The Mountains of the Moon

The term "Mountains of the Moon" is said to refer to the Rwenzori Mountains.
The term "Mountains of the Moon" is said to refer to the Rwenzori Mountains.

What are the Mountains of the Moon?

One may easily conclude that the Mountains of the Moon refers to a group of mountains on the surface of the moon. However, this would be far from the truth. In the past, people used terms of sarcasm to refer to natural resources and physical features in their environment. The Mountains of the Moon is an ancient name for a legendary mountain range located at the source of River Nile in East Africa. After numerous analyses of various mountains, the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda fits the description of the Mountains of the Moon.

The Ancient Testimony

In the past, many people lived along the great River Nile. They used the water and fish from the river as a source of livelihood. However, no one knew the source of the river. The locals found it difficult to determine the origin of the river because it was very long. Among those who had a keen interest in the search for the source of the Nile River were the Ancient Greek geographers. Nevertheless, their many expeditions proved futile. Finally, Diogenes who was a merchant reported to the people that he had made a twenty-five days journey to find the source of the Nile. According to him, the source of the Nile was a group of mountains which were surrounded by many large lakes. Diogenes further reported that the local people called the source of the Nile the Mountains of the Moon. He figured that the name had originated from the whiteness of the snowcapped mountains. Ptolemy, the Roman, Arab, and Greek geographers all accepted Diogenes’ remarks as true.

Modern Discoveries

European explorer James Bruce traveled to Ethiopia and in 1770 identified the source of Blue Nile to be Mount Amedamit. In 1862, John Speke and James Grant moved to the Great Lakes region to find the origin of the White Nile. The Great Lakes in the area are Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika. In 1889, Henry Morton Stanley continued with the exploration and found the snowcapped mountain that matched Diogenes’ description. He concluded that the Mountains of the Moon spoken of by most geographers were the Rwenzori Mountains.

Criticism of Diogenes’ Report

Most modern-day scholars doubt the credibility of the statements given by Diogenes. They claim that his report was a complete fabrication. According to G.W.B. Huntingford, the title of the Mountains of the Moon referred to Mount Kilimanjaro. Mount Kilimanjaro is the most beautiful and famous glacier in Africa. He thought that this mountain was the best match for the description made by Diogenes. A 1948 publication by Oliver Thompson ridiculed him of his report. However, Huntingford validated his findings by stating that persons such as Sir Harry Johnston (1911) and Dr. Gervase Mathew (1963) had the same identification. On the contrary, OGS Crawford identified the Mountains of the Moon as Mount Abuna Yosef found in Ethiopia.


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