Mekatilili wa Menza wasn’t just any woman; she was a force to be reckoned with. She was a woman obsessed with justice. She also recognized the importance of preserving cultural practices. Mekatilili roused the coastal Kenyan communities in order to repel the British.
She was a Giriama, one of the Mijikenda community’s nine subgroups in coastal Kenya. Mekatilili wa Menza led the Giriama people in ridding themselves of the British colonial administration’s exploitation and extortion.
As a young girl, Mekatilili wa Menza (daughter of Mekatilili) witnessed the horror that her community was facing. Her community, located on Kenya’s coast, served as a base for the acquisition of slaves by Arabs and the British, who sought cheap and strong labor for their vast farms.
The fact that Mekatilili worked to restore the Kaya is what drew my attention to her story. Kaya were important Mijikenda gathering places. These were sacred sites where the Mijikenda prayed, performed religious rituals, and exercised their rights. It was also a place of governance seating. The Kayas were deep in the forest, and it was forbidden to cut down trees or vegetation in these areas.
Mekatilili was able to rally the coastal community against the imposed taxes and the British way of life thanks to these Kayas.
She paid the price for her crusade by being accused of witchcraft. Mekatilili and her husband Wanje were arrested and sentenced to five years in Kisii prison in Western Kenya in October 1913.
But, after 5 months, Mekatilili and her husband escaped from prison and returned home. Only to discover that Kaya had been blown up by explosives. She also discovered that the British were still collecting taxes. And they intended to establish farms in the fertile north land of the Sabaki River.
Despite the fact that Mekatilili and her husband were apprehended, the uprising was in full swing. In September 1914, the Mijikenda attacked the surrendering British.
Mekatilili and her husband Wanje were released from prison in 1919 to help rebuild the Kaya. The Mijikenda community’s soul! We require Mekatilili’s strength right now. A sense of pride in one’s heritage, culture, and the heart of self-sacrifice.
She passed away in 1924 and was laid to rest in Bungale, Magarini Constituency, Malindi District.
Legacy and Tribute
Activists in Kenya’s 1980 feminist movement saw Menza as a symbol of the movement because she was the first recording Kenyan woman to participate in a fight for social change. Google will honor her with a Google Doodle on August 9, 2020.