Remembering Enoch Olinga

Hand of the Cause of God Enoch Olinga (24 June 1926 - 16 September 1979). Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.

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

At noonday.

 

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.”


 

  1. Baha’i World, Volume XVIII, p. 633 []
  2. Ibid. p. 983 []

About the Author

Yas

Yas is happiest when the sun is shining. After country-hopping across the globe for the last ten years, she lives (for now) in the most beautiful (and windiest) city in the world. She loves the power of the creative word and teaches literature and creative writing to teenagers. She also loves strawberries.

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Discussion 6 Comments

  1. Words in English can not express my feeling at reading your wonderful yet sad article.You shed light to a hero of humanity and a hero to his continent of Africa.I am a fourth generation bahai from Iran living in Los Angeles 40 years now and and can relate to the blood spilling of innocents in my nation and family as well . This faith will not be divided or slowed down rather it will and has catch a blaze of momentum that will encompass this divided nation and earth ! God bless you for teaching us about this wonderful man and his ultimate sacrifice .

  2. Thanks for the beautiful write-up Yas!!! My heart radiates with joy and gladness each time I hear of stories about Hand of the Cause Enoch Olinga. One thing that also comes to my mind instantly is Teaching!!!
    Enoch Olinga opened British Cameroons in 1953 and became Knight of Baha’u’llah. Five of his “spiritual sons” from Cameroon arose to spread the Teachings of Baha’u’llah to other territories in Africa (including French Cameroons, British Togoland, French Togoland and other territories) and they also became Knights of Baha’u’llah.

  3. “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.”

    Please note: The beloved Hand of the Cause made a visit to Canada in early October 1970. See: “The HAND’S VISIT” on visit of Enoch Olinga to Halifax, N.S. ~ Canadian Baha’i News p. 1, Nov, 1970

    Thank you for preparing this uplifting post.

    Sincerely,

    Will Naylor
    Eskasoni, N.S.

  4. I first met Hand of the Cause Enoch Olinga at the Baha’i center London on 18th May 1972 the night I became a Baha’i. As Mr Olinga came into the room he was covered with a radiant light so bright that I could not make out his features. I asked a Baha’i who he was and she merely said he is the speaker tonight. As he spoke with such profound simplicity I couldn’t stop crying the whole time it affected me so deeply. All the answers I had been searching for my whole life were explained in just 30 minutes of his talk. I am sure it was his spirit that had attracted me to go there that evening without me knowing it. I consider him to be my spiritual father.

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