Senior curator Julius Ogega meets a former Embu County chief while conducting research for a project documenting the superheroes of Kenya.
In my twenty years working as a curator with the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), I have come to learn that the most important skill I have in my professional toolkit is patience. This project, Shujaa Stories, has challenged and made me appreciate the cultural plurality of our country, Kenya. Today, I now know that in any given heritage research, I am never the expert in the room. I have come to appreciate that in researching and recording oral histories of legendary and mythical heroes from different ethnic communities with narrators, I always walk away with new information and fresh perspectives, and an opportunity for personal growth.
In May 2020, I was requested to join a team of NMK researchers, curators and content developers to develop 30 Kenyan Shujaa Stories to be uploaded on Google Arts and Culture online platform. My motivation was twofold: first, I wanted to learn more about the history of our Kenyan legendary and mythical heroes from the wazee, the living libraries from marginalized ethnic groups, closed from the outside world. Second, I wanted to help document and preserve stories of this important Shujaas from local informers living within these marginalized communities. Google Arts and Culture and NMK supported the project, during which I conducted interviews with community leaders, county government, former government officials, members of academia, teachers, cultural directors, Civil Society organization (CSOs), Non - Governmental Organisation (NGOs) and Community Based Organization (CBOs).
My colleagues and friends Njuguna Gichere, Abdulqadir Mbarak, Jeff Muchina, Linda Tambo, Martha Shavuya, Shani Mutarura, Daisy Okoti, Felicia Wamachi, Wycliffe Oloo, Hoseah Wanderi, Mercy Mukami, Victor Nthiga, Lydia Gatundu, Innocent Nyagah, Raphael Igombo, Andrew Orguba, Fabian Lekesike, Ray Balongo, Rachael Mbinya, Juma Khamis, Silvanus Ambuso, Patrick Abungu, Koriye, Mercy Gakii, Philemon Nyamanga, Stephen Okoko, Anthony Odera, Gilbert Mukung’, Wilstone Mwandoe, Elizabeth Mwandoe, Livingstone Mghenyi, William Oyuga, Deborah, Edward Leluto, Mamo Gedea, Ahmed Kitete, Edith Wangari Wangechi, and Eddy Ochieng’ became the project’s resourceful creative mind. With their assistance and support, I visited 15 communities to research, document and record stories of their heroes, legend, and their shujaas. By 20th October 2020, with the help of this fantastic team, over 30 Kenyan legendaries and mythical Shujaas Stories will be uploaded by Google and can be accessed online.
Conducting oral history interviews increased my understanding and knowledge of the Shujaa from marginalized communities in Kenya’s history tremendously, and I am glad that I undertook the journey, the adventure. Today, I understand that there is broad disciplinary variety in oral history, ranging from critical oral history conferences to lifetime interviews. Also, after only visiting 15 communities, I believe the best shujaa stories are still out there, kept by local communities. With over 30 stories done so far, I believe that the research will continue, to help Kenya document stories of her legend, her Shujaas, for posterity.
Julias Juma Ogega, Senior curator, Directorate of Antiquities, Sites & Monuments, National Museums of Kenya