Re-membering Mwanga: same-sex intimacy, memory and belonging in postcolonial Uganda

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Proponents of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 have denounced homosexuality as an import from the West. Yet every June, hundreds of thousands of Christian pilgrims in Uganda commemorate a set of events, the hegemonic textual accounts of which pivot around the practice of native ‘sodomy’. According to these accounts, the last pre-colonial Kabaka (king) Mwanga of Buganda ordered the execution of a number of his male Christian pages in 1886 when, under the influence of their new religion, they refused his desire for physical intimacy. These events have assumed the place of a founding myth for Christianity in Uganda as a result of the Catholic Church's canonization of its martyred pioneers. This article explores how public commemoration of these events can coexist with the claim that same-sex intimacy is alien to Uganda. Unlike previous scholarship on the martyrdoms, which has focused primarily on colonial discourse, the article pays attention to contemporary Ugandan remembering of the martyrdoms. And against the grain of queer African historical scholarship, which seeks to recover the forgotten past, it explores the critical possibilities immanent within something that is intensively memorialized. The article maps Ugandan public memory of the martyrdoms, unravelling genealogies of homophobia as well as possibilities for sexual dissidence that lurk within public culture.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1–19
JournalJournal of Eastern African Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Oct 2014


  • queer, homosexuality, same-sex, history, memory, Uganda, Mwanga, martyrs


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