QUEEN #1: MEKATILILI WA MENZA

7First up, we’ve got one of our very own freedom fighters, Mekatilili wa Menza.

A post shared by Bissu (@bissu_art) on Mar 8, 2017 at 1:16am

(Get this illustration of Mekatilili for yourself on the Instagram page.)

She was a Giriama tribeswoman with killer dance moves and strong opinions about the British colonialists moving in on her people’s territory.

Mekatilili was born sometime in the 1860’s and lived in the coastal area of Kenya – still home to the Giriama people today. She was born to a poor family, but you know money ain’t nothing but a thing, and humble beginnings make for the best stories.

Her life was pretty average up until the time the British started doing the shit things colonailists did back in the day.

You know,

  • Levied enforced labor on the locals (after outlawing slavery) – tf?
  • Tore down the tribal systems of government.
  • Conscripted locals to fight in World War I.
  • Overtaxed, overregulated, and eventually ruined the local economy.

…standard procedure.

She wasn’t having none of that.

At the time, she had been married before and was now a widow.Sad stuff, but this did mean she could stand up and speak among her people – something reserved only for the men in the tribe.

Impassioned, Mekatilili travelled from village to village where she implored her people to resist the British and she did this as she danced. The dance she did is called “Kidufu” and it’s usually saved for traditional Giriama funeral ceremonies. An ecstatic dance that got people to pay attention (especially because she was a woman with a cause). Soon, Mekatilili had a following all over Giriama land; and these people complicated the British “takeover” efforts in the area.

When she caught the attention of the British, they sent her (and her resistance partner Wanje wa Madorika) to exile in Western Kenya – 600 miles away from home. In early 20th century Kenya a lot of people would have resided to the fate of never seeing their loved ones again – but not these two. They actually braved the Kenyan wilderness and  walked the whole 600 miles back to the coast of Kenya (this took them a few years, obvi).

Arthur Champion, the British colonial supervisor who had sent her away so many years before, was floored (and shook!) when he saw Mekatilili back among her people egging for a full on revolution against the British. At this point, Arthur decided to throw in the towel. His resources were limited, and I guess he could recognize a bad-ass queen when he saw one.

Mekatilili’s story is so intriguing and I urge anyone with a few minutes to spare to look into her. A large chunk of the story is lost to us because she never did get around to writing a tell-all, but a lot of the good parts are still alive and will continue to live on for a long time to come.

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