The first encounters between European missionaries and explorers and the local Africans led to very mixed reactions. The same is true of the impact of the colonialists who came in their wake. While they brought Christianity, education, medicine and a degree of development they also exposed the continent to distortions which still vibrate today in the form of unbalanced economies, alien cultural trends and previously unknown diseases. And Africa is facing difficulties in trying to correct such distortions while continuing to enjoy the benefits of the better aspects of these encounters such as mission hospitals, charitable organisations and, not least, foreign aid.
This bitter-sweet relationship between the first Europeans and local Africans was due to be re-lived in a novel way in Kilimanjaro region early in November 1988. The re-living, in the form of a historical musical drama, ‘Kilimanjaro’ was due to be staged at the International School, Moshi, from November 3rd to 5th 1988. It was written by the school’s music and drama teacher, Kevin Allen-Schmid in collaboration with several local residents. The occasion was also intended as a tribute to the 99th anniversary of the first recorded climbing of Mount Kilimanjaro by a German geologist, Hans Meyer, and an Austrian mountaineer, Ludwig Purtscheller on the 5th October 1889. The proceeds are to be used primarily to establish a scholarship fund to assist the needy and enable local students to attend secondary school. Although the mountain was reportedly climbed for the first time in 1889 it had already been Sighted 41 years earlier by another European, Johannes Rebman, a missionary sent by the Church Missionary Society, on May 11th 1848 (locals had of course ‘discovered’ the mountain from time immemorial). Much to his dismay, Rebman’s report of a ‘great snowy mountain’ near the equator was received in Europe with outright scepticism. It was not until 1860 that the existence of snow-capped Kilimanjaro was generally conceded in Europe.
The drama has been based on the diaries of Rebman, and another early missionary, Ludwig Krapf, but the geographical focus of the play is the Village of Machame and through stories, songs and dances typical of the 1840’s we learn as much about the Machame Villagers of the time as we do about the first Christian missionaries.
‘Kilimanjaro’ was first staged two years ago by the International School and Weruweru Girls School students but has been revised to provide a more historically accurate picture of Rebman’s experiences.
The original was mostly in English; the new version has dialogue in three languages – Machame villagers speaking Kimachame, coastal people speaking Kiswahili and missionaries and their guides speaking English. By tracing Rebman’s steps from Europe to East Africa, ‘Kilimanjaro’ provides a wide ranging variety of music from Bach to traditional ngomas. A remarkable aspect of the production is the diversity of Moshi residents who participate including not only actors and dancers but, for example, the Moshi advocate Eric Ng’maryo who translated some of the dialogues and lyrics into Kiswahili and worked as a consultant on historical details and Mrs. Elly Nkya, Head of the International School’s Science Department who did the same into Kimachame. According to the author, although same of the audience will not understand all three languages the plot is easy to follow and the music can be universally appreciated – SHIHATA
(Tana Travel of Stratford-on-Avon are arranging visits to Kilimanjaro in 1989 to celebrate the Centenary of the first recorded climb of Mount Kilimanjaro. After the climb there will be a celebration dinner at the Moshi Hotel on October 6th 1989 – Editor)