Understanding Apolo Kivebulaya: “African Saint” and “apostle to the pygmies”
Research led by Dr Emma Wild-Wood has uncovered fresh insights into the life of influential Ugandan evangelist, Apolo Kivebulaya (1870-1933).
Earlier this year, a grant from the University of Edinburgh’s Moray Endowment Fund allowed Dr Wild-Wood to work in the archives at Makerere University, Uganda, scrutinising writings by and about the Anglican missionary.
Research assistant George Mpanga helped Dr Wild-Wood to translate the archive material from Luganda into English.
Dr Wild-Wood explains:
“Apolo Kivebulaya was an African, Anglican missionary who became Canon of Namirembe Cathedral and a vice-President of the Church Missionary Society. He was renowned for his contact with the Mbuti pygmies and was an inspiration to early East African revivalists. Sometimes described as a Saint, he has had churches and schools dedicated to him, appears in stained glass windows in Uganda and Kenya, on commemorative stamps in Kenya and Tanzania, and in contemporary school text-books in Uganda.
“In European missionary writings, Kivebulaya has been portrayed as a lone pioneer, blazing the trail for the Gospel. Looking at the archive evidence in detail, we could piece together more about the man – the realities of his daily life, the many people he worked with and his social networks.”
An extraordinary insight into the ordinary
“We examined a wide range of source materials,” Dr Wild-Wood continues, “not only Kivebulaya’s own records but a collection of emphemera of the sort that are often discarded, lost or destroyed – jottings, diaries, short letters as well as notes and articles.
“Many of these documents survived because they were written by or to a man who was admired by many, or because they were stored amongst the correspondence of mission societies. Other documents were generated after Kivebulaya’s death as records of esteem. Together, they provide a rare and extraordinary insight into the ordinary, everyday life of Apolo Kivebulaya, and offer fascinating glimpses of some of the people with whom he lived, worked and travelled.
“They also shed light on the quotidien development of Christianity in Buganda, Toro (Uganda) and Ituri (Congo) during the colonial era from the perspective of first generation African Christians who promoted the spread of the faith.
“Kivebulaya attracted a large number of young people to him, particularly in Congo, who became evangelists and perpetuators of his memory, such as Aberi Balya, the first Anglican Bishop of Western Uganda.”
Source book and critical biography
Dr Wild-Wood will produce two books as a result of her research on Apolo Kivebulaya: a source book and a critical biography.
The source book will appear in the Fontes Historiae Africanae (FHA) series published by Oxford University Press. Supported by the British Academy, FHA publishes translated written and oral sources to aid the understanding of the history of sub-Saharan Africa.
The biography is being written under contract with leading Africanist publisher, James Currey, an imprint of Boydell & Brewer Ltd. It is expected to be the first biography of Kivebulaya since ‘African Saint: The Story of Apolo Kivebulaya,’ by Anne Luck (London: SCM Press 1963). Dr Wild-Wood’s book aims to go further than previous biographies, exploring Kivebulaya’s role in the religious and social changes that were taking place in the Great Lakes area of Eastern Africa during the early colonial period.
Dr Wild-Wood is Senior Lecturer, African Christianity and African Indigenous Religions, School of Divinity.