Google has today published a special Doodle on its homepage to honour and celebrate Mekatilili wa Menza, one of Kenya’s first freedom fighters. She is known for inspiring the Giriama people to resist colonial rule in the early 20th century. Her Google Doodle is the work of guest artist Kelly Wanjira Kinyua, a celebrated Kenyan artiste.
Today at the Kenyan coast, the resilient legacy of Menza is commemorated during the festivities of the traditional Malindi Cultural Festival, an annual celebration of local history and pride. However, the celebrations may not take place this year due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Mekatilili (also known as Mnyazi) wa Menza was born in the Giriama village of Matsara wa Tsatsu in coastal Kenya during the mid-19th century. She organised her people against the British colonial rule at a time when women’s power was limited within her society. At the time, the British colonial rule had threatened the sovereignty and freedom of the Giriama people with forced labour and taxation.
Menza travelled from village to village rallying Giriama people to fight against the oppression of the British settlers. She is remembered for performing the native dance of kifudu (the Giriama funeral dance) to draw large crowds and then unleashing her powerful oratory skills to garner support and encourage her tribe to resist and swear oaths.
The Giriama funeral dance, kifudu.
Her leadership contributed to uprisings by the Giriama against the British in 1913 and 1914, and despite her multiple arrests and imprisonments, her campaign of resistance proved successful. The British ultimately relaxed control of the region, effectively granting the demands for which Menza and the Giriama had tirelessly fought.
She is also remembered for the Mepoho’s prophecy which was about the coming of strange people who had hair like sisal fibres and moved in flying vessels as well as those moving on the water and on land. She believed that the coming of these strangers would begin the erosion of the Giriama cultural traditions. That prophecy came true when the Imperial British East African Company (IBEA) started building the railway at the Kenyan coast.
“Doodles provide a way for Google to connect with its users by helping them celebrate important moments and national heroes,” states Dorothy Ooko, Head of Communications and Public Affairs, Africa.
“Today, we honour Mekatilili wa Menza, the Giriama Wonder Woman who had a heart that was full of passion. Passion for freedom. Freedom against the oppressors of her people. We remember that her resistance quest led to her imprisonment in a far land in western Kenya, and that she had to walk 965 kilometres to get back to her land after escaping from the prison.”
According to Google Arts & Culture, the Mother of Katilili – me means mother in Giriama – was born sometime in the 1840s. She is not only a warrior, but she is also regarded highly and as a role model to many. She has been the inspiration behind a creative fantasy shoot by Rich Allela and Kureng Dapel back in 2017 featured in CNN, the subject of the Arts & Culture opening montage by Shujaa Studios, wielding a glowing wand, and has been immortalised in a comic book for children, Woman Warrior, by Elizabeth Mugi-Ndua.
Google began honouring people, events, anniversaries, and holidays with Doodles designed by one of its engineers in 1999. The company has since then honoured an array of African personalities such as Margaret Ogola, the award-winning author, medical doctor, and human rights advocate; Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner and world-renowned environmentalist; South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba; and Stephen Keshi, former captain and coach of the Super Eagles, Nigeria’s national football team.
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