The actual discovery of tanzanite still remains something of a mystery. It is believed that the Masai herders in a town near the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro were the first people to discover this gemstone. According to popular myth, a lightning strike near the Merelani hills set surrounding grasslands on fire. When the Masai herders returned to the area with their livestock, magical blue stones appeared on the ground.
According to others Ali Juuyawatu, a local Masai tribesman in July of 1967, found a piece of translucent crystal near Mount Kilimanjaro. Fascinated by its blue-violet hue, he shared his find with Manuel D’Souza, who was looking for rubies in the region.
Manuel de Souza was born in Goa in 1913 and moved to Tanganyika in 1933 after qualifying as a Master Tailor. On 7 July 1967 he discovered tanzanite. He was a tailor by profession and prospector by passion.
Believing the find to be sapphire, D’Souza had no idea he had stumbled on an entirely new specimen. At first he was disappointed when tests showed they were too soft. But he still believed the stones might have some value, so he quickly staked out his claims and registered them with the government. Gemological tests revealed that the crystal had a composition more complex than sapphire, and its color was more intriguing and more exotic than any other gemstone. Despite D’Souza’s efforts to keep the find a secret, word spread fast. Before long, nearly 100 claims were staked. This exciting new gem reached the US market in 1970.
Manuel De Souza died at age 56 on August 21, 1969 a week after an automobile accident on the main road to Dar es Salaam . His son, Angelo de Souza has written: “European gem dealers soon learnt the true story and Manuel’s discovery and his success swelled throughout Europe courtesy of social and factual magazines including Bunte (Jan 69), Der Spiegel, Jasmine (7/7/69), Time (24/1/69) and Life (9/5/69).
Manuel’s children, Catherine, Cosma, Maryanne and Angelo and other members of his family are now scattered in Tanzania, Denmark, Malta and the United Kingdom.