At the heart of Mombasa lies the iconic elephant tusks which are among landmarks that represent the city.
A tour to the second largest city in the country would be incomplete if you do not visit the tusks located on Moi Avenue, formerly known as Kilindini Road, which connects to the port of Mombasa.
Despite a new look (buildings painted blue and white) that the town has acquired, the tusks commonly referred to by their Swahili name — Mapembe ya Ndovu — have remained a unique monument.
Their uniqueness is also defined by their history they have, especially the reason behind their development.
Beside the tusks is Uhuru Garden, an open area which provides ample space for unwinding, holding picnics and enjoying the sight of the huge aluminium-made tusks.
The symbolic tusks were first erected in 1952 to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s visit who was staying at Mombasa Club and later joined by her sister.
“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.
Mr Abdulmajid said two wooden artefacts that resembled an elephant tusks were erected and formed part of decorations of the city following the Queen’s visit.
At the time, he said, 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,” says Mr Abdulmajid. He adds that many people started putting up announcements while some companies advertised their products along the road which is still among the main roads in the county.
On seeing that the tusks had become an attraction, the municipal council decided to preserve them and in 1956 modified them with aluminium materials which could endure the weather conditions.
“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.
“We charge 1,000USD for one day and Sh7, 000 per hour to those who want to shoot the monument for commercial purposes,” he said.
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.
Anytime you walk or drive on the road, you can see tourists taking pictures of the tusks or themselves with the enormous tusks in their background.
The site has also remained a meeting point for locals. Couples also meet for dates, something that has been happening over the years. Sixty-nine year-old Abdallah Abdulrahman, who was born and raised in Mombasa, says the tusks have undergone a great transformation and adds that: “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.”