Project Canterbury

Tucker of Uganda, Artist and Apostle 1849-1914

By Arthur P. Shepherd

London: Student Christian Movement, 1929.

Chapter XII. Bearing the Light Afar

IT was with quite a new feeling that Tucker found himself in Uganda in 1898. No longer was it only a part, although the most interesting part, of his diocese, in which all he could hope for was a few months of supervision, organization and the discharge of the necessary episcopal functions of confirmation and ordination before he hurried back on his eight-hundred-mile trek to the rest of his charge. It was now his sole care, a compact, self-contained country, and he could devote all his thought and energy to the solution of its problems. Much as he had been able to do for Uganda in the past, it was in the next few years that the country felt the real impact of his personality.

The chief task that he saw awaiting the Church was its expansion into the surrounding countries, which were part of his new diocese and which he had always felt formed a natural unity, both geographically and from the point of view of language and customs. The idea of evangelization had all along been instinctive with the Baganda, and in almost every one of these countries native evangelists had made or were now making efforts to kindle the flame of Christianity; but with the exception of Toro there had been no official acceptance of Christian teaching. For the next three years the Bishop was in Uganda, and the greater part of the first two was spent in missionary journeys in all directions. We sometimes read admiring accounts of bishops making pilgrimages on foot among the villages of their English dioceses. It is not easy to appreciate fully the achievement of Bishop Tucker in covering, at the age of fifty, over two thousand miles on foot in two years through endless swamps and forests and weary stretches of head-high elephant grass, with rarely any better shelter than his tent; continually exposed to the fury of African storms, the dangers of attack by savage beasts and men and the frequent recurrence of that fever, whose germs his many marches between Uganda and the coast had sown in his system.

The year 1898 was a favourable time for undertaking seriously the work of expansion. True, there were still evidences of the recent troubles. Only a few days after the Bishop's arrival a party of Sudanese and Baganda mutineers were publicly executed in Mengo, while two days later he himself officiated at the burial of the bodies of the English officers killed in the mutiny. Gabrieli, too, the Roman Catholic outlaw chief, was still a constant menace to the provinces of Budu and Singo, but with Mwanga, Kabarega and the Sudanese all fugitives in Bukedi beyond the Nile, it was only a question of clearing up the remains of trouble. Meanwhile both country and Church were settling down again to their work of steady advance.

The Bishop's first objective was Toro, that romantic land in the west where he had received such a warm welcome two years before. This country had been almost unaffected by the rebellion and the Church had grown apace, and there were urgent requests for a visit from the Bishop. This time his travelling companion was Dr A. R. Cook, who was anxious to do medical mission work.

The journey began with a typically African incident. As the way lay through Singo where Gabrieli still roamed at large, the Commissioner insisted, much against their will, that they should take an escort of Baganda. A dozen nondescript fellows they were, armed with muzzle-loaders. At the second camp they came to the Bishop to ask to be allowed to return to Mengo for powder, which they had forgotten! Highly amused, Tucker gave permission, with instructions to rejoin the caravan at a spot where they would be making a halt of two or three days. Faithfully they reported themselves, but to the inquiry if all was now right, they replied dolefully, "We have no bullets." They were cheerfully informed that it did not matter, and were appointed to look after the cows, which the Bishop always included in his caravan. This they did for the remaining days of their escort, receiving quite solemnly the daily thanks of Tucker for their protection!

A wonderful welcome met them in Toro, knots of Christians waiting on every hill-top, and at one place a young evangelist with a group of lads bursting out of a clump of long grass, all brimming with excitement. It was like the old days in Uganda; books were eagerly bought up, crowds were seeking baptism or confirmation, or offering to go as teachers to other countries. From Toro they had planned two further expeditions. The first was to Katwe, a village five days' march southwest, on the shores of Lake Edward. Their way lay over the slopes of Ruwenzori, and nothing can equal Tucker's own description of this, as of everything he saw, for he saw it all with an artist's eye. He particularly delighted in the beauties of mountains and lakes, the loves of his youth in Westmorland. Of this journey he writes:

At one moment we were climbing a steep hill-side, at another wending our way through sylvan glades in which the sunlight glinting upon the tree-trunks gilded them with a glory peculiarly its own, and startling in its vivid intensity. At another moment we were passing out into a blaze of sunshine in which butterflies were darting hither and thither, while the hum of bees, the chirrup of grasshoppers, and the cooing of doves made the air resonant with a sweet, low-toned music.

On one of the islands of the lake they found a chief blind with cataract, and on Dr Cook offering to cure him he promised that both he and his people would be taught. But in vain they waited for him the next morning, till a message came that he was unwell. So once more the medicine-men had their way.

Several times the caravan had to cross the glacier streams of Ruwenzori, ice-cold and swift, and at one of them occurred one of those incidents that try the patience of African travellers. They were walking through a sort of tunnel in the elephant grass when suddenly there came the sound of running water. "It is the river," Tucker exclaimed, "let us hurry. The men in front are sure to attempt to cross without proper precaution." But their haste was in vain. As they reached the bank, there in mid-river was a porter, barely keeping his balance in the fierce current, while a specially-valued box of sketching materials and sketches was bobbing rapidly down-stream. Tucker was angry, and when he was angry the porters moved! A couple of search parties eventually recovered the box downstream, little the worse for wear, and the sun rapidly put things almost right again.

At every opportunity when a halt was made, the Bishop's sketch book was in his hand, and his one regret was that, compelled by the climate to work only in black and white, he could not record all the wonderful shades of colour in the landscape. Nevertheless, even in, that restricted medium, his pictures showed rare qualities of artistic perception and skill. Two pictures painted on this tour are reproduced in his book, Eighteen Years in Uganda. One is entitled "Boiling Springs in Toro." The centre of the picture is a mass of forest trees and dense undergrowth, beautifully drawn, and so balanced in light and shade as to appear deep and impenetrable, even against the background of a dark mountain rising steeply behind. Across the shadows of the trees floats an airy cloud of steam above the broken reflections of a troubled pool. The other picture is a view of Lake Edward, looking down a steep gorge falling to the lake side. Across the lake, shimmering in the noon-day heat, and mirrored in the wide sweep of its calm waters, frowns the great mass of Ruwenzori, cloud-wreathed and snow-capped.

When they returned to Toro and announced to the porters their intention to go north-west to Mboga, right beyond the Semliki river on the borders of the Congo forest, the news was too much for the home-sick Baganda, and in spite of the Bishop's precautions in setting a guard over the disaffected, and warning them that they would be punished for breaking their contract, they melted away in driblets, and Tucker was forced to fill their places with the far inferior Batoro. The way lay now over the northern slopes of Ruwenzori, from which Tucker describes one of the most beautiful views of Central Africa.

Some two thousand feet below us was the Semliki River, working its sinuous way in glittering glory through the valley which lay between us and the dark mass of the great forest which Stanley had so laboriously traversed a few short years before. Away northward, melting into the far distance, lay the waters of the Albert Nyanza, shimmering in white heat and pearly haze. Southward, the great buttresses of the mountain on which we stood shelved downward toward the river, which was fed not merely by the Edward Nyanza, but by those rushing streams which, in their headlong course down the mountain-side, filled the air with a melody which can only fitly be described in the familiar term "the sound of many waters."

It was no easy matter to make the passage of the Semliki river in leaky dug-outs, with crocodiles and hippos lying watching the ford until Tucker's rifle had driven them off. Soon they were nearing Mboga, and it was strange after travelling so many miles through a heathen country to find a band of eager Christian men and boys awaiting them.
Here again it was the old story. A chief of Mboga, hearing Christianity preached in the neighbouring kingdom of Toro, had made up his mind to carry it to his own people. The little church had suffered recently from the bands of mutineers from the Belgian Congo, and the Christians had taken refuge in the long grass, but now all was peace again, and their joy seemed brimming over at having their Bishop with them to baptize and confirm them. Among those under instruction Tucker found two pygmies just over three feet in height, natives of the Congo forest. [For the full story of work among the pygmies see Apolo of the Pygmy Forest, by A. B. Lloyd.]

The Bishop was back in Mengo by the middle of September, and the next five months were spent in or near the capital. In February 1899 he made up his mind to visit Bunyoro, the kingdom of the outlaw Kabarega, for many years a land of unrest and strife. There was a new king there now, Kitaimba, one of Kabarega's sons, who had spent several years in Mengo. He had sent a piteous appeal to the Bishop. "Do you not think of my country? Do you not know that it is a very dark one?" Dark truly it was, with all the worst cruelties and superstitions of the old Lubare worship.

Bunyoro lies north-west of Mengo, and Tucker's way lay north along the Nile, on the east bank of which were the outlaw Sudanese. The crack of their rifles as they hunted game could frequently be heard, and at Kisalizi, where a halt was made, the mutineers had only a few weeks before besieged the English garrison, which they had ambushed outside the fort. For part of the way the Bishop marchdd with a Baganda escort (tL:s time properly armed!) while a party of Indian soldiers marched parallel with them on the river bank to prevent an ambush. The stay at Kisalizi ended with a football match in the chief's enclosure in which Tucker captained one side, and Fisher, who was again his companion, the other. The standard of football did not reach that of the old Westmorland games, but the excitement of the players and the renown Tucker won by his prowess were, if anything, greater.

The next stop was Mruli, a fort on the Nile at which Gordon had once stayed and which had been in his day the southern outpost of the Sudan rule. As Tucker stood in the ruined fort his mind was stirred with thoughts of that noble Christian soldier's longings for the evangelization of Central Africa, to whose borders he had reached. How marvellously and swiftly his prayers had been answered, so much so that from that once heathen stronghold the light of the Gospel was now being carried up to this very spot on which he had prayed and would soon be borne into those regions of the Sudan from which he had come.

In Bunyoro the Bishop received a warm welcome from the king, and both he and the queen-sister were baptized, together with a number of readers. Fisher was left behind to develop the work, and Tucker set off alone on the return journey.

Three days later a string of porters might have been seen making their way in the teeth of a terrific storm. Most of them carried the normal loads, but four of them were bearing in an improvised hammock slung from a tent-pole what was clearly a big man, but nothing could be seen of him under the mackintosh cover which was lashed completely over him. That morning Tucker had started from camp on a twenty-mile march, but after two hours he had been struck down by fever accompanied by a splitting head and furiously beating heart. Camping was impossible for there was no water and walking was out of the question. Quickly a substitute for a hammock was made out of a length of calico worn by one of the boys, and slung on the tent-pole it was strong enough for the purpose. The going was now inevitably slow, and after a pause for lunch they were overtaken by a fierce storm. With his riding cape lashed over him, and alternately burning and shivering with fever, Tucker was borne along, his bearers slipping and stumbling as they splashed over the flooded path, the constant crash of thunder drowning in the sick man's ears even the roar of the wind and the lashing of the rain on his covering. Continually to his aching brain came the one cry with which the porters urged each other on. "The Muzungu (the white man) is in danger and we must help him."

Darkness set in but still they plodded on until at length the banana gardens showed that a village was near. A few minutes later Tucker heard voices, and then the cessation of sounds of wind and rain told him he was under shelter. Quickly his lashings were undone, and with a murmured "Thank God!" he stumbled to a native bed by a blazing fire. If the porters who had left him unprotected on the hill-side three years before had given him nothing but "words," these men had served him to the uttermost with deeds. With deep thankfulness he realized that their faithfulness had saved his life. A night of quinine, hot tea and blankets, and the next afternoon he was fit for the three hours' march to the nearest mission station, and a few days later he was again in Mengo.

Only three weeks' rest, in spite of fever and his fifty years, and he was off again, this time to Koki, south-west beyond Budu.

Here too Christianity had come through a visit of the king to Mengo five years before, and his bringing back of four Baganda evangelists. Their work had soon won a great response, and the little church had grown until the setting up by Mwanga of the standard of revolt in Budu in 1897 had threatened it almost with extinction. It was a country sadly impoverished and unsettled by the war that the Bishop found.

An untoward incident happened on the way. He had travelled by lake to Budu, and landed on the coast in the midst of an attack of fever. His request for porters was met by the chief with a definite refusal, on the ground, so Tucker's servants informed him, that the chief "had received orders from the French priests to do nothing to help him or any Protestant missionary." Whether or not this was an exaggeration in order to express the natural antipathy of the Roman Catholic Budu chiefs towards the victorious Protestants from Mengo, it meant a great hardship for the Bishop and was a cruel act of inhospitality. No food being forthcoming for the porters, the baggage had to be left behind, and weak and ill Tucker painfully plodded across a sandy plain.

The weariness of it! [he writes]. No words can fitly describe the absolute misery of it. Occasionally I crouched down under the shade of a small bush for a little rest. ... At length, almost fainting from fatigue and exhaustion, I climbed the hill, on the crest of which was the little mission station of Kajuna.

But the weariness was soon forgotten in the joy of seeing how the little church in Koki had persisted in spite of all it had suffered. Courage, perseverance, the refusal to be daunted--these were qualities that appealed to Tucker, and his own brave heart warmed to these faithful children in the faith.

It was true there was no church . . . but the shelter of a half-burnt house--the shade of a piece of the Kisakate (fence) yet standing--the "greenery" of the banana plantation--it was all the same, wherever shelter from sun or rain was available, there was the gathering together of the two or three seekers after God.

On May 6th he was back in Mengo and five days later he witnessed the entry into the city of the royal outlaws, Mwanga and Kabarega, of whose capture in far-north Bukedi he had heard on his return journey through Budu. They entered under a fully-armed guard, the wounded Kabarega carried on a bed, and Mwanga on foot, hardly recognizable under the long beard of his exile. Once more the intense loyalty of the Baganda to their Kabaka was evident in the deep murmur of sympathy from the peasants who lined the road, and in their respectful greeting "Otyana sebo?" (How are you, sir?). Their capture, however, put an end to Uganda's troubles. Gabrieli had surrendered to the Germans, and the two kings were exiled to the Seychelles, where four years later Mwanga died.

In July the Bishop was afoot again, this time to Busoga in the east, where for so long Christianity had met with continual persecution. Up and down the country he went, visiting all the seven independent chiefs, and finally obtaining their promise of religious freedom in the land.

An amusing incident at the beginning of this tour reveals how implicit and unquestioning was the obedience rendered by the Baganda porters to the white man, particularly when that white man was the Bishop. For the moment Tucker had forgotten that his watch was set by Uganda time, which is reckoned, not from midday, but from sunset to sunrise. Waking early he saw that it was six o'clock, and immediately ordered the gong to be struck to rouse the camp to prepare breakfast. The "boys" knew that it was midnight, but who were they to question the strange ways of the muzungu? Breakfast was cooked and eaten and the march begun before Tucker realized his mistake. The whole distance to Ngogwe, the next station, had now to be covered in one march, for they had not enough food to provide an extra meal that day, and they arrived at Ngogwe footsore and exhausted.

Two interesting events occurred on this journey, both of which shed a light upon the depths of heathenism among these people, next-door neighbours though they were to the enlightened Baganda. The first was a native feast to which the Bishop was invited by Luba. The chief and his visitors ate first, and when the word went round, "The Europeans have finished eating," the murmur of the waiting crowd grew into a hoarse roar. "Come," said the chief, "let us see them eat." Tucker vividly describes the scene in its unbridled savagery.

It was a sight not easily forgotten. Two or three thousand men and women were gathered on two sides. Three hundred baskets of food consisting of boiled bananas and the stewed flesh of a dozen bullocks, which had been killed in honour of our coming, had just been brought upon the scene. Word was brought to the chief that all was ready. "Let them eat," was the response. Then ensued such a scene as baffles all description. The hot matoke (boiled bananas) was seized and crammed down the throat at lightning speed, then lumps of meat were laid hold of and torn to pieces with the teeth, and as greedily swallowed, without mastication and with imminent risk of choking. Here was the rib-bone of an ox with four men gnawing at it. Here the jaw-bone had three boys hanging on to it with their teeth. The sight altogether was too disgusting.

The other incident took place at an open-air service, at which the three hundred "wives" of the local chief were present. With eager faces and rapt attention they were listening to "the white man's words," when without a sound of warning the whole audience leapt to their feet and with every expression of terror darted this way and that, disappearing into their huts like startled rabbits into their burrows. The Bishop and the missionary who was preaching turned round, expecting to see some wild animal behind them. All they saw was the chief himself watching the terror of his disappearing women, with eyes lit with a savage but amused cruelty.

I do not know [writes Tucker] that any incident in the whole of my missionary experience has ever stirred and touched me more than the sight of that fleeing mass of womanhood, and I vowed then and there never to cease my efforts to bring to an end such a condition of things so degrading to woman, and so dishonouring to man.

September 1st found Tucker back again in Mengo, not a little exhausted after "the moist heat, the blazing sun and the dismal swamps of Busoga." But that year of journeying was to see another tour, perhaps the most adventurous and romantic of all. In November the Bishop set out, once more with Dr A. R. Cook, to visit Ankole on the shores of Lake Edward. There was a romance about the visit, because in the far-off days of '88 when the Mohammedans had seized the power in Mengo, it was in Ankole that the Baganda Christians had found shelter, and ever since that time the Church Council had felt that they owed it to the land of their refuge to carry to it the light of Christianity. But the Lubare worship was strong in Ankole and already two efforts to establish Christian teachers there had failed.

The way lay through Budu and Koki, and Tucker rejoiced in the wind-swept uplands after the sweltering heat of the head-high elephant grass and swamps of the Uganda lowlands. In Koki they received a tumultuous welcome from bands of young men who rushed downhill at headlong speed with shouts of greeting. There, too, they found two young Christians eager to accompany them as evangelists to Ankole, and also a young slave set free by his Christian master, and anxious to return to Ankole, his native land.

They entered Ankole on St Andrew's Day, knowing that on that day in over two hundred churches in Uganda the Christians were praying for the spread of the gospel, and especially for this third attempt to enter Ankole.

For two days a palaver was held, Tucker and Cook facing a great assembly of the tall, light-coloured warriors, who squatted twenty deep on their haunches round the huge figure of their young king, Kahaya. Behind them hovered "the power behind the throne," the medicine-men, fantastically dressed with feathered headgear and jingling bells on legs and arms, disfigured with paint, and like every one else smeared from head to foot with reeking, rancid butter.

The Banyankole listened in typical African silence to the white men's message, and then after much whispering replied through the Katikiro, the chief spokesman, that much as they would like Christian teachers there was hunger in the land and nothing wherewith to feed strangers.

"Oh!" broke in Andereya, one of the Koki evangelists, "we often in Koki have little to eat. Give us a few bananas every day and we shall be satisfied."

"There are none," said the king.

"A few potatoes then--they will do."

"Our potatoes have long been finished."

"Well then, you are herdsmen and have plenty of milk. A drink of milk morning and night and we shall be content."

"Alas! there is not enough for ourselves."

When this was interpreted, the Bishop could not contain himself and he broke in through his interpreter:

"Why, in Uganda they say that the king of Ankole has twenty thousand head of cattle, and if I go back and tell them that he is unable to give milk to two guests, they will surely say that it was a false report we heard of the country--Kahaya, the king, is only a very little chief after all!"

The shot told, and after much whispering the conference was adjourned till the next day, but even then it took three hours of the keenest argument before the king's consent was won.

After the palaver, when Dr Cook was tending the sick, a man was brought with a large tumour on his shoulder. Having heard of a similar operation in Koki, the king asked Cook if he could put the man to sleep and remove the tumour, and an hour was fixed for the operation. When all was in readiness the patient was missing--much to the relief of the Bishop, who was to act as anaesthetist! But soon he could be seen on the opposite hill-side running and doubling like a hare with fifty men after him. In a few minutes he was brought in captive and helpless. "Now!" said the king. But to his disgust Cook refused to operate without the man's consent. Four years later when the Bishop again visited Ankole, this time with Dr J. H. Cook, this man was the first to come forward to ask for the operation, which was publicly and successfully performed.

Soon the time came for them to start for Toro, which they were to visit on their return journey. All had been settled in Ankole; even the little slave had found his father in the fourth greatest chief in the country.

On the way to Toro the Bishop once again found himself the champion of the slave, this time much to his own personal risk. They had just left a village when through the ripening corn of a field a woman came and threw herself at Tucker's feet. She was a woman of Busoga, kidnapped by Mohammedan traders and sold to a man in the village who cruelly treated her. Would they give her protection to Uganda and so home? Without hesitation Tucker consented, but soon her owner appeared, armed with a spear and demanding his property. Tucker bade him come on to Ibanda whither he was bound and where they should discuss the matter. The man consented, but at every village they passed he reinforced himself with three or four spearmen, till a band of forty armed men was following the white men. At any moment the situation might have become awkward. Fortunately at Ibanda they found the chief of the man's own village and persuaded him to take both the slave and her master to the British Resident. This he did, and three weeks later they heard that the woman had been freed.

At the beginning of January 1900 the Bishop was back in Mengo, to find an urgent situation awaiting him.

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