Mashujaa is Swahili for ‘Heroes’ and as such Mashujaa Day is also known as Heroes’ Day. It is a public holiday to honour all Kenyans who have contributed towards the struggle for Kenya’s independence.
This holiday used to be known as Kenyatta Day, named after Jomo Kenyatta, who was first Prime Minister and then President of Kenya. Kenyatta was a prominent campaigner for the independence of Kenya from British rule. He was arrested in October 1952 along with five others (Achieng’ Oneko, Bildad Kaggia, Fred Kubai, Kung’u Karumba and Paul Ngei) on charges of being members of the Mau Mau Society, a movement engaged in rebellion against Kenya’s British rulers. The accused were known as the ‘Kapenguria Six’.
The detainment of the six is seen as a prominent event in the struggle for independence and was therefore commemorated with a public holiday on the 20th of October.
The holiday was first observed in 1958 mainly by activists, but quickly grew and was seen as a success by 1959.
After Kenya gained independence in 1963, the date was embedded in the law as Kenyatta Day.
When Kenya adopted a new constitution in August 2010, several changes were made to the public holidays observed in Kenya and Kenyatta Day was renamed Mashujaa Day with the focus of the day widening to include all those who contributed to the independence of Kenya.
This year’s Mashujaa Day saw world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge being awarded with the Elder of the Order of the Golden Heart medal during Mashujaa Day celebrations in Mombasa. The Elder of the Order of the Golden Heart is a Presidential award second only to Chief of the Order of the Golden Heart which is mainly a reserve for Heads of State.
The athlete was recognised for his feat during the recently held INEOS 1:59 Challenge held in Vienna, Austria, where he became the first human to ever run a marathon in under two hours.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, while concluding his speech, called on Kipchoge to join him on the podium and conferred upon him the honour while describing him as ‘living legend’ and the ‘greatest of our time’.
Let us continue to celebrate our shujaas; those who have sacrificed greed, selfishness, personal comfort and advancement at the altar of the greater good.