In the days of yore there lived two great souls of women among the Amidzichenda. Amekatilili and Amepoho. In those days women were known by their children’s name so the mother of Katilili and the mother of Poho eventually became legends who lived amongst us.
The stuff of legends feeds well on my soul. Midzichenda legends and its retinue of unique names is indeed music to my ears. As we celebrate 100 years since Mekatilili lived on this earth it’s time for us the people of Kilifi to reflect on what this Kenyan Freedom Hero should mean to all of us.
Shujaa Mekatilili was a woman of valor. She fearlessly revolted against the British and led the Giriama against misuse by the colonial masters in the rubber plantations and against the illegal pole tax. She fought against the alienation of Giriama land and its people into the British slave farm work. She fought to protect our resources. She fought for justice for the Giriama people. She fought for honor and prosperity and above all she fought for the place of the woman in leadership.
Surprisingly, the women have never produced a woman leader since then in the makings of a new Mekatilili. The modern day Mekatilili may not be in parliament nor senate nor a gubernatorial seat or a County assembly hall. The modern day Mekatilili is probably the woman who struggles so much with her environment and wrestles poverty so that her children and her family end up having a decent future.
Under extreme conditions I have seen mothers in this land of Kilifi beating the odds just like the legendary Mekatilili wrestled with the British Mr. Champion and brought honor to the Giriama community. A legend is told of how Mekatilili broke out of the prison cell in Kisii and walked the distance to arrive at her home in Bungale Kilifi.
Also Read: Kaya fungo, the sacred shrine of the Giriama
While I was growing up I used to see mothers nestling children on their backs with heavy loads of vegetables on their heads walking from Kakuyuni and Mijomboni going to sell the vegetable in Watamu. They would stay five days, sleeping on corridors waiting to sell their wares. On the fifth day they would trudge back with two packets of Unga on their way back home. You would see them again after two days. These were mothers struggling to make ends meet for their families. Sadly, when I go home over the weekends I am still confronted by the same sight of women doing the same thing that their mothers used to do. The poverty experienced in those years is the same poverty still being experienced now probably at a larger scale.
The new Mekatilili
Man or Woman, who is the new Mekatilili that will liberate us from the bondage of poverty want and slavery? The resources of the Midzichenda have continued to be plundered as men and women in trousers watch. Our resources have been used to enrich others while we remain in perpetual poverty. The more things change the more they remain the same and the deeper we sink in the abyss of gloom. Mekatilili, a woman of resilience and foresight fought the British who had guns and the entire arsenal. With her bare hands and a strong will and a warrior spirit she stood up and said enough is enough. What she fought was not only a war of liberation from the tentacles of the colonialist but also an economic war. She may not have been schooled in the economics of the place but a war to protect resources was indeed a war of commerce.
The problem with Kilifi county and the entire Coast region is that past leadership failed to protect the resources of the county and the failed to use them for the economic development of its people. What it means is that it rendered the efforts of the war fought by Mekatilili wa Menza and other heroes whom we cherish in vain. A generation cannot fight so hard to protect the wealth of the nation only for the next generation to come and give the same wealth away at a throw away price.
Kenya claims that blood was shed in order to liberate the country. Today let all Kilifians be reminded that actually a lot of liberation blood was shade in Kilifi County during the time of Mekatilili. A story is told of a gathering of the people of Bungale to discuss their resistance to the authority of the British. When the men were seated to start the deliberation the soldiers of the colonial masters set fire on the gathering and the bodies of the Giriama were burnt to ashes. That’s how sad the Mekatilili story gets. As a county we will one day demand for the compensation for the loss and the British must be held accountable for their actions.
It is imperative that our leaders emulate this greatness in the areas of their jurisdiction. The county government should come down with full authority to position itself to protect our wealth. Together as a community the Kilifi people can indeed be one Mekatilili who will stand tough against those who want to plunder what Mekatilili protected. We must all become Mekatilili if we must succeed.