Jamhuri Day, meaning “Republic Day,” is a Kenyan national holiday falling on every December 12th that commemorates the establishment of Kenya as a republic in 1964.
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Independence from the U.K. also came on December 12th, though that occurred a year earlier in 1963. Jamhuri Day is considered by many to be the most important holiday on the Kenyan calendar, and it is celebrated with a great emphasis on Kenyan culture and history. There are speeches, parades, feasts, traditional singing and dancing, ceremonial raisings of the Kenyan flag, and many other activities that occur on this day. Additionally, because it is only a couple weeks before Christmas, Jamhuri Day in Kenya marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.
Kenya was the home of various African peoples for many centuries before colonisation, but the first colonists were German, followed by British colonists in the 1890s. By 1920, Kenya had become an official colony of the British Empire. Soon, there were disputes between Kenyans and British colonialists over land rights, cultural traditions, political participation, and economic policies. This led to the Mau Mau Rebellion of 1952, which threw Kenya into a state of unrest for a decade. Gradually, concessions were made, but Dedan Kimathi, the leader of the rebellion was executed. In 1957, elections were finally held, and Jomo Kenyatta became the leader of the first elected colonial Kenyan government. Then, as stated above, Kenya became independent from Britain on December 12th, 1963, and a full-fledged republic on December 12th, 1964. Jomo Kenyatta then became their first president, and Kenya joined the British Commonwealth of Nations.
As Kenyans tend to have strong family ties, most of them return home to feast with their family on Jamhuri Day. Some of the dishes that they typically enjoy include: somosa, which can be fried or baked and be filled with minced meat, spicy potatoes, peas, lentils, noodles, or other savory foods; stews made of kale, corn, and tomatoes; various roasted meats; irio, which is mashed peas mixed with mashed potatoes; githeri, which is a mix of beans and corn; ugali, which is dense, boiled cornmeal paste often eaten with vegetables and stews; two spicy rice dishes, pilau with cinnamon, cloves, cumin, and other spices, and biryani, which is eaten mostly on the Kenyan coast; and finally, meat stews made of goat, chicken, or beef, set in a spicy tomato soup base, and including vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, peas, and peppers.
Should you be in Kenya for Jamhuri Day, you will surely want to taste some authentic Kenyan cuisine, and you may also wish to take part in festive activities such as the following:
- Be in the capital city of Nairobi to hear the presidential Jamhuri Day speech or hear it on TV or radio. Also attend the parade in Nairobi or in any of the various provinces of Kenya. You will see Kenyan police and soldiers dressed down in “work clothes” and carrying various trade tools. They will parade this way throughout Kenya to symbolise their freedom to work in Kenya at what trade they desire and wherever they wish.
- Also in Nairobi, look for the annual air show done by the Kenyan Navy every Jamhuri Day. There will also be fireworks, so you will see plenty of worthwhile sights in the Nairobi sky.
- A new tradition in Kenya is to go bungee jumping on Jamhuri Day. It seems to be a way of symbolising freedom, and is mostly done by men who jump off of bridges. You may or may not be up to this sort of sport, but even if not, you can watch those who participate if you like to see daring and exciting activities.
Every Jamhuri Day, Kenyans of all ethnic groups and backgrounds rally in unity around the idea of national independence and a republican form of government. There is much festive food and activity, and anyone visiting Kenya this time of year will find it truly memorable.