Ol Doinyo Lengai

Ol Doinyo Lengai

In a remote corner of Tanzania stands an astonishing mountain called Ol Doinyo Lengai, where lava fountains harden in midair then shatter like glass.

Ol Doinyo Lengai is a volcano in the Eastern Rift Valley, North Tanzania. Its name means ‘Mountain of God’ in the language of the Maasai people who inhabit this area. Ol Doinyo Lengai is of particular interest to geologists because it is the world’s only active volcano that erupts natrocarbonatite lava. It is also the only active volcano in this part of the East African Rift Valley, though there are many older extinct volcanoes in this region. Ol Doinyo Lengai rises about 2000 metres above the Rift Valley floor to a height of approximately 2886 metres.

The Ol Doinyo Lengai is the sacred mountain of the Maasai. The Maasai go to the mountain to pray and offer sacrifices to the god of the mountain. Reasons for going to the mountain include sickness, infertility, and other misfortunes, like if a person loses his livestock. The Maasai who go to pray on the mountain take with them a sacrifice: a flawless female black sheep (a young ewe) which has not reproduced. The sheep is kept in a specific place on the mountain, a dry water hole, and the Maasai sings songs of worship and praise to the mountain god late into the night. In the morning, when the Maasai awakes, he discovers that the sheep has vanished, with no traces to be seen.

The Maasai who take the sacrifices are not allowed to eat until they have left the mountain, but those who have been to the mountain say that they wake up with full stomachs, belching meat and milk. The Maasai believe that God speaks to them on the mountain as they feel his presence and hear mysterious voices but do not see the person talking. The Maasai also believe that a bad person (like a person who practices witchcraft) does not dare to go to the mountain because the mountain god will strike them dead. The elders say no such incident has happened because bad people do not dare to go to the mountain, as they fear the god’s wrath.

Another reason why the Maasai are awed by this mountain is because the soil keeps changing colour from white, gray, red, brown, black and even yellow (because of volcanic activity). One American explorer referred to this mountain as the “Big rock candy mountain” because of its varying colors. Ol Doinyo Lengai is the most sacred place of worship for all the Maasai from the whole Maasai Diaspora in both Kenya and Tanzania. The Maasai from both countries come to pray and seek Gods intervention in the mountain of God.

It’s a harsh desert there, and visiting the mountain is recommended only for fit and determined people.  Climbing the mountain requires 4-5 hours moderate exertion. The ascent is quite difficult and challenging because the mountain is steep and climbers are exposed to the hot sun as there is hardly any shade. The best time to climb the mountain is early in the morning, before the sun gets too hot. Herds of zebra and wildebeest can sometimes be seen on the trip. The Ol Doinyo Lengai is scientifically precious, a geochemical shrine, as well as one of the holiest sites of Tanzania.