Friday, February 22, 2013

Mount Kilimanjaro-Africa’s highest mountain

Be replenished by the splendour of the Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain

The Kilimanjaro mountain is situated in the Kilimanjaro national park in Tanzania, East Africa. This spectacular mountain is a dormant volcano, and the highest in Africa, with the highest point of the mountain reaching a height of 5,149 m. The mountain is also the highest free-standing mountain in the world. The mountain comprises three volcanic cones; which are: Kibo 5,895 m (19,341 ft); Mawenzi 5,149 m (16,893 ft); and Shira 3,962 m (13,000 ft). Uhuru peak is the highest summit on Kibo's crater rim. Two of its three peaks, Mawenzi and Shira, are extinct; while Kibo (the highest peak), is dormant but could possibly erupt again.
This breathtaking mountain rises to about 5,100 m from its base in the plain near Moshi. The volcanic cone called Kibo, is coated with a cone which is almost symmetrical, with its steep slopes rising to 200 m on the southern side. These steep slopes define a 2.5 km wide caldera; and in this caldera is an inner crater called the Reusch Crater. 

In the past, the summit of Kibo was entirely capped by ice; but over time, there had been a systematic dwindling in the ice on the mountain. To this effect, it has been predicted that the Kilimanjaro mountain might become utterly ice-free by the year 2033 (perhaps an effect of accelerated global warming).

With respect to vegetation, the Kilimanjaro is an afromontane sky Island with tremendous biodiversity. Nonetheless, there are very few species endemic to the area. Over an altitude range of 3.000 metres, the Kilimanjaro is endowed with a colossal spectrum of forest types, containing about 1.200 vascular plant species. One peculiar feature of the Kilimanjaro plant kingdom is the absence of bamboo; which generally occur on all high mountains in Africa.

As regards ascending the Kilimanjaro, there are six designated routes; comprising the following: Marangu, Rongai, Lemosho, Shira, Umbwe and Machame. The most scenic and steepest of all the hiking routes is Machame; and via this route, one can successful reach the top of the mountain after six or seven days; depending on one’s pace. The Rongai is the easiest and least scenic of all the camping routes. Though the Marangu is also a relatively easy route, accommodation in the huts is shared with others; and therefore, this route is usually the busiest. The same route is utilised for ascending and descending the mountain.

Those wishing to embark upon hikes to the Kilimanjaro mountain should conduct extensive and detail investigation, regarding the risks involved; and the precautions to be observed in embracing such an endeavour. The hike to the Kilimanjaro mountain might be less challenging than that of the high peaks of the Himalayas or the Andes; but the task is nonetheless difficult and hazardous, due to high elevation, low temperatures and sporadic incidences of high winds. The mountain exceeds the altitude at which high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) can be experienced. Therefore, one should not be astonished if one experiences considerable discomfort, such as shortage of breath, hypothermia and headaches, while approaching the summit of the mountain. Hikers should ensure that they are equipped with all necessary tools and material that would mitigate the burden of their adventure, before embarking upon a hike.

Of recent, the Tanzanian Medical Services around the area of the mountain have articulated concern regarding the current influx of visitors, who apparently perceive hiking up the Kilimanjaro as a relatively easy walk; which indeed is a mis-perception of the reality. Hiking up the Kilimanjaro mountain is a strenuous task that demands physical stamina. Please do not approach the hike in a casual and carefree manner, but ensure that you take the relevant precautions and prepare the necessary equipment.
Climbing the Kilimanjaro mountain is not a curiosity-quenching exercise; but a real challenge that requires both mental and physical strength. Many ill-prepared hikers had been compelled to abandon the hike after realising that the difficulty of hiking the mountain exceeds their initial perception of a relatively easy exercise. Enjoy your hike up the Kilimanjaro, and be replenished by the pure refreshing essence of this breathtaking mountain.

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

A visit to the Maasai tribal group in Kenya; East Africa


Africa's Most remarkable ethnic group

The Maasai (Masai or Masaai) are a semi nomadic Nilotic ethnic group, found in Kenya and also Tanzania, both countries in East Africa. The Maasai are amongst the most renowned ethnic groups in Africa, due to their distinctive traditional values. They speak a Nilo-Saharan language known as Maa. The Maasai are known to originate from North West Kenya, and started migrating to the South of Kenya around the 15th century.
Traditional administration in the Maasai community is carried out by the elder men, sometimes in conjunction with men who have already retired from traditional rule. Individual and collective conduct amongst the Maasai is governed by a set of oral principles and laws, which are carefully passed on from generation to generation. Capital punishment is entirely unknown within the Maasai community and sometimes individuals may decide to settle disputes out of the locally administered justice system. This practice is usually called amitu, and it’s a way of maintaining peace or arop. During this practice, the guilty party is usually required to offer a substantial apology to the person who has been wronged.
In view of religion, the Maasai are monotheistic, and worship a single God known as Enkai or Engai, which is essentially held to have a dual nature. Engai Narok (Black God) is viewed as being benevolent, while Engai Nanyokie (Red God), is considered to be vengeful. The principal religious or spiritual personality within the Maasai community is the Laibon, who is endowed with the qualification to carry out acts of shamanism, healing, divination and prophecy; while also ensuring that the community experiences adequate rainfall, amongst others. However, some Maasai have become Christians and others, Muslims.

The Maasai make use of locally available material and indigenous know-how to construct their houses. Due to their historically nomadic and currently semi-nomadic lifestyle, their houses were of an impermanent nature. The houses or Inkajijik are normally constructed by women skilled in this art; and they often assume a circular or star shape. Usually, the key framework of the house is made of wooden poles, directly fixed into the ground, and interlaced with a pattern of smaller branches, which is then plastered with a combination of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung, urine and ash. The houses are usually small and serve the purposes of cooking, eating, sleeping, receiving visitors, storing food, fuel and other important items.
More often, the bravery and endurance of young boys might be tested, through ritual beating. Girls are expected to perform certain tasks such as cooking and other household assignments, which they must have learnt from their mothers at an early age. About a period of fifteen years, a new generation of warriors is normally initiated. These warriors usually consist of young people within the age range of 12 to 25 years. The transformation from boyhood to junior warrior is characterised by a very painful circumcision festival, which is conducted by the elders of the community.

Upon the initiation of a new generation of warriors, the existing generation usually becomes junior elders, who are then entrusted with political decision taking, until they become senior elders. This passing from a warrior to junior elder usually occurs in large assemblies called Eunoto. During this time, the long hair of the emerging junior elder is shaved off, because short hair is one of the attributes of elders of the community. The warriors expend a majority of their time walking around their territory.
The Maasai also maintain a polygamous system of marriage, a tradition that had been prevalent, since the inception of this unique group of people.
The Maasai are also known for their distinctive musical style, for which the rhythms are offered by a chorus of vocalist singing harmonies, while the song leader sings the melody. A song leader is usually someone who is known to be well versed in a particular song. It’s a common practice for women to sing lullabies, humming songs and rhythms praising their sons. Groups of women usually assemble, while singing and dancing together.

The Maasai are also known to perform a kind of jumping dance to celebrate the coming of age of a warrior. This ceremony can actually last for ten or more days of singing. The warriors usually form a circle and each time in a rotating manner, one or two warriors enter the circle and begin to jump while maintaining a narrow posture and never letting their heels touch the ground. Those participating and singing may increase the pitch of their voice, to acknowledge someone who has achieved a very high jump.
 It’s customary for Maasai women to pierce and extend their earlobes, using various materials such as thorns for piercing, twigs, bundle of twigs, stones, empty film canisters etc. This feature is more common amongst women than men. Maasai women usually wear very elaborate beaded ornaments and other locally made jewellery.

One of the most popular meals amongst the Maasai is soup, and the plant known as Acacia nilotica, is the most used in producing their soup. The bark of the stem or root is usually boiled in water and the decoction drunk alone or added to soup. This product is regarded as offering the consumer abundance of energy.

In terms of clothing, red is the most popular colour amongst the Maasai people, though blue, black, striped and checkered cloth are also commonly worn, including multicolour designs. Young men usually appear in black attire immediately after circumcision.

Maasai women are known to be very skillful in beadwork and indeed, the status of a woman in society is communicated through the volume of bodily ornaments the woman is wearing.
 During most rituals, hair shaving is a common tradition, for this is seen as symbolising the starting of a new life, which one passes into, after such an initiation session.

A visit to the Maasai community is a truly compelling niche for anyone interested in a rare form of cultural tourism. Such a visit would take the visitor through an exploratory journey of the Maasai’s well kept cultural secrets. Be prepared to experience a combination of excitement, astonishment, bewilderment and even speechlessness. Hundreds of thousands of visitors to Kenya have had the opportunity to capture the lifestyle of the Maasai at close range, through a visit to their abode. Many television and radio programs had been made regarding this distinctive ethnic group in Kenya. However, you don’t need to watch out for a television documentary to capture the distinctiveness of the Maasai community; for, you can watch it live. See you in Kenya.

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