COAST’S UNSUNG HEROES, HEROINES
Historians and politicians have lived to disregard the role and impact of the Mekatilili-led Giryama resistance. Nevertheless, Mekatilili’s story is very much alive in the annals of global history
There are many forms of marginalisation. The most common ones known to the Coast communities are political, economic, and social — as represented in the lack of a unifying political party, economic opportunities, and landlessness. However, there is another form of ‘marginalisation’ that was self-evident on Mashujuaa Day. This was the exclusion of heroes and heroines from the Coast, and in particular, from the Mijikenda community. There are at least three names from this region that deserved national recognition for the roles they played, and the impact they have on Kenyan history. First is Amepoho, the Mijikenda prophetess who, like Soykimau in Ukambani, had foreknowledge of today’s events.
Amepoho predicted the coming of the white man, the airplanes in the form of man-made birds flying in the sky and the railway lines in the form of a millipede. She never prescribed to any form of resistance or acceptance on these events but whatever she revealed to the community has come true in our day. Amepoho is now interned at a shrine in Kaloleni subcounty, Kilifi county, where Kaya elders gather every year to celebrate the Mijikenda culture.
The other heroine is Mekatilili wa Menza, the legendary Mijikenda woman who led the Giryama resistance against the British colonial administration and its policies in 1913-14. The rebellion was against the British colonists’ blatant abuse of Giryama culture by attempting to disband Kayas — the Mijikenda holy shrines. It was in these Kayas, which were also centres of the resistance, that the British bombed Kaya Fungo — the largest of the nine Kayas in Kaloleni subcounty.
Mekatilili also challenged the colonial administrators over forcible enlistment of Mijikenda youths to serve on White and Arab plantations and in public works. The rebellion was further fueled by forcible conscription of Mijikenda young men into the British army at the advent of the First World War.
Mekatilili was not only the first woman known to lead a rebellion against colonialism in the 1900s, she was also a role model to Kenyan and African women who stood up against colonial domination and post-Independence oppressive and suppressive regimes.
Kenyan historians and opportunistic politicians have lived to disregard the role and impact of the Mekatilili-led Giryama resistance. Nevertheless, her story is very much alive in the annals of international history.
The third unsung hero in the realm of politics is the late Ronald Ngala, the founder member and leader of the first post-Independence opposition party, Kadu. Ngala advocated majimbo, a form of federalism, to guard against the domination of the minority by the majority. Fifty years later, Kenyans in 2010 acknowledged his majimbo idea and voted for a constitution that embraced devolution, a minimised form of majimbo. Indeed, in a fair and non-ethnic democracy, Ngala’s name ought to be among on every serious list of heroes and heroine. Yet, this is what happened during Mashujaa Day.
It is not just Jubilee that is culpable for this omission and commission. The six Cord governors in the Coast have equally failed to recognise the region’s heroes and heroines — whether on Mashujaa Day, or by way of naming streets, roads, public buildings or institutions after them.In this context, our governors are not only diluting the spirit of devolution, which Ngala helped build, but are part and parcel of those ‘other leaders’ perpetuating marginalisation of the Coast.
IT IS NOT JUST THE JUBILEE GOVERNMENT THAT IS CULPABLE FOR THIS OMISSION AND COMMISSION. THE SIX CORD GOVERNORS IN THE COAST HAVE EQUALLY FAILED TO RECOGNISE THE REGION’S HEROES AND HEROINES