Mnyazi wa Menza: Kenyan female icon who beat British colonial masters [1912-1915]

Mnyazi wa Menza: Kenyan female icon who beat British colonial masters [1912-1915]

Mnyazi wa Menza, also known as ‘Mekatilili Wa Menza or Makatilili born in 1860 was a Kenyan independence activist who led the Giriama people against the colonial administration of Kenya between 1912 and 1915.

Mekatilili was born in 1860 in Bamba, Kilifi County, in the Mutsara wa Tsatsu region. In a family of five children, she was the only daughter. Mwarandu, one of her brothers, was abducted by Arab slave traders and was never seen again. Menza got married to Dyeka in Lango Baya at a certain point in her life.

Economic and social-cultural issues contributed to Menza’s inspiration for resistance. In order to ensure that they would remain on the territory of Giriama and only contribute to the well-being of the people of Giriama, Menza decided to prohibit any Giriama workers from being hired by the colonial authorities. She was also concerned about Kenya’s rising Western impact, which she saw as stripping away the culture of Kenyan people.

On 13 August 1913, the colonial administrator for the area, Arthur Champion, held a public meeting, where he gave the community his demands. Menza played an important part in the meeting as she expressed her resistance to the demands of Champion. Menza gave a verbal oath to the colonial administrators at the end of the meeting declaring her position on behalf of her people.

Mekatilili was disturbed by her understanding of erosion the traditional of Giriama culture. Giriama is a patrilinear society and women hardly hold roles in leadership. Mekatilili was nevertheless a widow. Women enjoy many rights in Giriama culture, including speaking to the elders. Due to her status as a true believer in traditional religion, she rounded up her campaign against the colonial authorities. The traditional medic Wanje wa Mwadori Kola assisted her in this. By performing the kifudu dance, she received a large audience. The dance was known for funeral ceremonies but Mekatilili performed from town to town, gathering a good number of people who followed her as she expressed her campaign against Western colonialists.

A large meeting was organized by Mekatilili and Mwadori at Kaya Fungo, where they conducted the mukushekushe oath among women and Fisi among men who vowed to never cooperate in any way or shape with the colonial authorities. Unfortunately after the meeting the colonial authorities responded by seizing large tracts of Giriama land, burning their homes and razing Kaya Fungo. This contributed to the Giriama Uprising, known locally as kondo ya chembe, which was unsuccessful.

On 17 October 1913, Mekatilili was detained by the colonial authorities and exiled to Kisii in Nyanza Province. Five years later, she returned to her native area where she proceeded to condemn the imposition of colonial policies and ordinances. Menza stated that Arthur Champion was solely responsible for forcing Giriama’s colonial policies, which, she believed was destroying Kenya’s traditional culture. Some narrativesv however, suggest that Mekatilili fled from Kisii prison and walked back home to Giriama for over 1,000 kilometres. She was later arrested and sent to a prison in Kismayu, Somalia, where she fled and returned home mysteriously.

Menza died in 1924 and was buried in Magarini Constituency, Malindi District, in Bungale.

Menza was considered to be a symbol for the movement during Kenya’s 1980 feminist movement activists, as she was the first Kenyan women to engage in a struggle for social change. Google celebrated her with a Google Doodle on August 9, 2020.