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Johannes Rebmann (January 16, 1820–October 4, 1876) was a German missionary and explorer credited with feats including being the first European, along with his friend Johann Ludwig Krapf, to enter Africa from the Indian Oceanmarker coast. In addition, they are also credited with being the first Europeans to find Kilimanjaromarker and Mt.marker Kenyamarker. Their work there is also thought to have had effects on future African expeditions by Europeans, including the exploits of Sir Richard Burton, John Hanning Speke, and David Livingstone. After losing most of his eyesight and entering into a brief marriage, he died of pneumonia.

Early life

Rebmann was born to a Swabian farmer and winegrower on January 16, 1820 in Gerlingenmarker, Württembergmarker. The village he lived in was very small, with about 1,500 inhabitants. Even at an early age, he aspired to be a "preacher and canvasser of the gospel".

Later, when Rebmann became a young man, he chose to devote himself to being a missionary, and was trained in Baselmarker.Together with fellow missionary Johann Ludwig Krapf, Rebmann traveled to East Africa in 1846 by way of a ship entitled "Arrow", where he worked in areas around Kenyamarker, as well as at various other locations.

Their work was hard, and they had much trouble convincing tribal chiefs to let them speak to the people. Krapf noted (what he called) the "surge of Islam" that was going through Africa, and wanted to make some sort of Christian standing against its religious influence on the people of the continent. As the radius of the two missionaries work expanded, plans for Christian missionary outposts in the area began to develop.

During his time in Africa, Rebmann kept a diary from 1848 until the end of his life. In the diary, Rebmann writes of the way his trust in his Christianity kept him stable in the continent of Africa, where only very few Europeans had ventured before him. An extract from the diary, which Rebmann in turn took from the Bible (Psalm: 51, 12) reflects Rebmann's belief in his faith: "Restore to me joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."

Stumbling upon Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya

Kibo Summit of Kilimanjaro, the mountain upon which Rebmann beheld snow
In 1848, the two missionaries found Kilimanjaro. The following year, they saw Mt. Kenya, and became the first two Europeans to see the two mountains respectively.

On the October 16, 1847, the two men set out for the mountain of Kasigau. With them came eight tribesmen and a local caravan leader named Bwana Kheri. This expedition was designed with the goal of establishing some of the first mission posts in the region. The journey was successful, and the group of tribesmen and the missionaries returned to Mombasa on October 27.

Sometime during their journey or their stay in the region, Rebmann and Krapf learned of a great mountain referred to as 'Kilimansharo', who peaked the clouds and who was 'capped in silver'. The two men, like most Europeans at the time, were under the impression that snow and ice could not exist so close to the equator, and failed to realize the significance of the mountain being 'topped with silver'.

However, the two missionaries, who had become just as much explorers as they were missionaries, became quite interested in Kilimansharo, and Krapf sought permission of the Mombasa governor for an expedition to the land of the Jagga, a people now known as the Chaga, who lived and live on the actual slopes of Kilimanjaro. Krapf told the governor that this journey would be work-based. Despite this, Krapf did not accompany Rebmann on the journey, so only Bwana Kheri and Rebmann left for Kilimanjaro on April 27, 1848.

Within two weeks, Rebmann and his guide were within sight of the mountain. He noted in his journal the strange white on the summit of Kilimanjaro, and he questioned his guide on what he thought it was. According to Rebmann's log, the guide 'did not know what it was, but supposed it was coldness'. It was then that Rebmann realised that Kilimanjaro, even though it was located in a region that was thought impossible to bear snow or 'coldness', as the guide referred to it, was in fact capped in it. In 1849, these observations were published, but the findings were not truly accepted by most of the scientific community at the time. On November 10, 1848, Rebmann recorded an entry in his log about the mountain:

Mt. Kenya was found by Krapf in the next year, on December 3, 1849. The finding of this mountain was also met with disbelief in Europe, but the impact of the both of these findings was enough to trigger further investigations into other areas of Africa, thereby stimulated a growth of scientific (among other fields) knowledge of the regions, people, history, and geography of the African continent.

Other work in Africa

Rebmann stayed in Africa for almost thirty consecutive years. He kept to a policy that, in order to truly have an impact on the African people, and to complete his task as a missionary, much patience was needed. It appears that this policy was the driving force behind his many years of work on the continent.

As well as visiting Kilimanjaro, Rebmann and Krapf visited other areas of Africa, including the African Great Lakesmarker and Mount Merumarker. He even became married to a fellow missionary, Anna Maria, née Maisch, with whom he spent fifteen years doing missionary work in Africa before her death in 1866, and had a child with (who died only days after his birth).Also during his time in Africa, after his expeditions to Kilimanjaro and around the Great lakes, he learned to speak several native languages, as well as wrote a dictionary in the Swahili language.

Slug map

The Slug Map, illustrating some of the missionaries findings
During their time in Africa, Krapf and Rebmann worked their way into the interior of the continent. They traveled to several areas in the regions of Central and Eastern Africa, including to what is now known as the African Great Lakes. The finding of one especially large lake is depicted in a map known as the 'Slug' map. It was known by this name because the layout of the water body suggested a shape similar to that of a slug.

On the map, several subtle but interesting things can be discovered, including, in the northeast section of the cartograph, a reference to a stream flowing through Lake Victoriamarker, then known by the missionaries as "the Ukerewa". A note is present describing how the waters of the stream were very sweet, but stained the teeth a sickly yellow. This note is probably the first known text referring to the drinking water, found primarily around and of Mount Meru, which has a high content of fluorine and causes a yellow-brown stain to the incisors which cannot be removed.

Among other things, another piece of writing on the Slug Map -"From where the Magad [soda] is bought" - provides evidence that the soda trade, the soda originating in Lake Natronmarker (obviously not known by that name then), was active at that time in those regions of Africa in which the map depicts. The Slug Map has never been published.

The Slug Map is now in the care of the Royal Geographical Societymarker in Londonmarker, who were presented it in 1855 by Erhardt, a fellow missionary. The map is described by the society as:

Later life and death

Having almost lost his eyesight for unknown reasons, Rebmann went back to Europe in September 1875. He returned to Germany for the first time in 29 years after being persuaded by a fellow missionary who was working in the area. He then proceeded to take up residence in Korntal near Stuttgart, where he was close to his old friend Krapf. In Spring 1876, upon the advice of Krapf, he married the widow of another missionary from India, Louise Rebmann née Däuble. The marriage did not last long, as on October 4, 1876, Rebmann died of pneumonia. Encrypted on Rebmann's tombstone in the cemetery of Korntal are the words "Saved in Jesus' Arms".

The legacy that he left behind him is preserved by the Johannes Rebmann Foundation, a religious society devoted to Rebmann and his memory. Rebmann's work in Africa, both as a missionary and as an explorer, allowed other Europeans to follow in his footsteps.

See also



  1. Fitzpatrick, Mary Tanzania (2005)

External links

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