There are three memories that have stayed most profoundly in my heart from my visit to Uganda. The first is the richness of the deep-red soil – much of which I carried home with me on my clothes and shoes! The second is the humble, yet awe-inspiring House of Worship that sits with quiet majesty on Kikuya Hill. When you stand within the Temple, and look up, you are greeted with a luminous turquoise-sky ceiling, at the heart of which sits the Greatest Name. The third, and perhaps most poignant, memory, however, was my opportunity to visit the resting place of Enoch Olinga – Knight of Baha’u’llah, Father of Victories, and Hand of the Cause of God.
The following are the opening words of the cablegram sent to the Baha’i World from the Universal House of Justice on the untimely death of Enoch Olinga:
WITH GRIEF-STRICKEN HEARTS ANNOUNCE TRAGIC NEWS BRUTAL MURDER DEARLY LOVED GREATLY ADMIRED HAND CAUSE GOD ENOCH OLINGA…
When tragedy imprints itself on any story, it often becomes very difficult to remember anything else. But, although tragedy did indeed mark the lives of Olinga and his family, his was also a tale of joy, triumph and ultimate victory. In the same cablegram, the House of Justice honours and immortalises, as an imperishable memory,
HIS RADIANT SPIRIT, HIS UNWAVERING FAITH, HIS ALL-EMBRACING LOVE, HIS LEONINE AUDACITY IN THE TEACHING FIELD, HIS TITLES KNIGHT BAHA’U’LLAH FATHER VICTORIES CONFERRED BELOVED GUARDIAN, ALL COMBINE DISTINGUISH HIM AS PRE-EMINENT MEMBER HIS RACE IN ANNALS FAITH AFRICAN CONTINENT.
Indeed, one friend described Olinga as “sunshine bursting through the clouds.” Despite the tests that Olinga himself faced throughout his life, he was known to often greet others with the words, “Are you happy?” Ruhiyyih Khanum recounted one of his most endearing qualities was his “great joyous, consuming and contagious laugh.”
Born into the Atesot tribe in the Teso region of Uganda, Olinga was raised in a devout Christian family and, after joining the army, studied economics and began working as a translator. Despite his dedicated service to the government, Olinga was eventually dismissed from his job due to his alcoholism. During this period, however, he was introduced to the Baha’i Faith through Ali Nakhjavani and the Banani family. At the age of 25, Olinga became the third Ugandan, and the first of his tribe, to accept the Faith.
The transformation that took place within Olinga was immense and, witnessing his profound change in conduct, his wife Eunica too became a Baha’i. Many other Ugandans’ hearts were also touched by the light of this faith, and within the year the first Local Assembly in Uganda was formed.
In 1954, in response to the Guardian’s call, Olinga journeyed to Cameroon, opening up the territory to the Faith and, as a result, became the Knight of Baha’u’llah for west Togoland, and was given the title “Abu’l-Futuh”, the “Father of Victories”, by Shoghi Effendi. In February 1957, at the age of 30, Olinga travelled to the Holy Land and spent ten days in the presence of the Guardian. Soon after, Olinga was able to visit Kampala, Uganda, where he attended the laying of the foundation stone of the first Baha’i House of Worship in Africa.
One month before Shoghi Effendi’s passing, on a visit to Uganda, on October 2, 1957, Olinga was notified through a cable received by Musa Banani, that he, along with John Roberts and William Sears, had been elevated to the rank of Hand of the Cause of God.
Over the next few years, Olinga travelled extensively, including to Upper West Africa, South America, Central America, the United States, the Solomon Island and Japan. In 1977, he returned to Uganda to help protect and strengthen the Baha’i Community during a civil war that had broken out.
In 1977, the new dictatorial government headed by Idi Amin banned the Baha’i Faith and many Christian organizations in Uganda. The next few years were filled with much turmoil and danger for Olinga and his family, with various attempts made on his life. At one point, Kampala was pulsing with violence and Olinga sought refuge on the Temple property. He made his way there on foot, under extreme pain, struggling against the crowds of people trying to flee the city. That night, while Olinga prayed, a fierce artillery battle raged around the Temple. The next day, the Temple still stood, undamaged.
However, greater tragedy was still to come. On Sunday, September 16, 1979, five soldiers in unmarked uniforms knocked on the door of the Olinga home.
The young man who worked in the Olinga home recalled: “At about 8:30, I heard someone shaking the gate to the compound and, looking through the window, saw five armed men walking towards the back door leading to the kitchen. They shouted ‘open’ and banged on the door. Lennie [Olinga’s son] opened the door and there was a sound of shots. I fled over the fence to hide in the neighbor’s bushes and remained there in terror all night.” The young man goes on to describe what he saw when he ventured back into the house at dawn: Enoch, and many members of his family, had all been killed.1
Ruhiyyih Khanum’s heartbreaking poem, written shortly after Olinga’s brutal murder, perhaps most aptly captures the grief and devastation felt throughout the world:
The sunlight is black
The sunlight is black
What raven wing
Covered my sun at noonday?
In my mouth is the salt of tears
I cannot swallow so much salt . . .
Blood is so beautiful
Blood is so pure
Why do the people let blood
Run in the street?
So long it took
To make this man
Noble and good
His mind and his soul
Expanded like sunlight
Why did you kill him?
Are you pleased at this riddled shell,
This mangle of bone and flesh?
Did you think your deed in the dark
Was a bright light?
Everything is pulsing,
Throbbing and throbbing!
There is no answer
And the sunlight is black.
Go Enoch go!
Go to Musa on the hill
Go to your Master
Go to your Guardian
Go to the Kingdom of Light!
But ask not of us
Nor of your people
Who have plucked a sin
Big enough and dark enough
To blot out the noonday sun!
Woe to Africa!
Weep as you have not wept before,
Weep on your knees,
Weep your eyes blind,
You have murdered Abu’l-Futuh,
The Father of Victories is dead
At your hand, at your hand!
Your jewelled crown
Placed by God on your head
Is rolled into the grave-
Weep, weep, weep your heart away.2
On September 24, 1979, Enoch Olinga, immortalised for “his radiant spirit, his unwavering faith, his all-embracing love [and] his leonine audacity” was laid to rest near the House of Worship, next to the spot where Musa Banani, his fellow Hand of the Cause of God, was buried. Here, forever side-by-side, lie Musa Banani, the “Spiritual Conqueror of Africa”, and Enoch Olinga, the “Father of Victories.”