Historians say Mount Kilimanjaro is one among the richest world heritage sites and that is the reason which attracted early German colonists to be the first enemy country to occupy the mountain area and put it in the present shaped map of Tanzania.
Many stories have been told about Mount Kilimanjaro and its entire regime.
Before European interference to the mountain area, local people there (Chagga and Maasai) believed that their ancestral God, Ruwa was seated at the whitish cap, the snow. Two peaks, Kibo and Mawanze makes the name of Kilimanjaro. Being higher than the other peak, Kibo with a height of 5,985 metres is the highest peak in Africa and half snow capped.
Horrible and awesome stories have been told about Kilimanjaro, mostly connected with beliefs and legends, all because of its influence to climate, physical features and vegetation. For the Wachagga and Wamasai people who cultivate and graze cattle on the mountain foothills, have for hundreds of years, kept to respect the mountain as the “Seat of their God”.
Traditionally, the Wachagga bury their dead with the body was facing Mount Kilimanjaro, believing that the summit led to the afterlife. The mountain’s massiveness represents people, their traditional and historical pride, and the source of a very trickling sweet crystal-clear mountain water from its melting ice. The Maasai pastoralists take this “Africa’s highest peak” as their origin of creation and the source of cattle richness.
Despite of all these varied, interesting news about the mountain, the history of Kilimanjaro still remains a mystery – both to earlier explorers and the present climbers. Wachagga are the only people who seem to have a good background of the mystery behind this mountain.
They knew nothing about snow, but, believed that the whitish substance was a “powder” that was put there by their God to protect the area below (slopes where they lived) from “extreme cold evil spirits” and any person who tries to put a leg to climb this mountain would die. So mysterious is the mountain’s background that even the origin of its name – Kilimanjaro is not a local name.
Wachagga people had no names for both the two separate peaks. Each peak has its own name pronounced with a locality dialect. In Marangu locality, the people call the highest peak “Kipoo” (Kibo) and the shorter peak “Kimavense” (Mawenzi). The origin of the name that we know today – Kilimanjaro remains a mystery and much debatable. Many people, mostly tourists are trying to conquer this mountain.
Climbing mount Kilimanjaro is not an easy task and successful climbers are always toast a glass of champagne after successfully reaching the peak, and when they come down from the people, you hear one asking another, “I have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro,” have you?
European interests on Mount Kilimanjaro started in nineteenth century after German and British geographers learnt about a big lake which is the source of River Nile, they then organized scientific explorations to search the source of river Nile. Johannes Rebmann, an Austrian missionary Gerlingen in Germany became the first European to see this highest mountain in Africa from Taita- Taveta when crossing Tsavo National Park in Kenya on his way to Marangu at the foothills of the mountain.
Rebmann arrived in East Africa in 1846 and established a Christian mission at Rabai near Mombasa on the Coast of Kenya. He came to East Africa to travel across Kenya and to spread European Christianity. It was on May 11th, 1848 when Rebmann reached Marangu and sent news to Europe, telling of “snow capped mountain near the equator”, but other geographers took his message to be “ridiculous”.
Rebmann’s message and report to fellow Europeans stimulated great interest in Germany and in the following years several expeditions were organised, the first one after Rebmann’s expedition was made by German explorer Baron Karl Klaus von der Decken and a British geologist Richard Thornton, both surveyed the mountain, but failed to conquer it. In 1862 Decken and another German explorer Otto Kersten attempted to climb the mountain, but poor weather stopped their team at about 14,000 feet (4,267 m).
Seventeen years later, the history of Mount Kilimanjaro climbing was written. It was on the 5th of October 1889 when German geographer and Lecturer at Leipzig University (Germany) Dr. Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller, reached the top of the mountain. From that date the modern history of mount Kilimanjaro climbing was made. M
eyer hoisted a German flag on the top of the mountain, many years before Tanzania hoisted its flag at the same peak on December 9th, 1961. On his arrival at Marangu, Meyer and his team were given a rousing welcome from Chief Marealle of the area (Marangu) also given a good support from the chief. Meyer was guided by six young men, one was Yohani Kinyala Lauwo, a resident of Marangu.
The late Mzee Lauwo passed away on May 10th, 1996, exactly 107 years after the modern history of mount Kilimanjaro climbing was written.
Mzee Lauwo lived a grand life of 125 years, according to his family. Today, European tourists make the most known climbers of mount Kilimanjaro every year. The importance of Mount Kilimanjaro and its richness had attracted various local and international business companies to rob its name. Kenyan tourist and travel companies frequently advertise this mountain to be in Kenya, while running tourism promotional campaigns in Europe, America and other tourist market sources in the world.
“Visit Kenya and See Mount Kilimanjaro”, is such an advert appearing in various tourist marketing sources, but, climbing to conquer this mountain remains a Tanzanian business.In its campaign to attract tourists, the Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB) has its marketing brand campaign of “Visit Tanzania: The Land of Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar and The Serengeti”. Mount Kilimanjaro is the only “highest free standing mountain known in the world today”, having that, most remaining attractive peaks are in a form of ranges. The scramble to get Mount Kilimanjaro remain in Tanzania was not an easy task.
The British colonial administration fought for the last to have this mountain be allocated to Kenya through diplomatic channels, but Germans refused, once said former German Ambassador to Tanzania Dr. Heinz Schneppen. Dr. Schneppen said that the British wanted the Tanzanian border to be demarcated from south of Mombasa proceeding through Taveta in Kenya, then skirting the northern part of Kilimanjaro region straight to the eastern shores of Lake Victoria.
On the other hand, the former ambassador and a famous historian said there was a conflict between the British and Germans over the ownership rights of Mount Kilimanjaro area and Mombasa. “If you take Kilimanjaro, leave Mombasa to me, vice versa”, it was strong diplomatic argument between the British and Germans. Germany did not like to take Mombasa because they had Dar es Salaam, and the British did not like to lose Mombasa because they had no other port to export and import their products from Kenya.
Earlier on March 23rd, 1888 a young German, Heinrich Hessel said proudly that German detachment in Moshi has hoisted a German flag there to mark the end of peaceful negotiations between the British and Germans over Mount Kilimanjaro. “No drop of rain had fallen in spite of the rainy season. We have to see to it that this flag stays for ever”, said Heinrich in his memorial diary.
The importance of Mount Kilimanjaro is growing day after day with much more economic reasons that the past political facts. Big numbers of foreign tourists climb this mountain every year.Kilimanjaro National Park (KINAPA) has been established to protect the mountain and its biological eco-system. Favourable climatic conditions influenced by the mountain had made the whole area surrounding this highest peak in Africa one of the most fertile areas in Tanzania, attracting coffee and banana cultivation.
Coffee is the main cash crop grown on the slopes of mount Kilimanjaro, earning Tanzania substantial amount of foreign currency. Historians argue that had Mount Kilimanjaro been divided as was earlier proposed by the British, then, the Wachagga people would have been living in Kenya and Tanzania, sharing due citizenship because a big part of eastern side of this mountain would be located in Kenya, and the rest in Tanzania.
Rombo district in eastern Kilimanjaro is mostly surrounded by Kenyan border on all sides, and tourists from Nairobi are encouraged by Kenyan tour operators to climb the mountain at Laitoktok (Rombo), thinking they are in Kenya.With the importance of Mount Kilimanjaro, as a leading tourist attraction in Tanzania, modern lodges have sprung up in villages on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro readily equipped to provide services to mountain climbers and other tourists visiting the coffee and banana farms on the mountain’s foothills.
Development of medium size and modern tourist hotels and small sized establishments in villages surrounding Mount Kilimanjaro is a new kind of hotel investments outside the towns, cities and the wildlife parks.With a long history of African settlements, villages on the slopes of mount Kilimanjaro are rising up into tourist destinations with unique attractions in Africa, other than wildlife, beaches and historical sites which dominate Africa’s adventure.
Living standards, economic activities and rich African cultures have all attracted tourists from across the world to visit and stay with local communities in villages on the laps of Mount Kilimanjaro, hence pulling hotel investment in the villages, far from the town. Mount Kilimanjaro, the world’s famous Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti Wildebeest Migration have been nominated as Tanzania’s three candidates for voting into the Seven Natural Wonders for competition before the end of this year.