Mekatilili Wa Menza of Kenya
From the bowels of Kenya, a prophesy about British oppression had gone ahead. What also followed was that the savior would be a woman. No one guessed that it would be Mnyazi wa Menza, an only girl among 5 children, born to poor parents in Mutsara wa Tsatsu, a village of the Giriama sometime between 1840 and 1860. The little girl had no idea as well until she became an eye-witness to the capture of one of her brothers by the Arabs in the market place. The rage and dissatisfaction was only fueled when the British colonial masters arrived the sacred Giriama of Kenya and marched right on to threaten the values of the Giriama people; pushing it right to the verge of erosion. The culture, norms and values of her people were to be replaced with British policies and ordinances. But this was unacceptable to the young woman whom the birth of her son katilili had christened Mekatilili (Mother of Katilili). It didn’t matter who stood as the tower against her, she was ready to fight and tear out her people from the jaws of the British colonial lions.
Despite the fact that numerous ideologies from time immemorial have oppressed, caged, trodden, abused and discriminated against the woman and her core, gender inequality has also provoked her to be referred to as one who is to be seen and not heard and to crown it all, cultural moves, beliefs and practices in the world at large and in Africa particularly, have justified this unnatural behavior.
Gratefully, women like Mekatilili of Kenya have been bold enough to step forward, rising beyond the embargo placed on them by society to express their inner strength and worth.
The fact that she was a young widow without a man to stand up for and protect her should have deterred her but she harnessed and embraced it, preferring to see it as a breath of freedom to travel and speak for the emancipation of her people.
She was a woman of many qualities and these became her tools. Her exceptional prowess in both oratory and the kifudu dance which was a funeral dance garnered many admirers who turned followers. When the need arose she conscripted them to become her army of fighters against the brutal colonial masters. Many of them were women but their gender wasn’t an impediment because they drew strength from their Mekatilili.
She met Wanje wa Mwadori Kola; a notable traditional medicineman her ally. He helped in organizing a large meeting at Kaya Fungo and together, they administered the deadliest oaths: the mukushekushe among the women and Fisi among the men. The oaths helped them keep sacred creed never to cooperate with the British in any form whatsoever or die. Together, they went to war with their courage and trust in the singular course of freedom.
Her exile on 17th October 1913 together with her ally by the colonial oppressors to Mumias in Western Province only functioned as a necessary retreat for Mekatilili. She is said to have escaped and trekked about 1, 000km with Mwadori through the dangerous forests, back to Giriama to continue the fight right where she had stopped. This instilled fear in the colonial master thus, she was recaptured but, this instigated the uprising of October 25, 1914.
Although the British had the upper hand, they were unable to gain total control and eventually, yielded to the demands of the Giriama people.
Many may frown at the insinuation that she is a preserver of life but a close look at the mere fact that she is a carrier of the seed that blooms into a human being is proof enough. The woman is thus to be preserved. In the case of Kenya’s Mekatilili, it is within her bowels that the seed of freedom is birthed and she stopped at nothing to ensure that the freedom of the Giriama people came to be even though she was far away in the Northern parts of Kenya. Five years later, Mekatilili returned again from her second exile.
She was indeed a warrior and one would imagine that her outspoken nature in the battle ground would generally define her. But it’s almost ironical that she enjoyed a very private and quiet life in her home when she wasn’t about the business of freeing her people from the clutches of colonialism or holding leadership positions among the Baraza, Hifudu or Makushekushe. She was womanly in every sense of the word and cared so much for her immediate family, providing basic home needs and dutifully performing wifely responsibilities to her husband Dyeka wa Duka until he died.
Although she died in 1924, and was buried in Bungale, in Magarini Constituency, Malindi District, her heart beats on, inspiring many simply because the woman has been built to be the guardian of the flame of life, virtues and values; the active and total expression of her innate worth in its entirety spells preservation of life and core human and societal values. Her life represents the strength of womanhood and inspires African women to RISE above the inequality and discrimination saddled around their necks.
Post Written by: Mfon Abigail
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– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mekatilili_Wa_Menza
– Afro Tourism City Icon – Mekatilili Wa Menza, Kenya. http://afrotourism.com/travelogue/city-icon-mekatilili-wa-menza-kenya/