Book review: The story of a trader who made it big in the scramble for Africa

Updated 19 September 2018
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Book review: The story of a trader who made it big in the scramble for Africa

  • A must-read for anyone interested in real-life adventure
  • This biography transports the reader into his extraordinary world with its exotic cast of characters

BEIRUT: There was a time when, before the advent of a synthetic substitute, piano keys, billiard balls, combs and handles for cutlery were all made of ivory. Arab traders were interested in the lucrative trade to cater to the huge demand for ivory in Europe, America and the Far East.

Enter Tippu Tip whose first journey took place in 1855 and went on to establish him as a highly- successful ivory merchant.

His name is not easy to forget — it has an inner rhythm, a musical sound that stays with you and yet few know the truth about the iconic Omani trader whose life story turned into the stuff of legends.

Born in Zanzibar as Hamed bin Mohammed Al-Murjabi, Tippu Tip’s father, Mohammed bin Juma Al-Murjabi, was originally from Muscat and particularly proud of his mother’s ancestry.



Author Stuart Laing came across Tippu Tip while doing research for a dissertation on the abolition of the slave trade in East Africa and the Indian Ocean during the 19th century. “The aim of this book is to introduce the reader, through the life of Tippu Tip, to the extraordinary world of East Africa in the second half of the 19th century,” Laing wrote.

During that period, known as “The Race for Africa” and the “Scramble for Africa,” Europeans and Arabs opened up vast tracts of territory for trade in the East and Central part of Africa. Laing says us that these journeys were huge enterprises, with Arab trading caravans boasting porters and soldiers in huge numbers. Tippu Tip’s caravan itself had 2,400 men.

Besides being a smart trader, Tippu Tip had remarkable leadership qualities that would help him during his third journey lasting 12 years. During that trip, Tippu Tip made a decisive encounter with Henry Morton Stanley who acknowledged his unique qualities in his book, “Through the Dark Continent.” “After regarding him for a few minutes, I came to the conclusion that this Arab was a remarkable man, the most remarkable man I had met among the Arabs…”

The fascinating players outlined in this book make it a must-read for anyone interested in real-life adventure.


A poetic reflection on what it means to be Muslim in Europe

Updated 17 June 2019
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A poetic reflection on what it means to be Muslim in Europe

  • Rahmani is an Algerian-born writer, art-historian and academic
  • Her first novel in the series, “France,” was about her father — a Harki, an Algerian soldier in the Algerian War who fought for the French

CHICAGO: From France comes the second book in Zahia Rahmani’s trilogy, “Muslim: A Novel” Delving deep into identity loss, displacement, misrepresentation and monolithic labels, Rahmani’s book moves between Algeria and France and the political and societal pressures of being both Muslim and European. The circumstances of her birth and the past have always been dictated by conditions beyond her reach and have forced upon her the loss of language and her own history.  

In unadulterated lyrical prose, Rahmani grapples with the circumstances of her life. She writes, “I was forced to lose myself in the century of errors that came before me,” disclosing that her life has never been her own. She was “born in 1962 in a society between times.” After moving to France at the age of five, Rahmani realized her life had changed once she began to lose her language Tamazight, a Berber language spoken by the people of Kabylie in the Aures Mountains, one that was never written down.

Remembering Quranic stories, her mother’s folktales and her own memories, Rahmani draws parallels with her own life to try and understand her fate. She has spent most of her time imprisoned and mislabeled as an Arab, or French, or an immigrant — even though she identifies as none of these.

Rahmani’s language flows freely like water, despite the weight of her words and their inferences. Her writing is impactful and profound as she attempts to close the gaps in herself, trying to understand her own identity or, rather, one that has been forced upon her.

Rahmani is an Algerian-born writer, art-historian and academic. Her first novel in the series, “France,” was about her father — a Harki, an Algerian soldier in the Algerian War who fought for the French. After being exiled from their home, the family sought refuge in France but faced severe discrimination.

“Muslim: A Novel” was originally published in 2005 then translated by Matt Reeck, a poet and translator, from French into English and published by Deep Vellum in 2019.