‘Mad woman’ who rattled the British

A statue of Mekatilili Wa Menza, a heroine of the freedom struggle at the former Malindi Uhuru Gardens now named Mekatilili Garden. She led the Giriama in a rebellion against the British rule between 1913 and 1914. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Archival records show that Charles Hobley, who was the Coast provincial commissioner from 1912 to 1919, attributed most of the responsibility for Giriama resistance against colonial labour and taxation policies to “an old blind rascal named Ngonyo” who “instigated a half-mad woman named Katilili to tour the country preaching active opposition to Government.”
  • But the British were not just sitting by. Mekatilili and a male leader of the Giriama resistance, Wanje wa Mwadorikola, were arrested in October 1913 and sentenced to five years detention.
  • Mekatilili was variously described by the British as a “witch” and a “prophetess who gave additional force to the oath in spreading the gospel of violence”.

Mekatilili wa Menza may have been in the freedom struggle scene for a short time, but her contribution in raising the African consciousness among the Giriama people of the Coast was immense.

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