African animators move to celebrate African heroines that history may not have fully favoured. Is it not shocking that there were women in Africa who could lead an army of men and women against the might of a system like British colonial rule and not cower?
One of them is is one-woman-too-much – Mekatilili wa Mensa who led an army of men and women against British colonial rule in Kenya.
She was exiled and imprisoned several times but yet remain unbroken. She escaped detention and trekked 600 miles through the forest to rekindle the fire to fight in her people – leading a major uprising in October 1914.
She was born in the 1950s in one of Kenya’s poorest coastal villages.
The British could not subdue her Girima ethnic community throughout the time she called the shot.
It is surprising such a woman could be easily forgotten in the dustbin of history. This deprives many young African women the opportunity to draw strength from the heroic deeds of their maternal ancestors.
Her stories are not largely celebrated but hinted at in Kenyan textbooks – more could have obviously been done to spotlight Mekatilili’s uncommon skill, strength and victorious adventures.
However, Richard Allela from Kenya and Kureng Dapel from Nigeria are trying to change that. They have chosen to celebrate her with a numer-uno animated photography project – Alliance Francaise joined the bandwagon.
This new breed of African animators and story tellers are looking through African history with an unbiased lens that chronicles the great deeds of African women.
Biased information gatekeepers cannot gag them as the social media is available to further their appetite for balanced (animated) story telling.
A women’s history museum is in the pipeline in Zambia – the first of its kind in Africa. Media practitioner Samba Yonga and activist Mulenga Kapwepwe are on a joint venture to pull it off.
According to ozy.com: “The museum, which started in late 2016, currently works as a digital archive, but the Lusaka National Museum plans eventually to host it. Yonga and Kapwepwe also run a podcast called Leading Ladies that celebrates female icons. Be Dyango, who ruled the area around Victoria Falls prior to British occupation, and Mwenya Mukulu, who was the chieftainess of the area around the south end of Lake Tanganyika, figure in the podcasts, also broadcast on Facebook and YouTube accompanied by animated videos”.
“Nigerian-born, U.S.-based animator Roy Okupe is hunting for stories of African women in history who questioned the traditional role society thrust upon them. His most recent animation is based on Amina of Zaria, the Hausa warrior queen who ruled in the mid-16th century. Kenyan award-winning filmmaker last year created an animated movie celebrating the Nobel laureate environmentalist Wangari Maathai”.
Allela says women may have been consistently under-spotlighted but that they have been shaping history and events from the boardrooms to institutions and governments (not only in the bedrooms).
Is it that African story tellers are hyper-patrichal or African stories are just largely untold?
Are women asking for too much and pushing the boundaries too far or it is only fair to record history objectively and give honour TO ALL WHOM IT IS DUE TO?
A few years ago in Kenya, a petition demanding that a road be named after Maathai served as an unexpected “aha” moment for several Kenyans, considering that almost every street — indeed everything of note in the country — is named after men.
“Now, this new generation of visual artists and animators is challenging that pattern across Africa. Okupe’s video on Amina has received 419,000 views on YouTube. Certain episodes of the Zambian Leading Ladies podcast have garnered over 20,000 views. And the photography project on Mekatilili wa Menza has been seen by more than 2.3 million people” – ozy.com
In the podcasts, female icons are described by titles such as “the general,” “the feminist,” “the diplomat” or “the warrior” so people may see African women through a new light of who they really are – champions.
Reports confirm that the museum is also working with Wikipedia on the Wikigaps project that aims to close the gender gap in the world’s largest encyclopedia.
Only 1 in 5 entries in Wikipedia are about women, including only a handful of the 300 Zambians profiled on the platform. The museum team is leading an edit-a-thon to add another 150 Zambian women.
But is it not a fact that men have more heroic deeds than women globally?
But deep-seated social prejudices should be changed and balanced if they truly exists.
Artists and animators are intentional to capture forgotten greats such as the commercial sex workers who doubled as spies, everyday women who fed Mau Mau freedom fighters in the forest, domestic workers who navigated both white and Black worlds in a time of segregation, and many other African female fighters and movers, shakers and shapers of history.
Some of these artists draw strength and inspirations from their mothers who did marvellous things – so they wonder why women are often depicted as far-less-than-men.
Allela’s mom single-handedly raised him and his four siblings after he lost his father when he was 12 years old.
Okupe’s inspiration comes from his mother, sisters and wife. The strong humans who have positively influenced his life, yet they are scarcely reported in popular media.
With the rise of digital animation and the growing global love for the super-hero(ines) film – a rare window of opportunity has opened for these artists.
Animations affords them the opportunity to reimagine stories and recreate them even even if only skeletal information is available.
It is a good thing that African stories could also be told through the eyes of the great women of the continent.
They have been hitherto only largely portrayed as wives, helpers, child bearers, and ‘domestic workers’ and much less as warriors, heroines, fighters, scientists, inventors etc.