Mekatilili wa Menza


Mekatilili was a woman of the Giriama in coastal Kenya, who led a revolt, during the early 1900s, against colonial rule. She was noted as a charismatic speaker who commanded respect. She convoked the Giriama to take oaths, and offer sacrifices to restore their sovereignty.

She started by leading a public baranza at Chakama, to protest English recruitment of African porters for World War 1. They responded by firing at the crowd.

Mekatilili drew on the tradition of Mepoho, a female prophet and fought with her fellow women warriors, and succeeded in blocking British attempts to hire African labourers on the cheap, and to collect taxes from all Kenyans, in order to force them to work for their companies, and into the foreign money economy. Six months after this bizara, the British arrested Mekatilili. She escaped and returned home. She got arrested again, and got sent north to the Somalia border area. She escaped again. Mekatilili opposed forced labour in British-owned rubber and sisal plantations, the colonial hut tax, land seizure evictions from the fertile Sabaki River Valley, and restricted consumption of palm wine.

Five years after the revolt, the British had failed to gain control of the country, and were compelled to accommodate a Giriama government. Mekatilili returned to head up a Women’s Council. She died around 1925 at the age of 70.


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