Mekatilili Wa Menza Biography
Mekatilili Wa Menza was born in the 1840s, she was a Kenyan woman leader, who led the Giriama people in a rebellion against the British Colonial Administration and policies actively in 1913 – 1914.
The Giriama people are a subgroup of nine groups who inhabit the Kenyan coast;they had sacred dwelling places called Kayas, located in forested areas, one of which the British Colonial Administration destroyed by dynamiting it in 1914. this was Kaya Fungo.
Mekatilili Wa Menza was the only daughter in a poor family of five children. One of her brothers was snatched away by Arab slavers and never seen again. Mekatilili Wa Menza married but was later widowed, which along with her age gave her more freedom to move as a woman leader.
Mekatilili Wa Menza Fight against Colonialism
She started by leading a public baraza at Chakama to protest English recruitment of African porters for WWI; they responded by firing on the crowd.
Mekatilili Wa Menza succeeded in blocking British attempts to hire African laborers on the cheap and to collect taxes from all Kenyans in order to force them to work for their companies and into the foreign money economy.
“The success of her campaign was in part because she called women together and drew on the tradition of Mepoho, a female prophet who predicted that the land would deteriorate, youth would not respect their elders, and the Giriama would no longer bear healthy children.”
Six months after this baraza, the British arrested Mekatilili Wa Menza, but she wasn’t through. She escaped from the prison camp in western Kenya and walked a thousand kilometers to return home.
“It was unbelievable that she could have walked such a distance through the forest infested with dangerous wild animals,” says Mwarandu.
She returned to action, and was arrested again, this time to be sent north to the Somalia border area. Again, a second time, she escaped.
“She likened herself to a mother of chicks in defence of the villagers.” Mekatilili Wa Menza opposed forced labour in British-owned rubber and sisal plantations, the colonial hut tax (forcing every family to give money to the British), land seizure evictions from the fertile Sabaki River Valley and restricted consumption of palm wine (mnazi).
“She is a heroine of her and our time also. She advocated freedom and basic human rights for all,” said Mr John Mitsanze.
Five years after the revolt, the British had failed to gain control of the country, and were compelled to accomodate a Giriama government.
Mekatilili Wa Menza returned to head up a women’s council (something that had not existed in the immediately pre-colonial period). She died around 1925 at the age of about 70.
Mekatilili wa Menza Death
Mekatilili Wa Menza died in 1914, and was buried in Bungale, in Magarini District.
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