In Summary
  • Her resistance quest led her to her incarceration in far reaches of western Kenya.
  • Her quest took her through sufferings that no soul should ever know.

She came to rest in a 300 year old mammoth Baobab tree that grew stoically by banks of River Sabaki.

She bore through the tree and made for herself a room inside. A wizened elderly woman who could be anyone’s grandmother.

Except that she had nerves of steel, belly aching will and a heart that was alight with passion. Passion for freedom. Freedom against the oppressors of her people.

Her resistance quest led her to her incarceration in far reaches of western Kenya. Her quest took her through sufferings that no soul should ever know.

Elders holding a discussion at the Mekatilili wa Menza Cultural Centre. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA

Through rugged jungles teeming with fanged beasts and slithers. Spooky forests that no elderly, sickly and lone woman in loin cloth should ever know. But it brought her home near the mouth of the profound Indian Ocean.

If only she did not die few years later in her final abode of squalor. She would know her bravery was for not nothing.

1840, in the present day Sabaki in Malindi, a girl was born. She was named Mnyanzi wa Menza The only daughter in a poor family of five.

Her once peaceful Giriama community was no longer at peace. What she witnessed was unthinkable. The Arab slave traders invaded the Kenyan Coast.

With abandon and untold brutality they captured residents and took them across the seas to slave markets in Europe and Far East.

They were separated from their families to a life of hard lab or and misery, the rest of their doomed lives. One of her brothers was snatched away before her very eyes. She would never see him, never again.

A keeper of legends at Mekatilili wa Menza Cultural Centre. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA

A once married but later widowed Mekatilili decided to lead her Giriama people in a rebellion.

She started the rebellion by leading public gatherings at Chakama to protest the Brits’ recruitment of African porters for the First World War and seizure of fertile Sabaki valley.

The Britons responded by cold bloodily fire into the unarmed crowd.

Scores of souls perished.

FIGHT BORE FRUIT

Mekatili’s fight started bearing fruit. She succeeded in blocking British quest to cheaply hire African labourers and water foreign economies with their sweat.

She largely succeeded in stopping the colonisers from collecting taxes from Kenyans. Mzee Mwarandu, a Kaya elder at Mekatilili Cultural Centre tell  me that, the success of Mekatili’s battle was her ability to inspire the Giriama with the legends of Mepoho.

"She  rallied women and told them that the land would be doomed and fertility lost if they don’t stand down. The Brits labelled her a witch and prophetess of doom," says Mwarandu.

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