East Africa is home to many historic landmarks. Some are remnants from ancient kingdoms while others, like Uhuru Park in Kenya with its memorial honoring freedom fighters who raised their independence flag, have more contemporary architecture.
Eastern Africa was home to some of the earliest monumental architecture, created as mobile herders engaged in commemorative activities and challenged assumptions that a stratified social hierarchy is necessary to create monumental architecture within herding societies.
Vasco da Gama Pillar
Vasco da Gama Pillar can be found along the shores of Indian Ocean in Malindi, Kilifi county and was constructed by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama to commemorate his arrival to east African coast after circumnavigating Africa’s Cape of Good Hope in 1498. It’s thought to have played an essential role in facilitating trade between India and Portugal as well as one of Kenya’s oldest European monuments.
Malindi’s pillar stands atop a coral rock on its coast and is one of its main tourist attractions, drawing both domestic and international tourists alike. Managed by National Museums of Kenya (NMK), this monument is in good condition and protected from potential collapse by boulders placed around it to mitigate against ocean water currents.
Popular legend states that this pillar once boasted a cross crafted from Lisbon stone, but due to Christian connotations was brought down. Subsequently rebuilt without its cross and has retained its impressive appearance today.
This pillar stands nearby the charming makuti-thatched Portuguese Chapel on Silversand Road and was constructed to commemorate 36 sailors and pioneers buried here who died during their voyages, according to the National Maritime Museum (NMK). Additionally, local Catholic churches often host Masses here to remember deceased ancestors; both facilities can be visited during daytime hours but must remain closed on December 3 for St Francis Xavier Day celebrations.
Jumba la Mtwana
Jumba la Mtwana Ruins, commonly referred to as the House of Cylinders, are located just north of Mombasa along Mtwapa Creek in an archaeological site that features mosques and houses dating back to 14th century. With their serene atmosphere yet mysterious atmosphere, visitors can walk among these remains and imagine what life was like here 600 years ago.
For anyone wanting to discover Kenya’s history, visiting its ruins is an absolute must. Explore them alone or with one of Kenya’s National Museum guides who will give you all of the information about this ancient town’s past and its many features. Luckily enough, all ruins are well maintained by their respective National Museums of Kenyas.
As you explore the ruins, you’ll notice numerous rooms and chambers designed for various uses such as storage and living. Furthermore, wells represent how vibrant a community once existed here.
Notable Fact: Jumba la Mtwana was abandoned during the 16th century due to salinisation of wells.
At Jumba la Mtwana, most houses featured several wells that served both as storage of freshwater and as ablution pools (Figure 3). Some houses featured regular oblong features with rounded corners that had cylindrical seats. Others had large water jars embedded into the ground for storage of water.
Muzibu Azaala Mpanga
In 2001, The Tombs of the Kings at Kasubi were inscribed onto UNESCO’s World Heritage List “as one of the premier examples of Baganda architecture and testimony to Uganda’s largest ethnic group”. At its heart is a 30-hectare hillside in Kampala suburbs that covers 30 hectares of hilly terrain, featuring the former Palace of Kabakas of Buganda dating from 1882 and converted into the Royal Burial Ground for four kings who lie interred there today. Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, commonly referred to by locals, is the primary building at these tombs and features a circular plan topped by a dome – an exceptional achievement of architecture crafted using organic materials such as wood, thatch, reed and wattle in accordance with Buganda culture and sacred architecture.
The main thatched structure where Uganda’s kings are interred also served as their ceremonial venue and gathering spot, serving members of their royal family, court, and guests from outside Uganda and around the world alike. Here, meetings were often held and important visitors from faraway lands were received with great reverence.
On March 16, 2010, however, the main thatched building was devastated by fire – an unprecedented event which caused significant property loss as well as many sentimental items to be lost to this devastating incident and caused many mourning the passing of their kings and families.
UNESCO sent in a team to assist the government with rebuilding and reinstalling ceremonial artifacts at a main thatched building, as well as to reinstalling them into place. Although this task may seem overwhelming, its completion must be prioritized – all surrounding houses that serve specific functions must also be restored back to their original states; all roofs should feature thatched roofing instead of iron sheets that violate tradition.
Mau Mau Memorial
Mau Mau guerrillas in Kenya’s liberation struggle have been honored with a memorial at Freedom Corner in central Nairobi, commemorating those who endured atrocities under British colonialism and, particularly during its state of emergency from 1952-1960. It is a joint project of Kenya Human Rights Commission and UK government; architect Davinder Lamba also makes himself known as an activist championing human rights issues.
Kenya’s former Mau Mau fighters have welcomed the monument with open arms. One former Mau Mau fighter expressed hope that its unveiling would help heal wounds from those days; another applauded it as providing a forum for discussions and debate about managing memories associated with Mau Mau.
While this memorial cannot fully compensate for the brutal beatings, castrations and rapes Mau Mau fighters suffered during Kenya’s anticolonial struggle, it has served to raise public awareness of this period in our history and lead to discussions on other human rights abuses that still require resolution in Kenya.
Kenya will witness the inaugural unveiling of a Mau Mau statue this month and it’s hoped more will follow, according to local culturalists. The statue, featuring Dedan Kimathi (hanged in 1957), will serve as an important point of reference for Kenyans going forward and as an inspiring symbol to foster resistance and activism that have defined post-independence Kenya.
The Naked Boy Monument
As Kenya gained independence in 1963, many celebrated with pride and commemorated this monumental event with extravagant gestures like statues honoring President Jomo Kenyatta at KICC. Most notably was his seated statue designed in England before being shipped by ship from Mombasa and trucked up to Nairobi via truck for permanent display at KICC. Although popular with tourists for photo opps and even featuring on 100 shilling notes, some saw this monument as a sign of oppression or dictatorship and defaced it while others used it for political statements or to make political statements of their own.
The Naked Boy Monument, commonly referred to by Judiciary officials as ‘Onyango, is one of Nairobi’s historic monuments and features an image of an naked blind boy donning a wig and peeing into a fountain – meant to symbolize justice as unblind, blind, and slippery as fish – while Maendeleo Ya Wanaume Organization claimed it was abusive towards boy children.
One of Nairobi’s newest historical monuments is Tom Mboya’s bronze statue by self-trained Oshoto Ondula. Kibaki unveiled it on Mashujaa Day to remember and recognize Mboya’s significant contributions to Kenya during his airlift scholarship project during the 50s and 60s, along with Rusinga Island as well as to remind all Kenyans of Mboya’s great feats as freedom fighter.