People from all over the world have been drawn by the allure of Mt Kilimanjaro for more than 120 years.
The first recorded successful ascent to the Roof of Africa was made by a German geologist, Hans Meyer , an Austrian teacher and mountaineer, Ludwig Purtscheller, and a local man by the name of Yohani Kinyala Lauwo. The group reached the summit on the southern rim of the crater on Purtscheller’s 40th birthday, October 6, 1889.
It is possible that locals had summited the mountain prior to this, but if so it was not recorded.
For Meyer, it had been some time coming. In 1887, he had reached the base of Kibo and then been forced to turn back. The following year, Meyer planned another attempt with cartographer Oscar Baumann, but the mission was aborted due to unrest in the aftermath of a violent revolt that had swept through much of Tanzania (then called Tanganyika).
But finally, Meyer and co made it to the top.
Meyer was a very intrepid and well-travelled man for his day. Before summiting Kilimanjaro he spent time in India, North America and South Africa. He would subsequently climb mountains in the Canary Islands and Ecuador.
For his part, Purtscheller would die just some months after he summited Kilimanjaro. He’d been badly injured due to a bad fall whilst descending a mountain in the French Alps, and died in hospital from pneumonia a couple of months later. In a eulogy, the American climber and mountain historian W.A.B. Coolidge called him “the greatest mountaineer who had ever lived”.
Sadly, one of the legacies of colonialism is that we tend to know more about the colonialists than the Africans that helped them achieve their “discoveries” or feats of exploration. But in the case of Yohani Kinyala Lauwo, this is deservedly not the case. He was just 18 years old when he led Meyer and Purtscheller to the top of Kili. He would subsequently guide Kilimanjaro climbs for 70 years after this original summit, and died at the age of 125 in 1996 – a staggering achievement in both instances.
His Grandson, Pendaeli Lauwo, still works as a guide on the mountain today.
While Meyer’s and Purtscheller’s names might still be better-known in the history books, Yohani Kinyala Lauwo is the real hero of Kilimanjaro’s history.