The history of Mt Kilimanjaro is all about the European history of the Mountain. The tribes around Mt Kilimanjaro did not attempt to reach its top, before the Europeans did. It was considered the dwelling place of the god.
According to English geographer Halford Mackinder, in 1848 missionary Johannes Rebmann of Mombasa was the first European to report the existence of Kilimanjaro. On 6 October 1889, Hans Meyer was the first to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. He made history, with the help of his crew.

Climbing History

History featuring Yohani Lauwo

This memory of Yohani Lauwo is situated at the Marangu gate

In 1861, the Prussian officer Baron Karl Klaus von der Decken made a first attempt to climb Kibo but “got no farther than 8,200 feet (2,500 m) owing to the inclemency of the weather.” In 1862, von der Decken tried a second time together with Otto Kersten. They reached a height of 14,000 feet (4,300 m).

The first ascent of the highest summit of Mawenzi was made on 29 July 1912, by the German climbers Edward Oehler and Fritz Klute, who christened it Hans Meyer Peak. Oehler and Klute went on to make the third-ever ascent of Kibo, via the Drygalski Glacier, and descended via the Western Breach.

The first guide

In 1989, the organizing committee of the 100-year celebration of the first ascent decided to award posthumous certificates to the African porter-guides who had accompanied Meyer and Purtscheller. One person in pictures or documents of the 1889 expedition was thought to match a living inhabitant of Marangu, Yohani Kinyala Lauwo. Lauwo did not know his own age. Nor did he remember Meyer or Purtscheller, but he remembered joining a Kilimanjaro expedition involving a Dutch doctor who lived near the mountain and that he did not get to wear shoes during the climb. Lauwo claimed that he had climbed the mountain three times before the beginning of World War I. The committee concluded that he had been a member of Meyer’s team and therefore must have been born around 1871. Lauwo died on 10 May 1996, suggesting the soposed year of birth might not be totaly accurate, since this would make him 125 years old.

The oldest people

The oldest person verified was Jeanne Calment from France, who became 122 years old, the oldest man verified was Jiroemon Kimura from Japan, who became 116 years old. There are people who have been claimed to be older than this, but who lack verifications of their papers. Like Indonesian Mbah Gotho who say he was born in 1870.

The challenge with verifying the age of old africans is that they rarely know their year of birth. But suggesting Yohani Kinyala Lauwo also managed to become 116 years old, as we know this is in fact possible for a male, he would have been 9 years old at the 1889 expedition. Suggesting he became 122 as we know this is possible for a human beeing, he would have been 15 years old.  This would not be impossible. As a teenager somewhere between 13 and 15 and strong from everyday labour work, you could definitely make it to the top. And if he in fact was born in 1871, he would have been a young man of 18.

We think it is fair to keep honouring  Yohani Kinyala Lauwo as the very first Guide to take a Mzungo to Uhuru peak.

The Name “Kilimanjaro”

The origin of the name “Kilimanjaro” is not precisely known, but a number of theories exist. European explorers had adopted the name by 1860 and reported that “Kilimanjaro” was the mountain’s Swahili name. But according to the 1907 edition of The Nuttall Encyclopædia, the name of the mountain was “Kilima-Njaro”.

Johann Ludwig Krapf wrote in 1860 that Swahilis along the coast called the mountain “Kilimanjaro”. Although he did not support his claim, he claimed that “Kilimanjaro” meant either “mountain of greatness” or “mountain of caravans”. Under the latter meaning, “Kilima” meant “mountain” and “Jaro” possibly meant “caravans”.

Others have assumed that “Kilima” is Swahili for “mountain”. The problem with this assumption is that “Kilima” actually means “hill” and is, therefore, the diminutive of “Mlima”, the proper Swahili word for mountain.

A different approach has been to assume that the “Kileman” part of Kilimanjaro comes from “kileme”, which in the language of the Chagga tribe means “which defeats”, or “kilelema”, which means “which has become difficult or impossible”. The “Jaro” part would “then be derived from njaare, a bird, or, according to other informants, a leopard, or, possibly from jyaro a caravan.”

Western people have done a lot of speculations on this. Jacob, whos’ mother is of the Chagga tribe, simply says that the chagga word “Kilemakyaro” means “Mountain hard to climb”. Sometimes it is easier to ask, than to speculate.

On 6 October 1889, Hans Meyer reached the highest summit on the crater ridge of Kibo. He named it “Kaiser-Wilhelm-Spitze” (“Kaiser Wilhelm peak”). That name apparently was used until Tanzania was formed in 1964,when the summit was renamed “Uhuru peak”. “Uhuru” is “Freedom” in Swahili.

Jacobs mother in the village

Jacobs mother in the village where her mother and father cleared the land, and built the first house.

Categories: The Mountain

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