Travel & Expat Lifestyle Magazine

Kilimanjaro Mountain

According to Henry Steadman, who has made it his business to study Kilimanjaro in depth, and who in fact is the author of the current definitive guide, ancient artefacts have dated the first human habitation of Kilimanjaro mountain to about 10000BCE. This concurs with the fact that some of the earliest signs of human, or humanoid activity, have been detected within the Great Rift Valley, and in particular at Olduvai Gorge within the Ngorongoro Crater Reserve.

More recent perambulations brought the Chagga people to the region as part of a far greater migration of Bantu peoples from Central and West Africa (Niger/Congo). They made landfall and settled on the heavily forested southern and eastern slopes of Kilimanjaro mountain on or about the 11th or 12th century, developing a thriving local agriculture and as a consequence very quickly rising to  a status of relative wealth and influence.

Mythology surrounding the name of Kilimanjaro mountain suggest that the early Bantu settlers named it Kilima Njaro, or White Mountain, but there remains enormous diversity of opinion on this, and again it is Henry Steadman who offers the most authoritative suggestion. He offers the hypothesis that the name is derived from the Chagga term kilelema, meaning ‘difficult or impossible’. The word jaro could possibly come from other Chagga terms njaare (‘bird’) or jyaro (‘caravan’). This suggests, therefore, that the name Kilimanjaro Mountain implies ‘That which is impossible for the bird’, or ‘That which defeats the caravan’. These are all suggestive of a monumental mountain which of course Kilimanjaro mountain is.

The same attributes of high rainfall and rich volcanic soils also attracted the first European colonists to make their homes and carve out their plantations on the same slopes, generating an enviable lifestyle and laying the foundations of modern towns and transport and industrial infrastructure. These early white settlers on the slopes of Kilimanjaro mountain where largely of German descent, and German commercial interests predominated resulting in the claiming of the territory to the German crown in the late 19th century. It has erroneously been stated that Queen Victoria gave Kilimanjaro mountain to Kaiser Wilhelm as a gift, hence the fact that the border between Kenya and Tanzania loops around the mountain.

This claim was interrupted by the advent of advent of World War I which saw the main thrust of a local campaign between Axis and Allied powers take place in the gap between the Pare Mountains and Kilimanjaro Mountain. The Germans retreated from Taveta to Moshi, and then east along the northern railway. Thereafter one of the world’s first large scale guerrilla campaigns began. The upshot of it was that Tanganyika became a British League of Nations Mandate and the Germans went home.

Tourism came to Kilimanjaro mountain gradually as part of the activities of the East African Mountain Club through the 1920s. Huts began to appear in the 1930s, although it was not until the 1970s that it took on a commercial aspect. By the 1980s Kilimanjaro Mountain was receiving regular steams of climbers, and of course we now see large numbers of people annually flocking to Kilimanjaro Mountain to try their luck.

These days trekking on Kilimanjaro Mountain is a huge industry. Conservation and preservation has become the key word. So far the weight of tourism in the region has not had a too deleterious effect, but great care will need to be taken if the glories of Kilimanjaro mountain are to remain for the next generation to enjoy.