Climbing Kilimanjaro one hundred years ago : a translation of Otto Kersten's account

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The first known attempt by European explorers to climb Kilimanjaro was made by a German, Baron C. C. von der Decken, in 1862. Chaggaland had been visited by the missionary, J. Rebmann, in 1849, but when he reported snow so near the Equator, many people in Europe thought such a phenomenon impossible. The sceptics were however finally convinced by the reports of Decken’s two journeys to Chaggaland, the first in 1861, with the young Englishman, Richard Thornton (for an account of this see my article “Richard Thornton in East Africa,” T.N.R. No. 58, pp. 43-63), and the second with Otto Kersten in 1862. It is from the latter’s work, Baron Carl Claus von der Decken's Reisen in Ost-Afrika, published in six volumes between 1869 and 1879, that the following translated extracts are taken. In addition to the account of the actual climb, some of the preliminary negotiations are also included, as they throw interesting light on early Chagga history, and at the same time provide an interesting contrast between the difficulties which von der Decken’s party encountered at that time, and the ease with which the present-day tourist can arrange his climb. A modern reader may feel that the German party was overbearing and the Chagga chiefs churlish and suspicious. This is partly true but it must be remembered that this represents the first harsh impact between the Chagga and the outside world. The country had indeed been visited by Swahili caravans, but they, desiring to trade, would naturally be subservient. The only known earlier European visitor was a missionary and his calling likewise made his approach one of humility. The Baron, on the other hand, had been brought up as an aristrocrat whose word was law in his own little world. The Chagga chiefs of that time had much the same upbringing. When one also considers the difficulties of communication—neither side knowing the other’s language — it is really remarkable that sufficient tolerance was shown all round to avoid any major clash. The party consisted of four Europeans, the Baron, Kersten, Androk, a hunter from Europe, and Coralli, the Baron’s valet. They left Mombasa on 3rd October, 1862 with the typical safari of those days, consisting of guides, askaris and porters. Travel¬ling via Vanga, on the coast,Mbarumu, Kisimani and Lake Jipe, they arrived at Taveta on 31st October. After recovering from the journey there, they proceeded across the plains to Chaggaland, and here Dr. Kersten takes up the story, (the cross¬headings are the annotator’s.) Sections in brackets are summarised by the translator for the sake of brevity.
Available in print form, East Africana Collection, Dr Wilbert Chagula Library, (EAF FOS C61)
Kilimanjaro, Otto Kersten
Fosbrooke, H. A. (1986) Climbing Kilimanjaro one hundred years ago : a translation of Otto Kersten's account