Mashujaa Day, observed on October 20th since Kenya’s independence, used to be known as Kenyatta Day until our 2010 Constitution (Article 9(3)).
On October 20th we celebrate our political independence heroes and other special heroes and heroines who have done brave and courageous things. They include the Mashujaa who contributed to liberation of Kenya from colonialism.
Although, the famous Kapenguria Six, Jomo Kenyatta, Paul Ngei, Bildad Kaggia, Achieng Oneko, Kungu Karumba and Fred Kubai, often represented the face of our independence struggle heroes, personified by Mzee Kenyatta, hence the prior name of the holiday, these are not the only independence heroes.
Other heroes that we remember and celebrate during Mashujaa Day include Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Daniel arap Moi, Harry Thuku, Tom Mboya, Dedan Kimathi, Martin Shikuku, Masinde Muliro, Ronald Ngala, Pio Gama Pinto, Koinange wa Mbiyu and many others including Sardar Makhan Singh, the first trade unionist and arguably one who played pivotal role in the freedom movement by disrupting the English trade and commerce activities titled “Maharaja Nairobi.”
There are hundreds of men and women who fought for our independence. Sadly, we hardly celebrate the women who stood side by side in the fight against colonialism, oppression and suppression.
But, we know of brave and fierce women legends and men, who although not among those mentioned above, inspired and contributed to the freedom we enjoy today. These should also be celebrated and their memories immortalised.
They include Mekatilili wa Menza - The Giriama wonder woman, Cierume - The dancing Embu warrior, Syokimau - The Kamba oracle, the prophetess who saw the coming of the white men and rise against colonialism and their triumph, Ciokaraine M’Barungu - The brave Meru warrior and a prominent female diviner, leader and human rights activist from Meru.
Hawecha - The Oromo dreamer (prophetess), Koitalel arap Samoei - The mighty Nandi prophet, Lenana - The wise Maasai Laiboni, Mepoho - The magic Giriama woman (the Mijikenda diviner), Mugo wa Kibiru - The Kikuyu seer, who saw the coming of the white man and destruction of the Kikuyu tribal customs, Mukite wa Namene - The drumming Bukusu warrior, who united the Bukusu people.
There was also Mwangeka Wa Malowa - The magnificent Taita warrior, who led the Taita against the colonialists, Nabongo Mumia - The noble Wanga, who awed even the British who made him a paramount chief, Otenyo Nyamanetere - The brave Kisii warrior, who was martyred for leading the Kisii against the British colonialists.
Then Esau Khamati Sambayi Oriedo, a barrister and an anti-colonialism activist among those detained in Kapenguria, James Beauttah, who led the Kikuyu Central Association, Kenya’s first all-African political organisation together with Joseph Kang’ethe, later joined by Jomo Kenyatta in 1924 and who laid the foundation that would be the beginning of his road to the presidency.
While we know of six brave women mentioned in this list, we have phenomenal women who have, through their professions gallantly fought for our freedom and sustainability of the environment.
They include Wangari Maathai, our Kenyan Nobel Laureate and others whose exemplary and extraordinary actions have greatly transformed and inspired lives.
Previously, identification of heroes and heroines was done discreetly and those awarded only got a phone call or a visit by a government official to inform them of the great honour from the President.
Today, our Mashujaa must apply or be nominated through a form that requires them to state why they deserve to be awarded a national honour and which award they would like!
People have complained about the reasons for receiving these honours and awards and methods and the criteria for identifying our Mashujaa and even some who have received them. It seems this debate calls for revisioning our national honours and awards. Perhaps we need public participation to redesign the methodology and criteria of identifying and awarding our heroes and heroines to bring back their past glory and meaning.