Missionnaires d'Afrique
Missionaries of Africa

Who was Brother Amans?

Brother Amans, peinture

Brother Amans was born Amans Antoine Delmas on 3rd July 1852 in the small village of Palmas in the diocese of Rodez to the north-east of Toulouse. He arrived at the brothers' novitiate in Algiers on the 3rd September 1876 at the age of twenty-four and received the habit on the 3rd December of the same year. We do not know how he had spent the years since he had left school, but coming from a small village, it is likely that his family were farmers. His personal file contains only two items: a paper with the names of his parents and the date of his birth, and the text of his oath he which he wrote out in his own hand. The first brothers in the Society had taken vows, but the chapter of 1874 substituted for them an oath Amans was the eighteenth brother to take the oath in the Society. The text is rather different from the one in use today. Here it is, just as he wrote it.

Moi, frère amans dalmas, en présence de mes frères assemblés et devant vous, Révérend Père, fait serment de garder l' obéissance, la pauvreté et la chasteté perpétuelle selon les Règles et Constitutions de la Société des missionnaires d'Afrique dans les points qui regardent les frères et qui se trouvent développés dans leur Manuel, je m'engage en outre à travailler selon les Règles de cet Institut et la mésure de mes frères pour soutenir les œuvres de charité et de zèle apostolique entreprises par les Missionnaires pour le bien spirituel et temporel des infidèles de l'Afrique.

It is dated 18th October 1879 when he was already in Uganda.(1) . It marked the end of his novitiate for on the 1st February 1878, only fourteen months after taking the habit, the Cardinal had selected him for the first caravan to East Africa. He was the only brother in the chosen group. All but one of the fifty members of the Society had volunteered to go to central Africa. The choice of Amans was a tribute to his maturity and reliability.

Only a few weeks after selection, the first caravan left Algiers for Marseilles and Zanzibar. Amans and his companions arrived on the southern shore of Lake Victoria on 30th December of the same year having walked from the coast at Bagamoyo. Before entering the kingdom of Mutesa it was necessary to secure the royal permission so, on the 20th January 1879, leaving Livinhac and the rest of the party at Kageye, Brother Amans with Lourdel set out for Buganda , landing on 17th February 1879 near Entebbe. The place where they landed and spent the few days before going to Rubaga is still remembered and a monument marks the spot. When Amans and Lourdel approached Rubaga, they were put in small hut. They remained there for fifteen days, in semi-confinement, sometimes without food, shivering with fever, uncertain of the fate awaiting them. Finally the Kabaka, Mutesa, consented to the coming of Catholic missionaries and provided Amans and Lourdel with a more spacious place to live while preparations were made to go and fetch their companions. On 11th April a fleet of twenty-four canoes supplied by the Kabaka was ready to leave. Amans accompanied the flotilla and brought back Livinhac, Girault and Barbot, landing at Entebbe on 17th June. By then Lourdel, who had remained in Buganda, had obtained a good piece of land at Nabulagala.

Livinhac wrote to the Superior General Deguerry (2): le F. Amans se porte bien. Sans etre très adroit il nous rend de très grands services. C'est notre menuisier, notre forgeron, directeur des cultures, surveillant des enfants durant le travail. Il parait bien content, comprend assez bien la langue et la parle passablement. At the time, there were some twenty orphans whom the fathers had redeemed from slavery. Amans experimented with wheat growing and introduced to Uganda the first trees bearing pawpaws, oranges and lemons (3). He began the long tradition maintained by many brothers over the years, training young men in technical trades.

Amans returned again to the southern shore of the lake in January 1883 with the fathers when they evacuated Buganda. He helped to found the mission there of Bukumbi. The whole party with their Baganda followers was able to return to Buganda when Mwanga succeeded his father Mutesa as kabaka. The return of the missionaries was a triumph. In a long procession with a hundred solders forming a guard of honour and accompanied by a special envoy from the kabaka, the mass of people increasing whenever a village was passed, they were welcomed at the palace by Mwanga himself.

There was a second period of exile to Bukumbi when Mwanga was overthrown in 1888. Amans and Lourdel established a settlement for their Baganda followers at Notre Dame des Exilés at Nyegezi. But within a year Mwanga was restored by a Christian army and the exiles returned.

Thus Amans was present during the early years when the Church was founded in Buganda where he is regarded as an ancestor in the faith. He knew the martyrs personally and when the first Commission of Enquiry for the cause of their beatification was introduced in 1887, Livinhac appointed brother Amans as an official witness of the procedure. From time to time he is mentioned as being with Livinhac and Lourdel at Rubaga. While those two wrote long and frequent letters to Lavigerie, there seem to be no letters from or to Amans in the Cardinal's vast correspondence.

Amans liked to say that he helped found ten missions, the last one being Notre Dame de la Paix at Koki.with Fr Gaudibert in October 1894. Years before, in a letter of Lourdel to the Cardinal dated 1st November 1880 Lourdel said of Amans that he was almost never ill. But after fifteen years of heavy work, travelling, with little medical support, even his robust constitution had been undermined. Prematurely white haired, he was called le cher vieux frère. After only two weeks at Koki, he received a message recalling him to Algiers for a rest. He travelled with Mgr Hirth who was also returning for health reasons. From the first days of the twelve hundred kilometre overland journey to the coast his strength declined so that for the last stages he had to be carried in a hammock - a circumstance which he found very humiliating. The diary of Zanzibar reported on 18th January 1895 that he had arrived at the coast and was very ill. Two hours after arriving at the mission of the Spiritain fathers at Bagamoyo, he died. The diarist remarked, depuis 1878, il n'avait pas quitté l'Afrique équatoriale. Le bon Dieu a décidé qu'il ne se reposerait qu'au ciel. He was buried in the mission cemetery at Bagamoyo where so many young Spiritains had preceded him. Years later, in March 1974, his remains (consisting of fragments of bones) were exhumed, placed in a Zanzibar chest, and taken back to Uganda. Now the Archbishop of Kampala has opened his cause for beatification.

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Buste à l'entrée de la Cathédrale de Kampala et une des rares photos du Frère Amans

Amans was one of the last survivors of the first caravan. In the report of his death in Missions d'Afrique the writer remarked that although he was involved in all the events of Buganda for sixteen years, his name has remained almost unknown. It was a life, he wrote, modeste et si pleine.

Frank Nolan M.Afr
Rome 1st May 2010

1* Rubaga Diary 19 October 1879
2* Livinhac to Deguerry 4th April 1881 C13-28
3* Tourigny page 49 quoting from Mgr Streicher's report to British High Commission 1902. Rubaga archives 14.4

See Also

* 12 May 1890 - Death of Father Lourdel (1853-1890) (by Fr. Stefaan Minnaert M.Afr. & photos archives)

* Archbishop Léon Livinhac, (White Father) Founder of the Catholic Church in Buganda, 1846-1922 (by Fr. Stefaan Minnaert M.Afr. & photos archives)

NABULAGALA 1879-1882
Opening of our new parish Mapeera-Nabulagala in Kampala June 24th 2007

In the footsteps of Fr. Mapeera Lourdel and Brother Amans