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The Honeyguide: Summer 2000
The Old Man of Mt. Kilimanjaro

The words 'Mt. Kilimanjaro' conjure up romantic images of personal growth, challenge, defeat, and success. We have seen pictures and heard stories. The climbers of the first Mt. Kilimanjaro climb in 1889 had only their courage, passion and naiveté pushing them on. When asked, 'Who was the first to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro?', the most common reply is Hans Meyer of Germany. Hans Meyer is credited with the vision behind the expedition, but who was his guide?

Yohani Kinyala Lauwo was only eighteen years old when he led Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller to the highest point of Africa on October 5th, 1889. His selection by the Mangi (Chagga chief) to be Hans Meyer's guide was accidental, but it forever changed his life. Kinyala (as he was called) was born and lived his entire life in the village of Marangu, nestled on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Before Europeans came to East Africa, many of the Lauwo clan of the Chagga tribe hunted the forest elephants for ivory and sold it to the Swahili traders from the coast. The forest also supplied them with honey, timber, medicine and Colobus monkey hides. By the time Hans Meyer arrived in Chaggaland, Kinyala Lauwo was a tall teenager who knew the forest like the back of his hand. By then, colonialism had started in Kinyala's homeland and young men were being forced to construct roads. Kinyala tried to dodge the 'draft', but was caught. As a result, he was summoned for trial at Mangi Marealli's palace. Coincidentally, Hans Meyer had just arrived at the palace asking for permission to climb the mountain and guides and porters. The Mangi's wachili (advisors) spotted Kinyala, knew that he was of the Lauwo clan, and asked him to guide the expedition.

The event led Kinyala (later called Mzee Lauwo) to guide Mt. Kilimanjaro climbs for more than seventy years! For his first climb, he was only wrapped in blankets. Over the years, he obtained appropriate clothing and hiking gear. When Mzee Lauwo turned one-hundred years old, the Tanzania National Parks gave him a beautiful, modern style house painted in light purple and pink pastels. Here he lived with his two wives until his death on May 10th, 1996, after a grand life of a one-hundred twenty-five years!

About The Honeyguide

The Honeyguide - a monthly email newsletter - is named after the Greater Honey Guide, a bird that has developed the remarkable habit of leading tribespeople to wild bees' nests, with the promise of honeycomb and grubs once the humans have opened the nest and taken the honey. The complementary relationship shared by bird and human represents the newsletter's goal - to periodically lead readers to new and timely bits of information about East African wildlife, culture, and travel.

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