Shujaa Stories: 21 Superheroes of Kenya

By National Museums of Kenya

21 of Kenya’s greatest heroes and heroines


“Shujaa” is a Swahili word that means brave or courageous. It also refers to someone who is a hero. Here 21 of Kenya's greatest heroes and heroines are celebrated. They fought for their communities’ land, freedom and spiritual well-being; and they are revered by their communities to this day. We tell the stories of our past because we are proud of how far we’ve come, and to inspire our own stories.

Mukite Wa Namene: The Drumming Warrior (Bukusu community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

What are your superpowers?


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 for the younger generation of Kenyans: and that is our legendary pre-independence heroes, and the heritage sites surrounding where they once lived.


Every community has its famous historical leaders. 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.

Mekatilili Wa Menza: Wonder Woman (Giriama community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

1: The Abba Gadas - The Ancient Borana Leadership System


Meet the Abba Gada, head of the Adula council. For five hundred years, the Borana religiously followed this system of ruling themselves because it kept them together, in unity.


Democracy existed in Africa long before the white man ever set foot on the African continent, and strong, age old dynasties are not the preserve of Europe and Asia.


Click here to meet the Abba Gadas who led the Borana community's traditional system of government.

The Abba Gadas: The Rich Ancient Borana Leadership System by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

2: Abdulla - The Mad Mulla


Mohammed Abdulla Hassan was born in the 1870s in Kob Fardod near Kirrit, in what later became Somaliland.
After his pilgrimage to Mecca, years after his grandfather had died in 1875, he met religious fundamentalists who changed his perceptions of the world and the British rule over his motherland. He regarded the whites as infidels.


The Mullah acquired weapons from the Ottoman empire, Sudan and other Islamic communities, and declared war on all infidels (the British). With 5000 of his followers armed with 200 guns, he created the Dervish empire.


Learn more about this legendary Somali rebel and his actions against British colonisers.

Abdulla: The Mad Mulla (Somali community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

3: Ajuran Sultanate - The Royals From Somali


In the midst of the vast Somali expanse in the 13 century, a great empire dwelt upon the land. Their canal system was a marvel of hydraulic engineering and, with a centralized system of government, the Sultans at the helm, and a strong military, not even the Oromo from the west and the Portuguese from the east could measure up to its might. This was the Ajuran Dynasty.


Discover this powerful Somali empire.

Ajuran Sultanate: The Royals From Somali by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

4: Cierume - The Dancing Embu Warrior


Cierume was the dancing warrior from Embu, who killed men with her dancing stick, and went on to become a powerful, fearless leader.


In the end, Cierume lost her chieftainship as a result of a conspiracy by the jealous men. In spite of this, her legacy lives on and her name continues to inspire Embu women to show determination in everything they do.


Learn more about this powerful and inspiring female leader of the Embu by clicking here.

Cierume: The Dancing Warrior (Mbeere community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

5: Ciokaraine - The Brave Meru Warrior


Ciokaraine M’Barungu was a prominent female diviner, leader and human rights activist from Meru.


She is said to have been as famous as Cierume of the Mbeere and Wangu wa Makeri of the Gikuyu.


Click here to uncover Ciokaraine's power and legacy.

Ciokaraine: The Brave (Meru community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

7: Hawecha - The Oromo Dreamer


At a time when men ruled the world and young women had no authority whatsoever, Oromo girl Hawecha gradually rose to a position of unprecedented leadership and power, becoming the most famous prophetess of the Oromo people.


Find out more and be inspired by Hawecha's story.

Hawecha: The Dreamer (Oromo community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

8: Karuri Wa Gakure - The Great Kikuyu Chief


Karuri wa Gakure was a famous Kikuyu medicine man and warrior. He was initiated into the trade as a traditional doctor and became famous for his skills. His fame increased further when he gave war medicine to the Kikuyu warriors of Karura in Kiambu to help them triumph over the Maasai warriors of Naivasha.


Click to learn more about this legendary Kikuyu medicine man and his battle-winning powers.

Karuri Wa Gakure: The Great Chief (Kikuyu community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

9: Kimnyole Arap Turukat - The Nandi Legend


Kimnyole Arap Turukat was the fourth Nandi Orkoiyot – a spiritual and military leader – during the early 1800s. Kimnyole is remembered for his powerful prophecies, which forever altered the lives of the Nandi.


Find out more about the rise and fall of this great leader, and the prophecies he made about the coming of white colonialists.

Kimnyole Arap Turukat: The Legend (Nandi community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

10: Koitalel Arap Samoei - The Mighty Nandi Prophet


Koitalel Arap Samoei was Kimnyole Arap Turukat's son He was the closest to his father and had a greater ability to understand prophetic signs than his brothers. At 25, Samoei succeeded his father as the Orkoiyot, the supreme spiritual and political chief of the Nandi people.


Learn how Koitalel Arap Samoei inherited his father's skills as a prophet, and led his people in resistance against the British.

Koitalel Arap Samoei: The Mighty Prophet (Nandi community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

11: Lenana - The Wise Maasai


Lenana was a famous Maasai Laiboni, who inherited prophetic powers from his powerful father. His legacy lives on today through one of the peaks of Mount Kenya, which was named after him.


Meet this Maasai spiritual leader, known for his skills as a prophet and for collaborating with the British.

Lenana: The Wise One (Maasai community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

13: Mekatilili Wa Menza - The Giriama Wonder Woman


Thought to have been born in the 1840s, Mekatilili is said to have been one of Kenya’s earliest freedom fighters.


Feel inspired by the stories of this Kenyan wonder woman.

Mekatilili Wa Menza: Wonder Woman (Giriama community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

14: Mepoho - The Magic Giriama Woman


The Magic Woman Mepoho was a Mijikenda diviner of repute. She would take part in a spiritual dance, through which – upon being possessed by a spirit – she could then prophesy. She could foretell of any calamities such as drought, famine or foods.


Mepoho also foretold the coming of the British colonialists, before the earth opened and she was swallowed alive.


Learn more about Mepoho's mysterious life and powers of prophecy.

Mepoho: The Magic Woman (Giriama community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

15: Mugo wa Kibiru - The Kikuyu Seer


Mugo wa Kibiru was a famous Kikuyu prophet. He prophesied about the coming of the white man, and foretold the destruction of Kikuyu tribal customs.


Discover the prophecies of this legendary Kikuyu seer.

Mugo Wa Kibiru: The Seer (Kikuyu community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

16: Mukite wa Namene - The Drumming Bukusu Warrior


Among the Bukusu, a story is told of an orphaned boy, born in the 1790s, who rose up to beat the odds, playing war drums and uniting the people of Bukusu Land.


To this day, Mukite’s bravery, and how he united the Bukusu people, is a tale told with pride among the inhabitants of Western Kenya.


Click here to find out more about this fearless drummer, warrior and leader.

Mukite Wa Namene: The Drumming Warrior (Bukusu community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

17: Mwangeka Wa Malowa - The Magnificent Taita Warrior


Mwangeka wa Malowa was a hero, soldier and Chief of the Taita people. As a leader, he championed his people in opposing colonial rule in the 19th century.


Uncover the inspiring story of how one man led his people in resisting the British administration.

Mwangeka Wa Malowa: The Magnificent (Taita community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

18: Nabongo Mumia - The Noble Wanga


King Nabongo Mumia was considered a very popular living legend and a great king by his subjects, because his style of ruling was different from that of those before him. During the colonial administration, the British were in awe of his power and influence, and Nabongo Mumia was recognized as a paramount chief.


Learn more about this noble king of the Wanga community.

Nabongo Mumia: The Noble (Wanga Kingdom) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

19: Otenyo Nyamanetere - The Brave Kisii Warrior


Otenyo was an Kisii warrior who led the resistance against the British invasion of Kisii.


After being executed by the British, Otenyo was seen as a martyr, and his legend grew larger than life as the years went on.


Find out more about the life and death of this brave and legendary Kisii warrior.

Otenyo Nyamantere: The Brave (Kisii community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

20: Sakawa - The Kisii Foreteller


Sakawa was one of the most prominent seers of the Abagusii people and was said to have supernatural powers. One of his most famous demonstrations of his supernatural powers was when he helped the Kisii defeat well-trained and experienced Kipsingis warriors, who had raided them to restock their livestock.


Uncover the mysteries and legends of Kisii seer Sakawa.

Sakawa: The Foreteller (Kisii community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

21: Syokimau - The Kamba Oracle


Long before the coming of the white man, possession of supernatural powers was greatly revered among the Kenyan tribes. Of these tribes, only a few individuals could rival Syokimau of the Kamba for prophetic powers.


Learn more about the powers and prophecies of this great Kamba prophetess and medicine woman.

Syokimau: The Oracle (Kamba community) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

Credits: Story

Created by Tatu Creatives, the illustrations were part of the exhibition ‘Shujaa Stories’ at the Nairobi National Museum. “Shujaa” is a Swahili word that means brave or courageous. It also refers to someone who is a hero. The exhibition shined light on 28 of Kenya’s greatest heroes and heroines. They fought for their communities’ land, freedom and spiritual well-being; and they are revered by their communities to date.

Learn more about the National Museums of Kenya by visiting our website.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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