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Kilimanjaro Meaning – Meaning of the word “Kilimanjaro”

The Kilimanjaro are very popular mountains not just in Tanzania, East Africa, Or Africa but world over being that it’s the tallest mountain Africa.

Some people only know the Kilimanjaro for its part in several movies and documentaries. When one picks interest in the Kilimanjaro, they would want to know how it was formed, where it is found, how tall it is and many other questions.

The question mostly asked but has never gotten a good answer is the origin of the name “Kilimanjaro”.  It is believed that the Kilimanjaro name has roots in Swahili, Chagga and masai languages.

There has been however no conclusive research to ascertain this claim.

Who named it Kilimanjaro?

The Nuttall Encyclopaedia was the first official document in the year 1907 to refer this mountain by then as the Kilima-Njaro.

There is no clear origin of this name but from the time the Europeans started exploring the Kilimanjaro in the 1860s, the mountain adopted this names somehow.

In 1885, Jim Thompson claimed that Kilima-Njaro that the locals believed that this name was interpreted as the mountain of glory (kilima) (njaro).

“Njaro” in one Kiswahili dialect means shining which is asserted that it was to refer to the snow on the top of this mountain.

There are a group people that claim the word “kilima” means mountain in Kiswahili. However the actual word means “hill”. “Mlima” is the actual word to mean mountain in Kiswahili.

The Chagga people who are the natives of the area are credited for naming the Kibo and Mawenzi peaks of the Kilimanjaro.

There is a school of thought that believes that the words Kilelema that means tough and Kileme which means vanquish were coined to form Kilima.

They further believe that that word “Jaro” was probably derived of the bird name “njaare”. Therefore they believe that the name was kilemanjaare or kilemajyaro and over time due to foreign influence it changed to Kilimanjaro.

Is it a Chagga Name?

It makes so much sense when someone claims that the Name Kilimanjaro has Chagga origin. This is because the Chagga people in habit the slopes of the Kilimanjaro Mountain.

Might be a Swahili name…

Those that believe that the Name was derivations of the Kiswahili have a bigger following although one would argue that the Kilimanjaro is way older than the Kiswahili language.

The Language came into play after the settling of the Arabs at the coast of East Africa.

Or even a Maasai name?

On one side of the foothills of the Kilimanjaro are the Masai people. One school of thought believes that the name could have come from the Masai language.

It is believed that the word “Njore” to mean spring water in the Masai language could have been coined to form “Jaro”. The masai version of kilima doesn’t exist that why this theory is less believable.

It is therefore right to confirm that we will probably never know where the tallest mountain in Africa got its name.


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