HvW1898f The Kilimanjaro Tusks and a Zanzibar Omani door

The Kilimanjaro Tusks in front of an antique Omani / Zanzibar door, photo taken by A.C. Gomes & Co in Zanzibar 1898

World's largest elephant Tusks in front of an Omani / Zanzibar door


Stamped A.C. Gomes & Co. (Partnership Gomes & Countinho)  .  A. C. Gomes established a photo studio in Zanzibar perhaps as early as 1868. He had a brief partnership with J. B. Coutinho in the 1890s. His son P. F. Gomes continued the family business in Zanzibar for many years, he died in 1932. Over those years both have left us with some marvellous images




Kilimanjaro Tusks Zanzibar

 Original photo of the giant tusks

Antique photo ivory tusks Zanzibar

Coloured postcard based on the above photo, issued by photographer Gomes & Sons

The East African slave and ivory trade during the 19th century were linked. Initially slaves and later other carriers were used to transport ivory in caravans from the interior of East Africa to the coast.  This antique photo in our collection shows the giant elephant tusks known as the Kilimonjaro Tusks in front of an antique Omani / Zanzibar door. The Kilimanjaro Tusks remain the largest tusks ever recorded and decorated the entrance to the American compound in Zanzibar known as the "Ivory House" or Nyumba Pembi in 1898. The Kilimanjaro Tusks weighed 237 and 225 lbs, and were bought by E.D. Moore early in the 20th century, and eventually found their way into the Victoria and Albert Museum in England.

These Tusks are said to have belonged to an Elephant bull captured on the slopes of the Kilimonjaro by an Omani  hunter who had trailed it for weeks. They were sold in Zanzibar in 1898, when this photo was taken by the photographer A.C. Gomes & Co

 WMD 'karamojo' Bell's 1923 book 'The Wanderings of an Elephant Hunter' he mentions a tusk in the 'South Kensington Museum':  "On our arrival at Mani-Mani we were met by one Shundi--a remarkable man. Karirono by birth he had been captured early in life, taken to the coast and sold as a slave. Being a man of great force of character he had soon freed himself by turning Mohammedan. Thence onward fortune had smiled upon him until at last he was, the recognised Tajir (rich man) of all the traders. Having naturally the intelligence to recognise the value of bluff and from his primitive ancestors the nerve to carry it off, he was at this time the greatest of all traders. Just as he had been a leader while slave-raiding was the order of the day, so now he led when ivory had given place to slaves as a commodity. One other thing that makes him conspicuous, at any rate, in my mind, and that he had owned the slave who who had laid low the elephant which bore the enormous tusks, one of which now reposes in the south Kensington museum. These tusks are still, as far as we know, a world record in size. The ones in London scales 234 lb. or thereabouts. According to Shuundi his slave killed it with a muzzle-loader on the slopes of Kilimanjaro"

A reduced and coloured copy of this photo was used as a postcard by Gomes during the 1905-1907 period.

Richard Burton (ref 3 page 86)  writes regarding Omani / Zanzibar doors: "Koranic sentences on slips of paper fastened to the entrances and an inscription cut into the wooden lintel, secure the house from witchcraft, like the crocodile in Egypt. Whilst a yard of ship's cable drives away thieves. The higher the tenement, the bigger the gateway, the heavier the padlock, and the huger the metal studs, which nail the door of heavy timber, the greater is the owner's dignity. All seems ready for a state of siege. Even the little square holes pierced high up in the walls, and doing duty as ventilators are closely barred. "


  1. W.D.M. Bell The wanderings of an Elephant hunter 1923 London Offices of Country Life Ltd First Edition 1923  Bell was a Scottish adventurer, big game hunter in East Africa
  2. Uwe Rau; Mwalim A. Mwalim. Doors of Zanzibar,  HSP Publications 1998. The door of the above antique photo was not listed in this beautiful book with many masterpieces of Omani / Zanzibari woodcarving.
  3. Richard Burton, Zanzibar: City, Island and Coast, Tinsley Brothers, London. two volumes.
  4. The Early postcards of Zanzibar by P.C. Evans East Africa Study Circle 2005