Mekatilili Wa Menza: The Story of the Giriama Wonder Woman

By National Museums of Kenya

Mekatilili Wa Menza: Wonder Woman (Giriama community) (2019) by Shujaa StoriesNational Museums of Kenya

Mekatilili Wa Menza the Freedom Fighter of the Giriama
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Mekatilili Wa Menza the Freedom Fighter of the Giriama
Mekatilili Wa Menza is believed to have been born in the 1840s, and is said to be one of Kenya’s earliest freedom fighters. She was born in Mutara wa Tsatsu Ganze village in Kilifi County, and her birth name was Mnyazi wa Menza. She became Mekatilili after she got married and gave birth to a son Katilili, hence her name meant 'mother of Katilili.'

Mekatilili Wa Menza the Freedom Fighter of the Giriama
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She had four brothers, Nzai, Hare, Kithi, and Mwarandu, and one sister. One of her brothers, Kithi was captured by Arabs Slave Traders in a market in Kilifi. It was then she remembered Mepoho’s prophecy about the coming of the strange people who had hair like sisal fibres.

Mekatilili Wa Menza the Freedom Fighter of the Giriama
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She also remembered that the coming of these strangers who bean the erosion of the Giriama cultural traditions. Mepoho was a diviner of repute of the Giriama people. The prophecy came true when the Imperial British east African Company (IBEA) arrived at the coast and started plundering local resources and tried to subjugate the people.

Mekatilili Wa Menza the Freedom Fighter of the Giriama
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The Imperial British east African Company (IBEA) tried to remove Mekatilili’s people from the land near the Sabaki river and introduced a ‘hut tax’ on them.

Mekatilili Wa Menza the Freedom Fighter of the Giriama
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Mekatilili was in her 70s when she started to lead her people in resisting the British. Using the sacred Kifudu Giriama funeral dance, she rallied her people to swear oaths and resist British rule. She is also said to have had mysterious powers that came from the kaya, the Giriama shrines.

Mekatilili Wa Menza the Freedom Fighter of the Giriama
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One day, a British administrator, held a meeting at Chakama kwa Hawe Wanje to try to recrute the Giriama youth to join the British army and fight in the First World War. But Mekatilili was having none of it.

With a hen and her chicks in hand, Mekatilili attended the meeting and challenged the Administrator to snatch one of the chicks. The angry mother hen pecked at the Administrators hand, humiliating him in public. Mekatilili looked at him and said “this is what you will get if you try to take one of our sons.”

As a result of that event, Mekatilili together with her son-in-law Wanje wa Mwadorikola were arrested and sent to Kisii in Western Kenya and locked in prison. But on 14th January 1914 they walked free from prison and walked for more than seven hundred kilometres back to Kilifi on the Kenyan coast.

Mekatilili Wa Menza the Freedom Fighter of the Giriama
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Mekatilili continued to lead her people to resist British rule. To try and break the resistance, the British shot the Giriama people, burnt their houses and bombed the sacred kaya. And then the British burnt the bodies of the murdred Giriama in the same fire as sheep.

Mekatilili Wa Menza the Freedom Fighter of the Giriama
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Mekatilili was captured again on 16th August 1914 and sent to Kismayu in Somalia. She escaped again and walked back to Kilifi. Mekatilili died in the 1920s of natural causes. Every year the Mekatilili wa Menza Festival is held in her memory.

Mekatilili’s legacy lives on
Mekatilili is buried in an area known as Dakatcha Woodland. It’s the only place in the world where the birds called Clarke’s Weavers build their nests.

The forests of Mrihi (Brachystegia spiciformis) trees protect the fragile soil, moderate the climate and store water for people and wildlife. The landscape shaped by erosion has created interesting depressions or nyari. One of them, known as Hell's Kitchen, is a popular tourist site.

Credits: Story

Credits: Story
Research field work was undertaken in Samburu and Marsabit (for Gabbra, Samburu, Rendille, Saakuye, Dasanach, Elmolo, Waayu a.k.a Waata, and Burji superheroes/heroines), Embu and Tharaka (for Aembu, Tharaka, Ameru and Mbeere superheroes/heroines), Mombasa ( for Boni, Swahili, Pokomo, Segeju and Bajuni superheroes/heroines)and Taita-Taveta/Voi (for Taveta superheroes/heroines) capturing all information about the heroes from the 30 selected ethnic groups/communities by Museum’s research team.

National Museums of Kenya - Contributors
Mzalendo Kibunjia (PhD) - Director General
Purity Kiura (PhD) - Director Antiquities, Sites & Monuments
Julias Juma Ogega - Senior Curator/Research Scientist
Njuguna Gichere - Research Scientist
Lydia Gatundu - Art Curator
Emmanuel Kariuki - Exhibit Designer
Philemon Nyamanga - Curator/Research Scientist
Mercy Gakii - Curator/Research Scientist
Imelda Muoti - Curator/Archivist
Innocent Nyaga - Marketing Officer
Suzanne Wanjaria - Exhibits Designer
Ray Balongo Khaemba - Senior Collection Manager
Raphael Igombo - Education Officer

Nature Kenya - Other Contributors
The East Africa Natural History Society (EANHS)

Editing
Daisy Okoti - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Shani Mutarura - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Jeff Muchina- Shujaa Stories Ltd
Brian Kiraga - Shujaa Stories Ltd

Illustrations
Masidza Sande Galavu - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Martha Shavuya Galavu - Shujaa Stories Ltd

Photography
Eddy Ochieng - National Museums of Kenya
Linda Tambo - Shujaa Stories Ltd
Juelz Laval - Shujaa Stories Ltd

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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