There is an expression – one must never meet one’s heroes. They are bound to disappoint. That must be doubly so for superheroes. That was until Google Arts and Culture and the National Museums of Kenya partnered to launch Superheroes stories to mark this year’s Mashujaa Day. On top of that, the intent is to enhance awareness around Kenya’s heritage. We have personalities who have been a fundamental part of our heritage but it is likely that we know not their tales.
Superheroes is an online exhibition that celebrates Kenya’s history by honouring the heroes and heroines from all tour 44 Kenyan communities. Complete with a quiz deciphering which Superhero you are most like. Apparently, I am Cierume, wielder of the dancing stick who brazenly and fearlessly headed into war, defeating men who did not see her coming. Go, Queen! It also leads me to GorMahia, which I only knew of as a football team. It turns out the son of Ogada was, in fact, a powerful magician who lived in the late 18th century.
The inaugural exhibition was exactly a year ago, 20 October 2019. At the time, it featured Shujaa stories of 28 superheroes representing 14 communities. In the past year, Google Arts and Culture and the National Museums of Kenya have made an effort to capture Shujaa stories across all Kenyan communities.
The collection now features unique stories of 61 Mashujaa, demonstrating our national diversity, pride and foster unity in diversity. Some stood out for me such as Hawecha, the Oromo prophetess, Fumo Liyongo an aristocrat in exile turned ruler who, it must be said, praised himself mightily in his poems, Mepoho, the formidable Giriama magic woman, and of course, Luanda Magere. (I may be a little biased here…).
During the launch, H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s address acknowledged the wisdom and memory of our ancestors. “We must bring them to life in a way that present generations can relate – through technology,” he said, encouraging us to “learn the stories of our folk and cultural heroes, relive their experiences and draw the inspiration that you need from them in order to play your part in constructing and exemplifying our national ethos.”
If, like most Kenyans, you learnt about your ancestors through folklore, then you understand the hunger for more, for a deeper connection with your people. If your parents taught you about your culture, then you probably do what your forefathers did – you passed it on to your children, raising their curiosity about who they are and prompting you to search for answers. Only then do you realise how weakly we have preserved our past – how little you know about your own people. This is what happened with the curation of the Superheroes. A whole new world of untold stories was discovered.
The African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development, Right Honourable Raila A. Odinga, also delivering his address virtually, stated that “Technology is making our work much easier in being able to discover our origins, where we came from and where we are today” adding that “Through the heroes you actually get to know the history of a people. And that is very important in preserving the prestige, and the pride and honour of a people. That is why we talk of unity in diversity.”
Now you can thank the late Masidza Sande Galavu (1993-2020), a co-founder at Shujaa Stories Ltd who succumbed to lupus earlier in the year, along with his partner, Jeff Muchina and his sister Martha Galavu. The trio was commissioned back in 2017 to document the stories of Kenya’s heroes pre-independence via the Superheroes project. The National Museums of Kenya team collaborated, stepping in to provide significant research for this incredible project. The team managed to source, find and interview persons from each community.
This is what has been documented. Stories that were never part of your history classes – stories of past generations that shaped you. Superheroes forms part of the first-ever digital exhibition titled Utamaduni Wetu: Meet the People of Kenya, celebrating cultures, beliefs, generations, and geography.
Dr Purity Kiura, Research Scientist at National Museums of Kenya gives us hope that this project has legs and we should expect our universe to be populated with even more superheroes. “I believe this project will continue for years to come to capture all the legendary heroes and heroines from our communities.”
Back to your curious young one, or even your very own adventurous mind. Go explore g.co/mashujaa, and find over 10,500 high-resolution photographs, 129 expert-curated exhibits and 80 Street Views of 16 sites, all serving up the legends of our ancestors.
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