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Syokimau: The Oracle (Kamba community)

Shujaa Stories2019

National Museums of Kenya

National Museums of Kenya
Nairobi, Kenya

Long before the coming of the white man in Africa, possession of supernatural powers was greatly revered. Among the communities in the country today known as Kenya, only a few individuals could rival Syokimau of the Akamba in prophetic powers.

Syokimau was born and raised in Iveti Hills, near what is now Machakos in the 1800s. Besides being a prophetess, she was a great medicine woman. Her people held her in high regard because it is claimed that she could predict if and when other communities such as the Maasai and the Gikuyu would attack. Such predictions gave Kamba warriors enough time to prepare to defend themselves.

Syokimau is said to be the greatest Kamba prophetess that ever lived because of the unmatched accuracy with which she prophesied the coming of the White men and the building of the Kenya-Uganda railway line. In her prophecy she saw a long snake spitting fire and smoke as it moved from waters to other waters. From it came out the people, their skin like white meat and their words nonsensical like the chirping of the birds. In their pockets, she said, they carried fire with them, everywhere they went. Foretold somewhere in the mid-1800s her prophesy about the coming of the white men was probably before all the prophets that followed in later years. She also foretold the coming of a generation that would behave in strange ways. This generation would talk like weaver birds claim to be wiser and break traditions. They would do things that were considered taboos and would surprisingly, even build houses on top of one another!

In the 20th century, her prophecy did come to pass. The long snake that spit fire and smoke, was the Kenya-Uganda railway line that began at the coast in Mombasa near Indian Ocean. The railway snaked across the land to the then Port Florence that is now Kisumu, home of Lake Victoria. The strange people with skin like white meat were the White people, the colonialists and their so-called nonsensical words were the English language. The strange generation that was prophesied is our generation. We have after all built houses on top of other houses, the skyscrapers we see.

Syokimau died in mysterious circumstances that even her people could not explain. Her people claimed that she died and resurrected twice before dying for good the third time.
It is later said that Syonguu wa Kathukya, another prophetess from Athi River was so amazed at her prophecy that she named the place that is now called Syokimau after her. There is a statue of Syokimau at the Syokimau Standard Gauge Railway station to celebrate this great Kamba prophetess and medicine woman.

Bonus Information:
Syokimau predicted the railway and skyscrapers – did she imagine that a railway station near the skyscrapers would be named after her? Syokimau railway station is also near Nairobi National Park, the crown jewel of Nairobi. Can we imagine that lions, giraffes, ostriches and eagles can be seen living wild within the city limits? Nairobi National Park is a heritage that we need to guard and protect, even if there is a railway running across it.

Details

  • Title: Syokimau: The Oracle (Kamba community)
  • Creator: Shujaa Stories
  • Date Created: 2019
  • Location: Kenya
  • Rights: Shujaa Stories in collaboration with Nature Kenya and the National Museums of Kenya
  • Community: Kamba
  • About Shujaa Stories: This is a Kenyan superhero display of the country’s pre-independence legends who fought for their communities’ land, freedom and spiritual well-being; and are revered by their communities to date. Conceptualized in 2017, the idea was the brain-child of Masidza Sande Galavu (1993-2020) who was a Creative Director and co-founder at Shujaa Stories and Tatu Creatives in Nairobi. ‘Shujaa’ is a Swahili word that means brave or courageous. It also refers to someone who is a hero. Shujaa Stories made its public debut with an exhibition at the Nairobi National Museum in 2018. It shined light on 28 of Kenya’s greatest heroes and heroines. Each story was coupled with a bonus text on conservation related to the heritage sites surrounding where these legends once lived. In 2020, supported by National Museums of Kenya and Google Arts and Culture, Shujaa Stories Ltd completed over 30 new shujaas that cut across the major and marginalized Kenyan communities. Kenya is rich in history and culture. Some of this richness has been brought out in our books, museums and in theatre. But there is one major section of our history that has been left out, especially to the younger generation of Kenyans, which are our pre-independence legendary heroes. Some of these heroes are known well beyond their communities due to the respect they managed to garner across the region. Many of them have a well-developed and sophisticated folklore which embodies their history, traditions, morals, worldview and wisdom. The design language chosen for the entire exhibition is animated illustrations that seek to bring out the superhero character of each shujaa.

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