The origin of the Name Kilimanjaro

By ~ Lindo Travel

The origin of the Name Kilimanjaro

The meaning of Kilimanjaro

Since the earliest explorers visited East Africa, people have been intrigued by the name Kilimanjaro and its meaning. The Chagga people do not have the name for the whole mountain, just the two peaks: Kibo (or kipoo) means “spotted” and refers to the rock that can be seen standing out against the snow on this peak; Mawenzi (or kimawenzi) means “having a broken top” and again describes, its appearance.

Most theories as to the origin of the name Kilimanjaro for the whole mountain break the word down into two element; kilima and njaro. In Swahili the word for mountain is mlima while kilima means hill- so it is possible that an early European visitor incorrectly used kilima because of the analogy to the two Chagga words Kibo and Kimawenzi.

The explorer Krapf said that the Swahili of the coast knew it as Kilimanjaro ‘mountain of greatness’, but he does not explain why. He also suggests it could mean ‘mountain of caravans’ (kilima=mountain, jaro=caravans), but while kilima is a Swahili word, jaro is a Chagga word.

Other observers have suggested that njaro once meant ‘whiteness’ and therefore this was the ‘mountain of whiteness’. Alternatively njaro could be the name of an evil spirit, or a demon, The first- known European to climb Mount Kilimanjaro mentions ‘Njaro, the guardian spirit of the mountain’ and there are many stories in Chagga folklore about spirits living here- though there is no evidence of a spirit called Njaro, either from the Chagga or coastal peoples.

Another explanation suggest that the mountain was known as ‘mountain of water’, because of the Masai word njore for spring or water and because all the rivers in the area rose from here. However, this theory does not explain the use of the Swahili word for the ‘hill’ rather than ‘mountain’, and also assumes that a Swahili word and a Masai word have been put together. The final explanation is from a Kichagga term kilelema meaning that ‘which’ has become difficult or impossible’ or ‘which has defeated’. Njaro can be derived from the kichagga words njaare, a bird, or else jyaro, a caravan. Thus the mountain became kilimanjaare, kilemajyaro or kilelemanjaare, meaning that which defeats or is impossible for the bird or the caravan. This theory has the advantage of being composed entirely of Chagga elements.

Its seems possible either that this was the name given to the mountain by the Chagga themselves, or by people passing through the area , who heard the Chagga say kilemanjaare or kilemajyaro, meaning that the mountain was impossible to climb. Over times the names was standardized to Kilimanjaro.

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