Tippu Tip: Ivory, Slavery and Discovery in the Scramble for Africa

Tippu Tip, notorious to some, intriguing to others, was a Zanzibari Arab trader living in the turbulent and rapidly changing Africa of the late 19th century. This biography transports the reader into his extraordinary world, describing its exotic cast of characters and the principal factors that shaped it.

In hardback and eBook.



Tippu Tip was chiefly an ivory trader, who pioneered for new sources through present-day Tanzania into the Congo basin. Slavery is part of his story, because Arab traders of the time used slaves as porters and sold slaves through the market in Zanzibar to work locally in plantations and beyond in the Gulf and Persia. He was a pioneer of discovery, both in Arab terms and because this was the great period of European exploration in East and Central Africa: he assisted most of the famous explorers, including Livingstone and Stanley, when it served his interests. He can be seen as an Afro-Arab exponent of empire, as his commercial ambitions could only be realized by means of Arab territorial control and colonization. His colourful life culminated in his engagement as governor of a province in the ‘Congo Free State’ of the Belgian King Leopold, and in his involvement in Stanley’s astonishing expedition to relieve Emin Pasha, governor of the Egyptian southern province of Equatoria.

Uniquely among Arabs and Africans of this era, Tippu Tip wrote an autobiography. Stuart Laing draws on this and other contemporary sources to give a graphic account of the life and times of this energetic, resourceful, ruthless but often humorous operator. We watch him as he accumulates wealth and power, but then has to stand by helplessly as the British and German colonial machine carves up the territory of his friend and protector, the Omani Sultan of Zanzibar, and as the Belgian empire in the Congo drives the Arabs out of the trading areas of influence they had established west of Lake Tanganyika.

This book is the first thorough investigation in English of this significant figure. The lucid narrative unfolds against the political and economic backdrop of European and American commercial aims, while allowing the reader to see the period through African and Arab eyes. The fascinating figures who strutted the 19th-century African stage, and their hardly believable exploits, give this book an appeal reaching beyond the African specialist to the general reader.

Dimensions 23.6 x 15.4 cm

eBook, Hardback




17 October 2017


Stuart Laing


Medina Publishing

6 reviews for Tippu Tip: Ivory, Slavery and Discovery in the Scramble for Africa

  1. Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa

    This carefully researched but highly readable study fills a significant gap in the literature on Africa during the early colonial period, both because of Tippu Tip’s historical importance, and because we still tend to see the immense changes of those years mainly through the eyes of European colonizers and explorers. This book is a rare and valuable exception.

  2. Simon Heffer, writer and political commentator

    In a work of meticulous scholarship but also rich in anecdote, Mr Laing uses his extensive first-hand knowledge of the Arab world and its culture to open up not just the exotic world and travels of a legendary Arab trader in East Africa, but to explore from an original angle and with new insight the politics and practicalities of the European ‘Scramble’ for the Dark Continent in the second half of the 19th century, and the work of explorers there.

  3. John Lonsdale, Emeritus Professor of Modern African History, University of Cambridge

    With this new life setting Tippu Tip, the Arab trader un ivory and slaves, in his wider context, Stuart Laing gives us the seamy underside of the Scramble for Eastern Africa. It was as much an Arab, Indian, and indeed African, scramble, based on the island market of ‘Stinkibar’. As European. White explorers, soldiers, and officials were the foam on the top of this multicultural tide.

  4. Alexander Maitland, author of Speke and the Discovery of the Source of the Nile, and Wilfred Thesiger: The Life of the Great Explorer

    The most comprehensively documented ivory trader in the history of 19th century Africa, Tippu Tip is brought to life with almost tactile immediacy in Stuart Laing’s elegant and unobtrusively meticulous biography, An exceptional portrait of an exceptional man.

  5. Alexander Mailand, The Times Literary Supplement

    Laing’s book follows the conventions of the biographical genre. Yet it is as much an introduction to the turbulent social world of Eastern Africa in the late 19th century as it is a straightforward biography of Tippu Tip

    Read more…

  6. Lisa Kaaki, Arab News

    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.

    Read more…

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