Built in 1952 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth, these iconic giant elephant tusks in Mombasa are still standing today; Here’s how they took a life of their own and become a magnet

An old photo of the iconic Mombasa tusks monument (Trip101)
  • The famous landmark was to commemorate Queen Elizabeth's visit to Mombasa.
  • Originally it was meant to be a temporary decoration but they soon took on a life of their own.
  • Tourists, both local and international, can’t get enough of them and are always taking pictures with the enormous tusks in their background.

A visit to Kenya's Coastal City of Mombasa is never complete until one visits the iconic Mombasa tusks which have been standing for more than six decades now.

Located on Moi Avenue, formerly known as Kilindini Road, which connects to the port of Mombasa, the tusks have since become a landmark steeped in rich history that Mombasa prides itself of owning.

The famous landmark was built in 1952 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth's visit to Mombasa. Originally it was made of wood and was meant to be a temporary decoration but they took a life of its own.

“During her sister’s visit, the Queen headed to the Mombasa port (then Kilindini port) to pick her up and since it was known that she would use the road, the tusks were put up,” says Mr Raphael Abdulmajid, the head of historical education at Fort Jesus, Daily Nation quoted him as saying.

Two wooden artefacts that resembled elephant tusks were erected and formed part of decorations of the city following the Queen’s visit. Abdulmajid explains that at the time, ivories were used to document culture and the two wooden-like tusks were put to mark the celebration of the visit of the Queen as part of the tradition during the time that the British were in control.

“But when the Queen completed her stay in the city, the municipal council did not bother to remove them and by then, locals used to throng the place for leisure as they had become an attraction site,” explains Mr Abdulmajid.

When they started rotting away in the rain the authorities had to act and plans to save the now famous iconic tasks were set in mission.

It was Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister, visiting a humble 1956 Mombasa that caused much excitement. Her Royal Highness (HRH) was on a 5 week tour of East Africa and Mauritius which started in with Mombasa. The locals were so thoroughly enchanted by HRH that they even gave her a Swahili name, Mwangabu meaning ‘the radiant one’, according to kickingitlikelocals word press.

On seeing that the tusks had become an attraction, the municipal council decided to preserve them and in 1956 recast them with aluminium materials which could endure the weather conditions as permanent symbols to welcome visitors to the Kenyan coastal city.

“The government also put strict measures against those who used to put commercial announcements and decided to be the custodian of the symbolic tusks,” said Mr Abdulmajid.

It was during the modification that the tusks were put into two lanes that the historian said coincidentally formed the letter “M” which is the first letter when spelling “Mombasa”.

At first, Moi Avenue was just a one-lane road and there were only two tusks, later on the lanes were added to four when the road became a two-lane road, hence the formation of the letter ‘M’,” he added. In 2017, the county government in partnership with Mombasa Cement, a cement producer company in the region, refurbished the tusks.

The landmark has now acquired a new look with an addition of a model elephant at the centre of the tusks.

The tusks are also under the protection of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) which charges for commercially filming them.

Tourists, both local and international, are however, not charged when they visit the tusks which have remained one of the monuments that attracts thousands across the world.

“It would be great if the county government can acquire the geographical pictures of the tusks from when they were put up and display them for people to see and appreciate the development and learn about their history when they visit the place.” opines Abdulmajid, who was born and raised in Mombasa.

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