Pillar Tomb
Mnarani, Kenya
The Pillar Tomb stands behind the now ruined Great Mosque at Mnarani. It stands amongst 11 others at the northern end of the mosque behind the qibla wall, as it was common in Swahili burial practice to venerate ancestors in the fashion. The pillar tomb was the first tomb built in this mosque complex and probably predates the mosque itself. This tomb was once freestanding though some of the later tombs around it share its walls. The undated inscription on the tombstone is similar to the style used on the mihrab façade of the mosque and was probably contemporary with the first or second incarnation of the mosque in the first quarter of the fifteenth century.

The tomb's six-foot enclosure wall is built parallel with the west end of the qibla wall. From its eastern façade an octagonal pillar rises an additional 30 feet from the top of this wall. The top of the pillar is rounded. An oval coral tombstone sits at the base of the pillar. This tombstone is decorated with a small circular boss bearing an intricate interlace motif resembling plant tendrils, as well as the aforementioned inscription. Similarly exquisite bosses dating from the mid fifteenth century were found in the spandrels of the mihrab and the south door of the mosque. The border of this tomb's panel is carved into a narrow herringbone pattern, a common ornament in East Africa. The fine-grained coral block upon which this ornamentation is carved is called mutambawe.

Another, also undecipherable, inscription or a thinner style of script runs along the top of the wall below the pillar. The wall surrounding the enclosure was decorated with large rectangular panels, recessed from the wall surface. The tomb is a roofless enclosure.

Though pillar tombs were already being built by the middle of the fourteenth century, the pillar tomb at Mnarani represents perhaps the first of its kind of composite tombs. Composite tombs were only found on the northern Kenyan mainland and combine pillars and tombstones.


Kirkman, James. 1959. "Mnarani of Kilifi: The Mosques and Tombs" in Ars Orientalis, Vol III. Baltimore: Smithsonian Publication, 99-100.

Mturi, A. A., 1975. Antiquities of Tango. Online.

Garlake, Peter S. 1966. The Early Islamic Architecture of the East African Coast. London: Oxford University Press, 45-46, 86.

Wilson, Thomas H. 1979. "Swahili Funerary Architecture of the North Kenya Coast" in Art and Archaeology Research Papers "Swahili Houses and tombs of the coast of Kenya by James de Vere Allen and Thomas H. Wilson. London, 33-41.
(near Great Mosque), Mnarani, Kenya
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early 15th c.
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