Kenyan female leader, Mnyazi wa Menza popularly known among her people as Mekatilili wa Menza, has been immortalized in a series of stunning images.
The bold photography project themed “African Queens” is a collaboration between Kenyan photographer Rich Allela and Nigerian photographer Dapel Kureng.
For those who might be too young to know about the Kenyan heroine, Mekatilili led the Giriama people in a rebellion against the British Colonial Administration actively in 1913 – 1914.
She is celebrated for her fearless approach against the British and is said to have slapped the colonial administrator for the region, Arthur Champion, in a heated exchange.
Mekatilili was particularly agitated with the British conscripting Giriama men to fight in World War I as well as what she saw as erosion of traditional Giriama culture.
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.”
While the creative photography project is undoubtedly striking and awe-inspiring, it has received mixed reactions over its historical inaccuracy.
The first dead giveaways are the costumes and props that do not reflect the rich Giriama culture; something Mekatilili diligently fought for.
Mekatilili wa Menza wore a Hando – the name for the traditional short skirt worn by women of the Giriamas. It is made of a long material, preferably cotton, gathered into folds to give the special rounded shape that enhances women’s hips. It is generally an immaculate white, but some women prefer it in a combination of green, red, blue, black or other colors, all of which have varied meanings.
The project also inaccurately portrays the landscape. The county in which the Giriama inhabits is not arid nor is there any record that Mekatilili rode horses.
Inaccuracies aside, this photography project reimagines Mekatilili readying for battle and defying the age-long patriarchal norms in African societies.
Her courage continues to inspire 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.
Scroll through for the stunning images, courtesy of Rich Allela and Kureng Dapel.