Mekatilili Wa Menza

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Mnyazi wa Menza (Mekatilili Wa Menza) (or Makatilili) was a Kenyan woman leader, who led the Giriama people in a rebellion against the British Colonial Administration and policies actively in 1913 – 1914. She became Mekatilili after the birth of her first son Katilili. The prefix 'me' in Mijikenda languages stands for 'mother of'. She is considered a prophetess among the Giriama. The Giriama people are a subgroup of Mijikenda peoples who inhabit the Kenyan coast; they had sacred dwelling places called kayas, located in forested areas, one of which the British Colonial Administration destroyed by dynamiting it in 1914. This was Kaya Fungo.

Early life[edit]

Mekatilili was born in the 1860s at Mutsara wa Tsatsu in Bamba, Kilifi County. She was an only daughter in a family of five children. One of her brothers, Mwarandu, was taken by Arab slavers and was never seen again.[1] She was married to Dyeka at Lango Baya.


British colonial administrator for the region, Arthur Champion, held a public meeting on 13 August 1913, where he gave his demands to the community. Mekatilili opposed Champion's demands and, in a heated exchange, slapped him.

Mekatilili was agitated by what she saw as the erosion of traditional Giriama culture. The Giriama are a patrilineal community and women rarely hold leadership positions. However, Mekatilili was a widow. In Giriama society, women enjoy certain privileges, including that of speaking before the elders. She rounded up support for her cause against the British due to the position she had attained as a strong believer of the traditional religion. In this, she was aided by the traditional medicineman Wanje wa Mwadori Kola. She gained a large audience through her performance of the kifudu dance. The dance was reserved for funeral ceremonies but Mekatilili performed it constantly from town to town, attracting a large following that followed her wherever she went.

Mekatilili and Mwadori organized a large meeting at Kaya Fungo where they administered the mukushekushe oath among the women and Fisi among the men who vowed never to cooperate with the British in any way or form. The British responded by seizing large tracts of Giriama land, burning their homes and razing Kaya Fungo. This led to the Giriama Uprising, known locally as kondo ya chembe.[2]

Mekatilili was arrested by the British on 17 October 1913 and exiled to Mumias in Western Province. According to British colonial records, five years later, she returned to her native area where she continued to oppose the imposition of Colonial policies and ordinances. However, some narratives say that Mekatilili escaped from the prison in Mumias and walked over 1,000 kilometers back home to Giriama.

She died in 1924, and was buried in Bungale, in Magarini Constituency, Malindi District.[3]

Further reading[edit]

  • A Modern-day photography depiction of Mekatilili wa Menza by Rich Allela [4].
  • Elizabeth Mugi-Ndua: Mekatilili Wa Menza : Woman Warrior (Sasa Sema Publications, 2000) ISBN 9966-951-03-2
  • Elizabeth Orchardson-Mazrui: The adventures of Mekatilili (East African Educational Publ., 1999) ISBN 9966-25-004-2
  • "A Socio-historical Perspective of the Art and Material Culture of the Mijikenda of Kenya", PhD Thesis, School of oriental and African Studies, University of London, London,U.K.
  • 2012 Max Dashu, 2012. Mekatilili: prophetess of the 1913 Giriama revolt.[5]


  1. ^ "Mekatilili, prophetess of the 1913 Giriama revolt". Jan 17, 2011. Retrieved Feb 12, 2019.
  2. ^ "Mijikenda elders mark Mekatilili anniversary". The Star, Kenya. Retrieved Feb 12, 2019.
  3. ^ Daily Nation, August 18, 2009: Malindi honours Kenya freedom heroine
  4. ^ "MEKATILILI WA MENZA - African Photographers Rich Allela And Kureng Dapel Bring An African Queen Back To Life". Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  5. ^ Dashu, Max. "Mekatilili: Prophetess of the 1913 Giriama Revolt". Retrieved Feb 12, 2019 – via

External links[edit]