Mount Kilimanjaro /ˌkɪlɪmənˈdʒɑːroʊ/, with its three volcanic cones, Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira, is a dormant volcanic mountain in Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world at 5,895 metres (19,341 ft) above sea level (the Uhuru Peak/Kibo Peak).
Kilimanjaro is composed of three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo, the highest; Mawenzi at 5,149 metres (16,893 ft); and Shira, the shortest at 4,005 metres (13,140 ft). Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim. Tanzania National Parks, a governmental agency, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization list the height of Uhuru Peak as 5,895 m (19,341 ft). That height is based on a British Ordnance Survey in 1952. Since then, the height has been measured as 5,892 m (19,331 ft) in 1999, 5,891 m (19,327 ft) in 2008, and 5,888 m (19,318 ft) in 2014.
Kilimanjaro is a large stratovolcano. Of its three peaks, Mawenzi and Shira are extinct, while Kibo, the highest, is dormant and could erupt again. The last major eruption has been dated to between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago.
Although dormant, Kibo has gas-emitting fumaroles in its crater. Several collapses and landslides have occurred on Kibo before, one creating the area known as the Western Breach.
According to English geographer Halford Mackinder, in 1848 missionary Johannes Rebmann of Mombasa was the first European to report the existence of Kilimanjaro.
The origin of the name “Kilimanjaro” is not precisely known, but a number of theories exist. European explorers had adopted the name by 1860 and reported that “Kilimanjaro” was the mountain’s Kiswahili name. But according to the 1907 edition of The Nuttall Encyclopædia, the name of the mountain was “Kilima-Njaro”.
Johann Ludwig Krapf wrote in 1860 that Swahilis along the coast called the mountain “Kilimanjaro”. Although he did not support his claim, he claimed that “Kilimanjaro” meant either “mountain of greatness” or “mountain of caravans”. Under the latter meaning, “Kilima” meant “mountain” and “Jaro” possibly meant “caravans”.
Jim Thompson claimed in 1885, although he also did not support his claim,
The term Kilima-Njaro has generally been understood to mean the Mountain (Kilima) of Greatness (Njaro). This is probably as good a derivation as any other, though not improbably it may mean the “White” mountain, as I believe the term “Njaro” has in former times been used to denote whiteness, and though this application of the word is now obsolete on the coast, it is still heard among some of the interior tribes. Either translation is equally applicable…. By the Wa-chaga the mountain is not known under one name, the two masses which form it being respectively named Kibo and Kimawenzi.
“Njaro” is an ancient Kiswahili word for “shining”. Similarly, Krapf wrote that a chief of the Wakamba people, whom he visited in 1849, “had been to Jagga and had seen the Kima jaJeu, mountain of whiteness, the name given by the Wakamba to Kilimanjaro….” More correctly in the Kikamba language, this would be Kiima Kyeu, and this possible derivation has been popular with several investigators.
Others have assumed that “Kilima” is Kiswahili for “mountain”. The problem with this assumption is that “Kilima” actually means “hill” and is, therefore, the diminutive of “Mlima”, the proper Kiswahili word for mountain. However, “t is … possible … that an early European visitor, whose knowledge of was not extensive, changed mlima to kilima by analogy with the two Chagga names; Kibo and Kimawenzi.”
A different approach is to assume that the “Kileman” part of Kilimanjaro comes from the Kichagga “kileme”, which means “which defeats”, or “kilelema”, which means “which has become difficult or impossible”. The “Jaro” part would “then be derived from njaare, a bird, or, according to other informants, a leopard, or, possibly from jyaro a caravan.”
According to one informant, the old men tell the story that long ago the Wachagga, having seen the snowy dome, decided to go up to investigate; naturally, they did not get very far. Hence the name: kilemanjaare, or kilemanyaro, or possibly kilelemanjaare etc.- “which defeats,” or which is impossible for, the bird, the leopard, or the caravan. This is attractive as being entirely made up of elements based on an imaginable situation, but the fact remains that the name Kilimanjaro is not, and apparently never has been, current among the Wachagga as the name of the mountain. Is this then only, as other Wachagga suggest, a latter-day attempt to find a explanation when pressed to do so by a foreign enquirer? Is it perhaps arguable that the early porters from the coast hearing the Wachagga say kilemanjaare or kilemajyaro, meaning simply that it was impossible to climb the mountain, imagined this to be the name of the mountain, and associated it with their own kilima? Did they then report to the European leaders of the expedition that the name of the mountain was, their version of the Kichagga, which, further assimilated by the European hearer, finally became standardised as Kilimanjaro?
In the 1880s, the mountain became a part of German East Africa and was called “Kilima-Ndscharo” in German following the Kiswahili name components.
On 6 October 1889, Hans Meyer reached the highest summit on the crater ridge of Kibo. He named it “Kaiser-Wilhelm-Spitze” (“Kaiser Wilhelm peak”). That name apparently was used until Tanzania was formed in 1964, when the summit was renamed “Uhuru”, meaning “Freedom Peak” in Kiswahili.