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Google honours freedom fighter Mekatilili wa Menza

 Former Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar (right)admires a portrait of Mekatilili wa Menza in 2016 [Photo: Kelvin Karani]

Kenya’s freedom fighter Mekatilili wa Menza will today be honoured by Google through a special doodle. Menza is known for inspiring Giriama people to resist colonial rule in the early 20th century. “Doodles provide a way for Google to connect with its users by helping them celebrate important moments and heroes,” said Dorothy Ooko, head of Communications and Public Affairs, Africa.

Google began honouring people, events, anniversaries, and holidays with Doodles designed by one of its engineers in 1999. They have honoured several African personalities such as Margaret Ogola, the award-winning author, medical doctor and human rights advocate; Wangari Mathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner and 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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Every August 9, there is an annual celebration in her honour at the Malindi Cultural Festival which has been cancelled this year due to Covid-19. Mekatilili, who is also known as Mnyazi wa Menza, was born in the Giriama village of Matsara wa Tsatsu in Coast 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. 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 oppression.


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 was successful. The British ultimately relaxed control of the region, effectively granting the demands for which Menza and the Giriama had tirelessly fought.

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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 water and 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.

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