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

Updated 19 September 2018

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.


What We Are Reading Today: Texas Flood

Updated 10 December 2019

What We Are Reading Today: Texas Flood

AUTHORS: Alan Paul & Andy Aledort

Texas Flood by Alan Paul and Andy Aledort is a phenomenal biography of guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan that hits on every level, including interviews with those closest to him.

A review in The New York Times said: “An oral history is only as good as its sources, and Texas Flood is thorough and far-reaching, with Vaughan’s bandmates, crew and family taking center stage.”  It added: “Especially fascinating is Vaughan’s complicated relationship with his older brother, Jimmie,  and Vaughan’s ill-fated role in David Bowie’s band, an apparent big break that he quit because he was told he could not promote his debut album.”

The review said: “If there’s a disappointment in the book, it’s the lack of Vaughan’s own voice. Aledort interviewed him several times during his lifetime, but since those conversations were focused on specific projects, the quotes pulled for Texas Flood don’t leave much impression. Both authors are accomplished musicians and longtime contributors to Guitar World magazine, so occasionally things get a little gear-heavy.”