Thanks to several primitive stone bowls found on the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro, we know that man has lived on or around the mountain since at least 1000BC. We also know that, over the last 500 years, the mountain has at various times acted as a navigational aid for traders travelling between the interior and the coast, a magnet for Victorian explorers, a political pawn to be traded between European superpowers who carved up East Africa, a battlefield for these same superpowers, and a potent symbol of independence for those who wished to rid themselves of these colonial interlopers. Unfortunately, little is known about the history of the mountain during the intervening two thousand five hundred years.
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One of the stone bowls found in the region of Kilimanjaro
It’s a fair bet that Kilimanjaro’s first inhabitants, when they weren’t fashioning stone bowls out of the local terrain, would have spent much of their time hunting and gathering the local flora and fauna, Kilimanjaro being a fecund source of both.
Add to this its reputation as a reliable region both for fresh drinking water and materials – wood, stones, mud, vines etc – for building, and it seems reasonable to suppose that Kilimanjaro would have been a highly desirable location for primitive man, and would have played a central role in the lives of those who chose to take up residence on its slopes.
Unfortunately, those looking to piece together a comprehensive history of the first inhabitants of Kilimanjaro rather have their work cut out. There are no documents recording the life and times of the people who once lived on the mountain; not much in the way of any oral history that has been passed down through the generations; and, stone bowls apart, little in the way of archaeological evidence from which to draw any inferences.
So while we can assume many things about the lives of Kilimanjaro’s first inhabitants, we can be certain about nothing and if Kilimanjaro did have a part to play in the pre-colonial history of the region, that history, and the mountain’s significance within it, has, alas, now been lost to us.
Nevertheless, that part of Kilimanjaro’s history that we can piece together is completely fascinating, as I hope you’ll discover in the following pages.