What compels us in our striving to be the first at something? What if attaining the goal of first requires persistence through physical and mental obstacles?
The first recorded person to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro was Yohani Kinyala Lauwo or Kinyala Johnnes Lauwo, a member of the Lauwo clan of the Chagga tribe. He was selected (forced really) by the Chagga chief to lead Hans Meyer and Austrian climber Ludwig Purtscheller to the top of the mountain. Meyer, a German geology professor, is credited as the first European to reach the summit in 1889 after two failed attempts.
Not much is written about Kinyala – besides the fact that he only had a few blankets to keep warm in the high altitude. Journals and dairies, however, report how Meyer and other Europeans before him suffered from hypothermia, altitude sickness, deteriorating morale and dwindling food supplies. A wall of ice ultimately blocked Meyer’s first attempt at summitting: he was forced to retreat because he didn’t have the proper equipment to scale the ice.
On his second try, Meyer and a traveling companion were captured and held prisoner by Chief Busuri. The two were released after a ransom was paid, but the chief kept all of their equipment and supplies. Another Chagga chieftain, Mandara, bragged of having met every European explorer in the region and extracting “gifts” from them in exchange for safe passage.
Records kept by European explorers cast doubt on the possibility that East African tribesmen could reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro because they did not have the proper equipment. Sounds like they had plenty to me!
Meyer figured close to fifty other Europeans had taken a shot at climbing the mountain, and, if he wanted to be the first, he had better try again soon. He spent some time interviewing an American naturalist who had come the closest to gaining the summit. Meyer learned a lack of proper food supplies was the biggest obstacle, so he established a series of camps along the climbing route he would take, stocking the camps with food. He and Purtscheller were too exhausted to summit on their first attempt. But after a day of recuperating at a lower altitude, the two returned and crested the crater rim of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Last Saturday night, we attended the Cirque Du Soleil-Kooza while it was in San Diego. Most of the performers did amazing things I had never seen before. A unicyclist twirled a woman above his head, tightrope walkers jumped over each other while thirty feet off the ground, two guys jumped rope on the outside of a large spinning metal contraption (who thinks up this stuff?). But the contortionists were the most incredible. I wonder, when they planned their act, did they say “let’s be the first to have one of us bend like a pretzel while the other does a one-armed handstand on the pretzel woman’s abs?” I know this is a tenuous connection to the drive to be first, but I still can’t get one of the contortionist’s poses out of my head. I didn’t close my eyes fast enough, and it lingers in my mind like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Maybe the drive to be first is intertwined (did you think of the pretzel woman? I did.) with the desire to make a mark on history. Kinyala got a new house built by the German government. Meyer has a bronze plaque on Mt. Kilimanjaro.
What do you think?
Information gathered from internet and “Kilimanjaro: A Complete Traveler’s Guide”