Migrants and Martyrs in Eastern Africa: A Historical Engagement





Bakongo, martyrs, Mau Mau martyrs, migrants, Portuguese “migrant” Christianity


The article explores the nature of “migrants” (temporal residents) and “martyrs” in East African Christianity from a historico-analytical design. It samples six cases of martyrdom, largely from the East African coast, to demonstrate the thin line between martyrs and migrants. An analysis of Bakongo Christianity, which was mooted in the sixteenth century, shows the legacy of “migrant” Portuguese who provided the first Christian martyr (John Robello) in Eastern Africa in 1585. In the course of engaging the sixteenth century and the nineteenth century attempts at Christianising Eastern Africa, the article brings out various forms of Christian martyrs, including the Mau Mau martyrs of the 1950s, during Kenya’s struggle for independence. It also brings out other forms of martyrs from non-Christian faiths. Hence, it cites the African indigenous religion, Islamic, and Christian martyrs. In sampling some cases of martyrdom, the article endeavours to ask: Is martyrdom the real test of faith, or is it the normal route for all “migrants” across the religio-social divides? Hypothetically, it argues that although some church historians ascribe the initial emergence and survival of Christianity in Eastern Africa to the nineteenth century European missionary explosion, it is the sixteenth century Portuguese migrants who first introduced a contextual form of Christianity in East Africa that survived through to the twentieth century despite experiencing a hotchpotch of challenges, where martyrdom formed one of the critical ones.


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How to Cite

Gathogo, Julius. “Migrants and Martyrs in Eastern Africa: A Historical Engagement”. Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae, 16 pages. https://doi.org/10.25159/2412-4265/15050.



Received 2023-10-18
Accepted 2024-05-07
Published 2024-05-31