OUT&ABOUT: In the footsteps of Mekatili wa Menza- PHOTO

Thursday November 9 2017

Mekatilili wa Menza's final home. She bore

Mekatilili wa Menza's final home. She bore through the tree and made for herself a room inside. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA 

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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

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

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.


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.

Mekatilili's shrine in Sabaki. PHOTO| TOM

Mekatilili's shrine in Sabaki. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA

They further accused her of administering oaths and pronouncing utterances to inspire violence Months passed after Chakama Baraza.

The oath she administered forbade the Giriama from co-operating with the British in any way and threatened dreadful consequences to those who disobeyed, including being exposed publicly as traitors to their people.

A kiraho (spell) was cast on those who donned English clothing or attended mission schools.

Mekatili was highly feared and  revered . No-one dared  rebel against her .She was one of the vocal mouth pieces Kenya and has ever known .

"She had unbelievable strength and character," says Mzee Mwarandu. To attract hordes to her barazas, she would move from one village to another dancing Kifudu, a revered dance that was only performed during Giriama funerals. The women would follow, men in tow.

In 1914, the daughter of Kitili was arrested together with Wanjewa Mwadorikola and locked in the far reaches of present Western Kenya.Prison did not hold her.

In relentless pursuit for freedom, for herself and her Giriama people she and Wanje escaped from the prison .

She traced her way home by following River Galena which joins River Athi to make Sabaki, a river wide, grey and infested with river monsters and marauding beasts that roam the forests deep.

Mekatilili wa Menza Cultural Centre. PHOTO| TOM

Mekatilili wa Menza Cultural Centre. PHOTO| TOM MWIRARIA

Hamisi, a guide at the Mekatili shrine at Sabaki says“It is is wondrous that she could brave such a long distance through a dangerous river course."

25 the October 1914, Giriama uprising started just after her prison escape.

Scores of Giriamas died in the hands of the Brits and over 5000 homes destroyed. The price of Giriama ‘emancipation’.Ironically, Kilifi is one of the poorest and least developed regions of Kenya, and regularly suffer from pangs of famine and low education.

It's 'Not Yet Uhuru' for the the Giriama community.

In 1925, she was aged 70.That year, the brave daughter of Kitili died. Legends say that she died while pounding grain in the field, sinking into earthly mouth and into gluttonous the belly. Others like Hamisi, a guide at the Mekatili shrine say she died from unknown fever.

She had fought a good battle for her Giriama community. The resistance she led contributed hugely to emancipation of Kenya as we know it though it took five decades to commemorate the Kenyan freedom heroine. Her statue was unveiled at Uhuru Garden — renamed Mekatilili wa Menza Garden in her honour. Mekatilili's final Baobab home is now a shrine.