Thursday, July 25, 2019

St Teresa's: Smashing the “whites only” barrier on the mountains

By KERSI RUSTOMJI (ex-St Teresa’s and Catholic Parochial School Nairobi)

Over the 100 years since the arrival of the Asians in Kenya, many institutions including sports clubs were established in all major towns of the country. It offered facilities for games and sports like cricket, soccer, hockey, volleyball, tennis, badminton, other indoor games, and swimming. There was however an exciting, rigorous, and a challenging activity that remained the domain of the Europeans, even in the 1950s.

The Europeans in Nairobi Kenya had established Mountain Club of Kenya and in keeping with their segregationist policy did not admit non-Europeans. This deprived a small segment of young Asians who were keen to pursue this field. It also removed these young enthusiasts, from the acquisition of essential and pertinent training activities, loan, or hire of specialized and expensive equipment, maps, and mountaineering educational literature required for this very rigorous and even dangerous activity. The Mountain Club segregationist attitude and monopoly was so entrenched, that not only it did not offer any assistance to non-white non-members, but it also firmly believed, that mountaineering was White man’s domain and only they had the capability to undertake this venture.

This monopolistic and segregationist attitude received a set back with the establishment of the Outward Bound Mountain School of Kenya. This opened mountaineering for the young Asians and any assistance from the all-White Mountain Club of Kenya was not needed.

In 1952 – 53 together with other lads we were the first Asian group to scale Kilimanjaro. Similarly Yezdi (also ex-St Teresa’s), my younger brother, also scaled Kilimanjaro with the Outward Bound School, at the age of 16. His patrol with Asian members won the Governor’s Silver Spear for best effort. It was with experience gained on that climb that he later organized and led two climbs on Mount Kenya. All these mountain expeditions put a very large dent in the all-European Mountain Club of Kenya.

Sixteen-year-old Yezdi Rustomji and a patrol member on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa.

In 1957-58, Yezdi mounted the first all Asian expedition to scale Mount Kenya, at more than 5,000 meters, the second-highest mountain in Africa. When he approached the Mountain Club for assistance and hire of equipment it was refused and a member said, ‘Young man, mountain climbing is a White man’s sport.’

Undeterred, Yezdi and his team utilized their funds, resources and ex-army equipment and with adapted gear scaled Mount Kenya. With an all Asian team that included women in the support group, Yezdi and another member reached Point Lenana, at nearly 4000 meters. During a second climb, he reached Point Piggott, higher than Point Lenana. The all-White Mountain Club refused to acknowledge and record their climb. However, after a very lively correspondence in the East African Standard, it very reluctantly did so.

Yezdi on Lenana Point, Mount Kenya

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