MALINDI, Kenya, Oct 21 – Her recognition in a Google Doodle illustration on August 9 was without a doubt the most notable remembrance accorded to an anti-colonial crusader of her stature in recent years.
Historic records describe her as a fierce and indefatigable woman who thrust to the pinnacle of power in the community by leading her people in the Giriama uprising of the 1913 and 1914 to resist oppression by white settlers.
Mekatilili wa Menza’s role in the struggle for the Giriama people to defeat colonization remains a key highlight of Kenya’s pre-independence fight that saw many like her incarcerated miles away from home.
“Revered as one of Kenya’s first Mau Maus (freedom fighters), Menza traveled from village to village spreading messages of opposition, performing the ecstatic native dance of kifudu to draw large crowds and then unleashing her powerful oratory skills to garner support,” Google cited in a statement released on August 9 when her Doodle was featured on the search engine.
In a typical Mashujaa Day celebration marked annually on October 20 in remembrance of national heroes and heroines, Mekatilili wa Menza’s role in agitating for independence takes the centerstage in Shakahola, a remote village on the shores of River Sabaki, Kenya’s second largest river which emerges from Gatamaiyo Forest as Athi River and terminates in the Indian Ocean as River Galana.
Here, hundreds of native Giriama and the larger Mijikenda people assemble every year at the commemorative ground where she confronted a colonialist and slapped him as villagers watched in disbelief.
“Her actions inspired confidence. For once, people actually realized that a while man was human too. The colonial masters used to be carried around like gods. That notion was dealt a blow,” Emmanuel Munyaya, Chairperson of the Malindi District Cultural Association (MADCA), narrates.
Munyanya is among members of the community who joined an annual 70-kilometre peace walk from Malindi town to Shakahola as part of an initiative by MADCA to honour the famed independence fighter.
“We’re keen to preserve this area for the benefit of future generations. We must strive to honour our heroes and heroine. A day may come when we’d wish to do so but it may be too late. Time to act is now,” Joseph Mwarandu, MADCA’s Secretary General points out.
The celebration on October 20 marked the culmination of a 7-day campaign during which MADCA members mobilized for funds to develop a community museum and resource centre to preserve Mekatilili wa Menza’s legacy. A Safaricom Pay Bill number – 4030649 – was also unveiled during this year’s celebrations to bolster resource mobilization efforts.
This year’s walk saw members make three stopovers at Jilore, Kakoneni and Lango Baya. MADCA, founded in 2003, is seeking the preservation of the esteemed site where Mekatilili wa Menza confronted a colonial ruler and slapped him according to accounts passed down to generations.
“MADCA has so far been able to acquire pay in part the sum of money we need to acquire the land where this cultural heritage will stand. We hope to raise more money to complete the payments and start developing the site,” Mwarandu, a practicing advocate, underscores.
Stan Kiraga, a founder MADCA Chairperson, noted ongoing efforts to preserve the location were in line the association’s quest to immortalize the legendary freedom fighter in recognition of her role in the fight for the liberation of the Giriama.
“Far less significant public figures have been recognized and have public amenities names after them. We don’t see why Mekatilili wa Menza cannot accorded that honour even here in our coastal cities,” Stan Kiraga a founder MADCA Chairperson says.
“Why not name the Malindi airport in her honour?” he poses.
Kiraga says MADCA’s quest for recognition of the legendary freedom crusader will remain steadfast until a memorial befitting her status is successfully established.