Today’s Doodle, illustrated by Nairobi-based guest artist Wanjira Kinyua, celebrates legendary Kenyan activist Mekatilili wa Menza, known for inspiring the Giriama people to resist colonial rule in the early 20th century. Today on 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.
Mnyazi wa Menza was born in the Giriama village of Matsara wa Tsatsu in coastal Kenya during the mid-19th century. By the early 20th century, British colonial rule had threatened the sovereignty and freedom of the Giriama people with forced labor and taxation. At a time when women’s power was limited within her society, Menza was compelled to organize her people against colonial control.
Today revered as one of Kenya’s first Mau Maus (freedom fighters), Menza traveled from village to village spreading messages of opposition, performing the ecstatic native dance of kifudu to draw large crowds and then unleashing her powerful oratory skills to garner support. Today’s Doodle artwork features a depiction of Menza leading the energetic kifudu dance that called so many to action.
Menza’s 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 fought tirelessly for.
Guest Artist Q&A with Wanjira Kinyua
Today’s Doodle was illustrated by Nairobi-based guest artist Wanjira Kinyua. Below, she shares her thoughts behind the making of this Doodle:
Q: Why was this topic meaningful to you personally?
A: One of the things Mekatilili fought for was the erasure of the Giriama culture. I have been exploring our pre-colonial cultures, particularly adornments, and documenting some of it in my latest work, and I got a lot of information from the research I did on this project.
Q: What were your first thoughts when you were approached about the project?
A: Excited! Google Doodles are something I have always wanted to do. It became challenging as I had to make an illustration of Mekatilili without any reference, but the team guided me well in visualizing the artwork better.
Q: Did you draw inspiration from anything in particular for this Doodle?
A: The main sources of inspiration were photographs, videos and research papers that gave me insight on the way of life of the Giriama tribe and also stories of Mekatilili wa Menza.
Q: What message do you hope people take away from your Doodle?
A: I hope this Doodle will help people remember Mekatilili wa Menza’s legacy and emulate her courageous spirit, and also to celebrate women who fought for independence in Kenya.
Early concepts and sketches of the Doodle
Learn about the life of Kenyan superheroine and freedom fighter, Mekatilili Wa Menza, on Google Arts & Culture.