The name of Kilimanjaro’s summit

By: Radoslav Ganev - 2024-03-05

At the only beginning the peak was called Kibo* by local Chagga people. They populate the northern Kilimanjaro Region of Tanzania. To refer to the mountain and its inhabitants in Swahil language is used Wakirima "People of the Mountain". Swahili is not only linguistic, but also cultural characteristic, which unite the people from all tribes. Writing in Swahili is possible in Latin alphabet as well as in Arabic script.


Kibo or Speckled Mountain

The first known person to conquer Kilimanjaro** was German geologist Hans Meyer. Upon reaching the summit on October 6, 1889, Meyer planted the German imperial flag on the peak. He renamed the summit to Kaiser-Wilhelm-Spitze (“Kaiser Wilhelm Peak”), after Kaiser Wilhelm II – German Emperor and King of Prussia. This symbolic gesture confirmed German colonial rule over the mountain and territory.


Hans Meyer

In 1899 Hans Meyer became a professor at the University of Leipzig, where in 1915 he was appointed director of the Institute for Colonial Geography. In addition to his African exploits, Meyer did extensive mountain climbing in the Canary Islands (1894) and Ecuador (1904).


The African colonies

Tanzania as it is known today was under German rule from 1880 until 1919. During this period, Germany was the third-largest European colonial power in Africa after the United Kingdom and France.

During World War I, the British and Belgian armies invaded east Africa. After Germany was defeated in 1919, German East Africa was divided under the Treaty of Versailles.

The British took control of present day Tanzania after the League of Nations granted Britain a protectorate to rule the country.

The British named the territory Tanganyika, which could mean “goldmines” in the Tamil language.

Tanzania’s independence movement started in 1954. It was led by school teacher Mwalimu*** Julius Nyerere.

Nyerere organized a political party called the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), which had an anti-colonial agenda. He campaigned for Tanganyikan independence from the British Empire and won the general election to become Prime Minister in 1960. The British ceded control of Tanganyika in 1961.


Mwalimu Julius Nyerere

When Tanganyika gained its independence, the summit was renamed again as part of the decolonization process. This time, it was appropriately named Uhuru Peak, meaning “freedom” in Swahili.

In the midnight on December 8, 1961, Lieutenant Alexander Nyirenda hoisted Tanzania’s flag on the summit, along with the Uhuru torch.


Lieutenant Alexander Nyirenda

Since then, every year on December 8, climbers light again the candle of hope, love and dignity on the Uhuru summit.

* Kibo in Chaga language means "Speckled"

** Kilimanjaro means "Shining Infinite Mountain". The name is understood to be a combination of two words from different tribal languages (“Kilima” or mountain from Swahili and “Njaro”, "Jeu" or shining, infinite from Bantu (Chagga and Kamba tribes)

*** Mwalimu in Swahili means teacher