Mekatilili wa Menza was a fearless prophetess and warrior who led her people, the Giriama, in rebelling against British imperialism. Born in the 1860s, she is remembered for slapping a British colonial administrator after a disagreement over their imperialist policies and attempts in subduing them.
A subset of the Mijikenda peoples of Kenya, the Giriama were said to inhabit the Kenyan coast with sacred dwellings called kayas, located in forested areas, which were destroyed by the British colonial administration in 1914.
Menza’s rebellion against the colonial administration was motivated in part by the destruction of the habitats of the Giriama people and economic and socio-cultural issues, according to historical accounts.
“She wanted to prevent any Giriama labor to the British, in order to protect Giriamans from enslavement in a foreign land. Menza also fought against the British colonization because it was destroying and undermining the Giriama culture,” one account noted.
It was reported that Menza during a meeting held on August 13, 1913, organized by the British colonial administrator for the region, Arthur Champion vowed that no Giriama would work for the colonial administration.
Google on Sunday celebrated the courage of Menza in leading the Giriama people to rebel against the British Colonial Administration between 1912 – 1915.
The Kenya National Heroes Council member, Amb Yvonne Khamati, observed that Menza’s recognition reinforces what they believe in as Kenya National Heroes Council and a country.
“We believe our Heroes deserve better. They have played their part in nation building. We must affirm them at all times so that we can inculcate the culture of Heroism; the culture of service,” The Star quoted Khamati as saying.
“We shall ensure more of our female heroines are unearthed, highlighted, and feted. Other than giving birth to many celebrated our women were at the forefront of our liberation, our struggles and our future remains solely in their hands. That is the spirit of the Kenya National Heroes Act,2014, and what we stand for as a Council.”
Born in the Giriama village of Matsara wa Tsatsu, the resilient legacy of Menza is celebrated during festivities of the traditional Malindi Cultural Festival on the Kenyan coast.
As a strong believer and advocate for traditional ways, Menza organized a large meeting at Kaya Fungo where she supervised the administering of the mukushekushe oath among the women and Fisi among the men who vowed never to cooperate with the British in any way or form. A traditional medicine man called Wanje wa Mwadori Kola reportedly aided her.
Menza danced the traditional kifudu dance reserved for funeral ceremonies constantly to gain a large audience as she carried out her deviance.
Menza’s courage and ability to incite the people against authorities angered the British colonial administration and that led to the seizure of tracts of Giriama land and the subsequent charring of their home – a move that sparked the Giriama Uprising, known locally as kondo ya chembe.
“The recognition of Mekatilili Menza by @Google goes along way in reinforcing what we believe in as Kenya National Heroes Council and a country,” tweeted The National Heroes Council.
“We believe our Heroes deserve better. They have played their part in nation building.”
Menza died in the 1920s of natural causes.