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St Teresa's: Smashing the “whites only” barrier on the mountains
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.
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.
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.
– 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.
Yezdi Rustomji and a patrol member on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the
highest mountain in Africa.
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
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.