet. The Christians were assembling for two hours of instruction before the first service of the day. Later in the morning when he stood in the reed-covered church addressing by interpreter his overflowing and eager congregation, suddenly there was the report of a gun. In a moment the service stopped. Arms were seized and the space outside the church was soon filled by the worshippers, ready to meet the expected Roman Catholic attack, when the news came that it was a false alarm.

What was needed at the moment was a strong and impartial administration that should be free from the rancour of all past differences and suspicions. It was fortunate that both in state and church such men were to hand as Lugard and Tucker. They were not always in agreement, but each had for the other the deepest admiration and respect.

On Monday, December 29th, Tucker was received by the King. It was a dramatic meeting between the Bishop and the despot who had murdered one of his predecessors and who had determined, had it not been for his untimely death, to resist the coming of the other. Mwanga, still a young man, was dressed in a white robe, with a European jacket and waistcoat. He received the visitors with friendliness and made numerous inquiries about their health and their journey. But the restless way in which he turned from one chief to the other, sometimes with a smile, then with a sudden knitting of his brows in a look of savage ferocity, betrayed his nervousness.

Three days later there was a sudden alarm. The rifles which had been left by Jackson with Gedge had been issued some time previously to the Christian chiefs in order to arm them against a possible Mohammedan attack. In the present tense circumstances Lugard thought it advisable to call them in and had issued orders to this effect. Immediately the Roman Catholics suspected a ruse to disarm them and put them at the mercy of the Protestants, and they armed themselves and gathered on the hill where the King's palace stood. Mengo was now an armed camp. To the south were the hills of Rubaga (the Roman Catholic headquarters) and the King's hill, crowded with armed men ready to make an attack. North of them was the hill of Namirembe where the Protestants were preparing to defend themselves, while to the east of this was the hill of Kampala with Lugard's camp, the whole garrison armed but too weak to do more than protect themselves.

It was a moment which called for immediate action to avert disaster. Having obtained Lugard's permission, Tucker went across from Namirembe, accompanied by Gordon as interpreter, to see the King and the Bafransa chiefs. They passed fearlessly through noisy crowds of armed men to the King's house, where they found the King moody and depressed amid an excited court. Having learned of their suspicions, Tucker ridiculed the idea and offered as a guarantee of good faith that the Protestants should be the first to lay down arms. The suggestion was received in a deep silence, which broke in a few minutes into a babel of discussion, but at last Tucker was relieved to hear the Kimbugwe (the head Roman Catholic chief) give the order to lay down arms. The situation was saved.

One other great attempt Tucker made to bring peace to distracted Uganda, an attempt not so dangerous, but far more difficult. He invited Pere Brad, the senior French Father, to talk things over with him. The greatest cause of friction was that constant cases of dispute between the parties were brought to Lugard, who had not knowledge of the facts adequate to deal with them. After a lengthy and difficult discussion it was decided to leave all questions of petty annoyances to be settled by the missionaries, and to refer to the King and Lugard the bigger matters, such as disputes about property. But this conference came to nothing. The French priests disregarded it, and when Tucker left Uganda, ten days later, the Protestant missionaries openly dissociated themselves from it.

Then and subsequently Tucker was bitterly criticized for his "weak credulity and folly in supposing that there could be any honour or honesty of purpose in the French Fathers," and some even smiled at him as the dupe of Roman Catholic astuteness. Tucker did not defend himself on grounds of expediency or result but on fundamental moral principles, allegiance to which often brought him into deep waters, but always carried him safely through them. "There is no action of mine at this period," he writes, "to which I look back with more unalloyed satisfaction. It was an honest attempt to deal with one's fellow-Christians of another communion, in something of the spirit and teaching of our common Master."

But Tucker's primary concern was not politics; it was the shepherding of the little Church in Uganda. There were about two hundred members, but though baptized none had been confirmed. On January 18th, after daily preparation, seventy were presented for confirmation, among them being Apolo Kagwa, the Katikiro (Prime Minister), and Nikodemo Sebwato, the Pokino, another important chief. To Tucker "in the still silence of the house of God, broken only by the rustle of the leaves of the banana-trees outside and within by the gentle tread of bare feet," it was a deeply moving occasion that he should be at last admitting into full and declared membership these men who had endured so much for their faith, who were still only a handful in the midst of a heathen and hostile multitude that might easily kindle again the flame of persecution, and yet were the foundation of all that should be built up afterwards.

One quality of the Baganda Tucker immediately noticed. They were born teachers. He had brought up with him New Testaments in Swahili, which many Baganda could read, and whenever any one had mastered a passage he would immediately be found teaching it to a circle of listeners. In this instinct was surely the hope of the Church's future, and Tucker publicly selected six leading Christians, and set them apart as lay readers.

On January 22nd, four weeks after his arrival, the Bishop left Uganda. He had appointed a finance committee and a secretary among the missionaries, and had paid a final visit to the King to commend his people to his care. In some quarters he was criticized for leaving the country so soon. It must be remembered, however, in the first place that Uganda was then only a part of his diocese, and that he could make no permanent stay in it. Moreover, he quite rightly felt that, having reviewed the situation with the forces at his disposal, he must immediately return to England for further reinforcements. As events turned out it was indeed providential for Uganda that the summer of that year saw him again in England.

His last night in Uganda was spent on the lake shore waiting for a favourable wind. At the first flush of dawn he was astir for the boat.

All at once upon the stillness of the morning air there broke a sound which thrilled us through and through. It was the voice of one engaged apparently in earnest prayer. It came from a hut dimly visible through the morning mists, in a banana plantation hard by. Then there came the voices of others as though in response, and then silence! In a moment or two more we heard similar sounds on the farther side. This was our farewell to the shores of Uganda.

The voyage down the lake in the mission boat was tedious owing to heavy winds, but it offered an opportunity for rest before the long tramp to the coast.

One day Tucker noticed on the deck some tusks of ivory, and on inquiry found that they were the property of the Swahili captain. How had he come by them? Tucker asked. The captain hedged, but Tucker pressed his' question, and at last got the admission that they were in exchange for guns smuggled tip the lake in the boat. "Smuggled!"--when the German officer at Bukoba had courteously refused to examine the mission boat on the way up as above suspicion. The Bishop was thoroughly indignant and promptly confiscated the ivory to be handed over to the German authorities when they reached Bukoba.

At last they reached Usambiro and the next day the villages round resounded with the deep "safari" beat of the drum, announcing that a caravan was starting for the coast. The villagers thronged round the drummer. "Who is going? Is it the white man? Is he kind? What will he pay?" In a couple of days the caravan was assembled and a start was made. Besides the paid porters there were many unpaid hangers-on, profiting by the white man's protection for a journey to the coast in search of a returning caravan.

The journey was for the most part uneventful. One night, however, after an attempt to do an extra long march, darkness overtook the caravan in a treeless, waterless plain, where perforce they camped. It was an exposed place, open to attack, and when Tucker was wakened about midnight by a chorus of shrieks and yells he believed that the attack had come. Leaping out of bed, he felt in the dark for his boots. Crash! His tent rocked and nearly came down upon him. He groped for the door but missed it and became entangled in the disordered canvas and ropes. Suddenly the shrieks turned to peals of laughter. Thoroughly angry and bewildered Tucker shouted for his boy, who, when he appeared, could hardly speak for laughter. "Panda, bwana!" he spluttered. "Punda!" Tucker was amazed. "Punda!" (Donkey). What did the fellow mean, and why did he laugh? At last the story was told. Owing to the absence of trees the donkeys had been tethered to boxes. One of them, moving and finding the box following him, had been frightened and had stampeded the rest, waking the camp. The porters, thinking it was a charge of wild buffalo, had panicked. The discovery of their mistake and the sight of the bishop's tent charged by a donkey had turned them with African quickness from terror to amusement. "Greatly relieved," writes Tucker, "but not in the best of tempers, I turned in once more, but not to sleep."

Beyond the plain lay the country of the troublesome Wagogo, and as they drew near the village of Unyanguira, where they had had difficulty on the way up, there was considerable anxiety as to how they would fare. Nor was their apprehension unjustified, for as they approached, an armed warrior stood at the spot where the track to the village joined the main road, and by a wave of his hand motioned the caravan to the village. As usual, Tucker was leading, and as he came up to the man who stood blocking the way, without a word or a moment's hesitation he turned aside, stepped round him and continued on the main path. The whole caravan followed, and the warrior, taken by surprise, gaped after them in amazement. Whether it was that Tucker's cool courage impressed the Wagogo, the caravan passed through the country unmolested.

The journey to the coast was very rapid, only occupying ten weeks as against the five and a half months of the up-country march.

At length, on April 1st--"Bahari! Bahari!" "The sea! The sea!" How they had longed for it! No more wearisome tramping, but at last--rest!

No sooner, however, had they arrived at Mombasa than a message came from Jilore, up the coast, that Mr and Mrs Edwards, the missionaries there, were ill with blackwater fever, and Tucker decided to take the opportunity of visiting the station by accompanying the doctor. After the sea voyage they had a not unadventurous tramp, losing their way in the forest and sheltering most of the night from a tropical downpour under an umbrella! How, next morning, they forded a flooded river alive with crocodiles is best described in Tucker's own words:

No one would lead the way. The river, it was pleaded, was swarming with crocodiles. "There is one!" was shouted as we reached the bank. And there, breasting the tide and apparently immovable, was the largest crocodile I had ever seen. We called for a rifle, but before it could be brought the creature had disappeared. However, we fired in the hope of frightening it, or any others which might be in the neighbourhood.

We asked the natives to lead the way across the ford, which they knew well. One and all they flatly and promptly declined, shivering at the very thought. There was nothing for it but for us to go to the front, though knowing absolutely nothing about the ford. We were soon stripped, and with a stick in each hand--one with which to feel our way along the bottom, and the other to beat the water--we slowly advanced, the natives following closely behind. The water in places was up to our armpits. It was a strange procession! With our followers splashing and shouting with all their might we passed through in safety and reclothed ourselves on the farther bank. Half an hour later we were at the mission station.

The next day was spent in looking round the little station and in wondering how the workers survived the terrors of the coast mosquitoes, and then, taking the sick couple back to recuperate in the sea air, they reached Mombasa after a dreadful night of rolling and plunging in the teeth of the south-west monsoon.

Three weeks later Tucker stood on the deck of a home-bound steamer, watching fade from sight the low-lying coast of the land which for twelve months had been the scene of almost daily toil and adventure.

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