William Cooley

Name ID 1875

See also

Africa Travel Resource Kilimanjaro
Page Number: 03


In the second century AD, Ptolemy, the Greek astronomer and cartographer, wrote of mysterious lands to the south of modern day Somalia that contained "man-eating barbarians" and a "great snow mountain". This knowledge he must have gained from the Phoenicians, who had circumnavigated Africa by this date. He may also have been drawing on ancient Egyptian writings telling of the great expeditions of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, whose ships had traded the Swahili Coast. Either way, Ptolemy's account stands as the first documented reports of Africa's highest mountain, Kilimanjaro.

The next thousand years however brings no mention of this great mountain. As the coast of East Africa rose in prominence as a trading route after the establishment of Arab rule in the sixth century, the main hub of activity centred around the island of Zanzibar and the immediate mainland known at the time as Zinj. The Arabs had at their disposal, an almost unlimited supply of ivory, gold rhinoceros horn and a far more lucrative and mobile commodity, slaves. The great slave caravans that ventured far into the interior would have passed close by to the mountain to collect water from the permanent streams but it was the Chinese traders of the twelfth century that were next to record observations of a great mountain west of Zanzibar.

Kilimanjaro was to remain a mountain of myth and superstition throughout the centuries - one of the great secrets of interior of 'the dark continent' It was actually the desire to find the source of the Nile that drove British explorers and geographers to first head inland towards the mysterious mountain around 1840 onwards. Up until then Kilimanjaro had been tall tale told by the Arab traders of Zanzibar. No one really believed that there was a snow-capped mountain on the equator. It wasn't an immediate leap from legend to clear fact though, as British geographer William Cooley cryptically reported back to London that there was indeed "a large ridge called Kirimanjara" and that it was in fact "strewn with red pebbles".

Extract ID: 4805