CNN: How do we immortalize people who have impacted the world and made it better in a significant way? Two photographers, Rich Allela and Kureng Dapel, show us how in a series of images in a project titled “African Queens.”
They recreated the life of a female Kenyan icon Mnyazi wa Menza, who was popularly known among her people as Mekatilili wa Menza.
Mekatilili is celebrated in Kenya for challenging oppressive colonial policies in the early 1900s.
She was fearless and was even said to have slapped one of the British colonial masters in a heated argument in August 1913, according to The Star, a local newspaper in Kenya.
Commenting on the project, Allela said it “represents the strength of womanhood, and inspires the African woman to rise above the inequality and discrimination faced every day.”
Here are some of our favorite images from the collection.
Mnyazi wa Menza a.k.a Mekatilili was a strong woman known for her fierceness and resistance of colonial rule in Kenya. This photography project represents her life in the Giriama region of Kenya where she lived from the1840s to 1924, according to local sources.
In this reimagination, a fearless Mekatilili is pictured readying for battle, defying the age-long patriarchal norms in Kenyan (and generally, African) societies. Women were not known to be headstrong during that time, but Mekatilili could not be silent about the colonial oppression in her community. While celebrating her achievements, Kenyan newspaper, Daily Nation, described her as the “mad woman who rattled the British.”
Infuriated by the exploitative practices of forced labour and over-taxation by colonial masters in the Giriama community, Mekatilili challenged colonial rule. It is documented that she once slapped a colonial master during a heated exchange over demands made by him from her community. She stood strongly for traditional religious practices and preservation of native customs and traditions, says Kenya’s The Standard.
According to local media reports, Mekatilili was renowned for her dancing. She performed the native kifudu dance (a dance reserved for funeral ceremonies) from town to town, and she used this dance to attract a large following and support for her cause. Some Kenyans still refer to Mekatilili as “the widow who beat the British through ecstatic dance.”
She vehemently stood against British conscription of Giriama men to fight in the World War I and rallied her community to resist British colonial rule, which put her at loggerheads with the colonial masters, who sent her on exile.
In October 1913, Mekatilili was banished from her community for her fearlessness and outright confrontation of British colonial masters (according to the Daily Nation).
But she returned five years later and did not back down. Mekatilili continued speaking out against repressive colonial policies and ordinances. She refused to be deterred by anyone or any policy.
Mekatilili was one of the first women to stand up to colonialists in Africa. The Daily Nation documents that the British called her a “witch” and “a prophetess who gave additional force to the oath in spreading the gospel of violence.”
Mekatilili’s courage has inspired many women across Kenya and Africa to stand up for their rights and defend themselves and their communities against undue oppression. A statue has been erected in honour of her efforts at Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi, and the garden has been renamed Mekatilili wa Menza Gardens.
Ized Uanikhehi contributed to this story
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