Strength of a woman: The great Mekatilili wa Menza

The emergence of Mekatilili wa Menza as an icon of the struggle of oppression against colonial rule was prophesied decades before her birth. The seer Me Po Ho or Mepoho had foreseen the coming of Europeans to Africa and the subsequent subjugation of its indigenous peoples that would follow. She prophesied about Mekatilili’s great deeds that she would in the face of colonialism and also about her death.

Born in the late 19th century, she was the only girl in a family of five boys. Mekatilili came from a poor family who suffered from the effects of the slave trade in Africa. Mekatilili was eventually married but became a widow which gave her a freedom that most married women at the time did not enjoy.

By the time that the British had begun their occupation of Kenya Mekatilili was an old woman. High taxation, forced labour and land grabbing were things that were relatively new to the Giriama tribe and as such they were not welcome. This spurred on Mekatilili to begin her resistance against the British. In association with another patriot, Wanje wa Mwadorika, Mekatilili started giving public addresses rallying people against the colonialists. In a short span of time, the Giriama heeded her warning.

She was arrested in October 1913 and sent to jail in Kisii but this was no hindrance in her mission. 5 months later she escaped and moved back to the coast. She and Wanje walked the great distance in between taking 3 months to reach home and surviving the wild Kenyan territory.

In 1919 a war broke out between the Giriama people and the British that was sparked by the destruction of kayas (holy shrines) and the second imprisonment of Mekatilili. She also escaped for the second time and soon focused her efforts in winning back those who had become loyal to the colonialists.

 

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