Mount Kilimanjaro: Tourist icon of Africa

TANZANIA (eTN) – Mount Kilimanjaro is one among the richest World Heritage sites, and that is the reason which attracted early Germans the first foreign power to occupy the mountain area and draw it on the present 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 the Maasai) believed that their ancestral God was seated at the whitish cap – the snow.

Two peaks, Kibo and Mawenzi, make the name of Kilimanjaro. Being higher than the other peak, Kibo with a height of 5,985 meters 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 locals who cultivate and graze cattle on the mountain foothills, they have for hundreds of years respected this mountain as the “Seat of God.”

Traditionally, the locals bury their dead with the head 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 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. The locals 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.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is not an easy task, and successful climbers 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 the nineteenth century after German and British geographers learned about a big lake which is the source of the river Nile. They then organized scientific explorations to search the source of the river Nile.

Johannes Rebmann, an Austrian missionary from 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 to preach and teach Africans about Christianity.

It was on May 11, 1848 when Rebmann reached Marangu and sent good news to Europe, telling of a “snow-capped mountain near the equator,” but other geographers took his message as ridicule.

Rebmann’s message and report to fellow Europeans stimulated great interest in Germany, and in the following years several expeditions were organized. The first one after Rebmann’s expedition was made by German explorer, Baron Karl Klaus von der Decken, and a British geologist, Richard Thornton, who 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 October 5, 1889 when a 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 was made.

Meyer hoisted a German flag on the top of the mountain, many years before Tanzania hoisted its flag at the same peak on December 9, 1961. On his arrival at Marangu, Meyer and his team were given a rousing welcome from Chief Marealle of the area and were also given good support from the chief. Meyer was guided by 6 young men; one was Yohani Kinyala Lauwo, a resident of Marangu.

Yohani Kinyala Lauwo

The late Yohani Lauwo passed away on May 10, 1996, exactly 107 years after the modern history of Mount Kilimanjaro was written. He lived a grand life of 125 years, according to his family. Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA), which is the custodian of Mount Kilimanjaro, gave him a beautiful, modern-styled house painted in light purple and pink pastels.

The importance of Mount Kilimanjaro and its richness had attracted various local and international business companies to rob it of its name.

Tourist and travel companies frequently advertise this mountain while running tourism promotional campaigns in Europe, America, and other world tourist markets.

Mount Kilimanjaro is the only “highest free-standing mountain known in the world today,” having that most remaining attractive peaks are in mountain ranges. The scramble to get Mount Kilimanjaro to remain in Tanzania was not an easy task.

The British colonial administration fought to have this mountain be allocated to Kenya through diplomatic channels, but Germans refused, according to former German Ambassador to Tanzania, Dr. Heinz Schneppen.

Dr. Schneppen said the British wanted the Tanzanian border to be demarcated from south of Mombasa proceeding through Taveta in Kenya, then skirting the northern part of the Kilimanjaro region straight to the eastern shores of Lake Victoria.

On the other hand, the former ambassador, also a famous historian, said there was a conflict between the British and Germans over the ownership rights of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Earlier on March 23, 1888, a young German, Heinrich Hessel, said proudly that German detachment in Moshi had 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 forever,” said Heinrich in his memoir.

The importance of Mount Kilimanjaro is growing day after day with much more economic reasons than 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.

Favorable weather conditions influenced by the mountain have 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 amounts of foreign currency.

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-sized and modern tourist hotels as well as small-sized establishments in villages surrounding Mount Kilimanjaro is a new kind of hotel investments outside the towns, cities, and wildlife parks.

With a long history of African settlements, villages on the slopes of the mountain are rising up in the ranks of unique tourist sites and attractions to visit 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 New Natural Wonders of Africa and UNESCO Heritage sites.

The tourism industry fair promoting the Kilimanjaro region, the KILIFAIR, has been established and takes place in June every year. This newly-established KILIFAIR tourism and travel exhibition is expected to attract a magnitude of tourist and travel companies to exhibit and showcase their services and products.

KILIFAIR Promotion Ltd., the organizing company of the event, said this year’s exhibition is scheduled to take place from June 3 to 6, attracting more than 250 exhibitors and buyers to showcase the services and products they offer to their clients.