It was a day for me of, amongst other things, an East African experience. Passing through the British Museum on my way to a talk at SOAS; Zanzibari artefacts seemed to call out ‘ look at me’.
One was very familiar as the Omani ‘Kummah’ which in Zanzibar is called a Kofia. It’s a casual cap for men, quite elegant and very easy to wear. The other may well have been the type of formal chair from the house of the SOAS talk’s subject. Though elegant and doubtless impressive it looks a chair certainly meant for very occasional, careful, use.
SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) University of London organised a very well received talk by Stuart Laing on Tippu Tip, the trader from Zanzibar and I was fortunate to have obtained a ticket on EventBrite as they notified it as ‘sold out’.
Tippu Tip was an Omani Arab trader whose family had settled into East Africa which, when Tippu Tip was born in 1837, was increasingly under the sway of the then Sultan of Oman and Zanzibar, Said bin Sultan Al Said. Stuart Laing, who was British Ambassador to Oman & is now Master of Corpus Christi College in Cambridge England, provided a vivid insight into Tippu Tip’s life with primary source material drawn from Tippu Tip’s memoir and Stuart Laing’s extraordinarily comprehensive & readable Biography.
Tippu Tip appeared to have been a man who made remarkable use of his own attributes and family connections, which included both Omani and native African, and his own powerful personality.
The trade that Tippu Tip principally focused on was Elephant Ivory, in vast quantities. Secondary was the Slave Trade which seem to have been incidental to him. He made journeys though East and Central Africa often lasting for many years and, with 5 journeys in total, was nomadic during much of his working life.
Apart from his remarkable exploits there are 2 reasons that Tippu Tip is such a character of interest. Firstly he wrote a memoir, his ‘Maisha’ (The Life), and secondly interacted with European ‘explorers’ such as Livingstone during the ‘scramble for Africa’.
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His Maisha is probably unique for the period and forms the foundation for Stuart Laing’s biography – Tippu Tip: Ivory, Slavery and Discovery in the Scramble for Africa <<click to order on my affiliate link.