The Amazing Life and Times of Tippoo Tib

When Englishman Paul Spice, who specialises in late nineteenth century history, first read about Tippoo Tib of Zanzibar thirty years ago, he made a mental note to find out more. Paul moved to Muscat for work in 2014, and in 2017 he happened to meet the British author, Kathryn Armstrong. She mentioned that whilst teaching in Abu Dhabi the previous year one of her students had revealed in conversation that he was related to Tippoo Tib. Kathryn said that, “that was my first introduction to this intriguing man. Paul’s eyes lit up and he asked me if I would be interested in working with him to complete a book based on six years of research, and flattered, I accepted”. And so the idea of publishing an extensive insight into Tib was born. “The Amazing Life & Times of Tippoo Tib” will be published in Muscat in January.
Hamad bin Muhammad bin Juma bin Rajab el Murjebi (better known as Tippoo Tib) lived in Zanzibar, and died there in 1905. He was the major facilitator of the many African expeditions undertaken by famous Europeans such as Stanley, Cameron, Dr Livingstone and Emin Pasha when they explored and later exploited Africa. King Leopold of Belgium appointed Tippoo Tib as governor of a huge area of the Congo, larger than France. In 1890 he was described as the ‘Richest Man in Central Africa’!
Amid the mad scramble by European powers for the control of Africa, Paul exposes the horror brought to the Congo by the wanton exploitation of resources.
Spice explained, “The genocide of over five million natives for rubber, inhumane horrors of slavery and the environmental disaster of killing sixteen million elephants for ivory made King Leopold of Belgium the richest man in the world. When the Board of an American piano manufacturer expressed concern over the supply of ivory for keyboards, they received a reassuring reply from their agent in Zanzibar, “in Africa elephants are as plentiful as flies.”
This book takes a hard look at those times when Europeans were treated as heroes and saviours. But the real heroes were the Zanzibari Arabs who organised the expeditions, provided local knowledge, recruited the manpower and purchased supplies.
However, Tippoo Tip organised Henry Stanley’s expedition to find the “missing” Dr Livingstone in 1871, he guided the ‘Relief of Emin Pasha expedition’, rescuing the German governor of Equatoria after the massacre of General Gordon and British troops in Khartoum. Technological advancements from 1870 to 1900 made overnight communication by telegraph around the world possible, and the morning newspapers in New York, London, and Berlin were hungry for sensational front-page news. Sir Henry Morton Stanley was the first international explorer to be financed by the media industry. He became a rich celebrity and travelled the world giving lectures, returning to Zanzibar each time with new sponsors and more finance”. Sir Henry’s lecture tours in America and Europe were sold to capacity, and his books became number-one best-sellers. Mr and Mrs Stanley travelled in the H M Stanley Pullman railway carriage and stayed at the best hotels.
This book is a history book, but it is also about environmental destruction, genocide and the extermination of animals in pursuit of profit, making the shareholders of companies in London and New York very wealthy with no signs of guilt or remorse. The resources of Africa were considered inexhaustible, and every western power wanted its share of the cake. The Congo Free State was set up as a private company, the personal property of King Leopold, the largest private landowner in the history of the world.
From the viewpoint of the life of Zanzibar trader Tippoo Tib, we see examples of terrible cruelty, visit places where cannibalism was considered normal, and meet the amazing and even weird characters of Stanley, Dr Livingstone, Emin Pasha, Verney Cameron and the totally mental psychopaths Leon Rem, Mad Major Edmund Barttelot and James Jameson. Then decide who is the best candidate as the real-life inspiration for Joseph Conrad’s character, Mr Kurtz! The world gradually awakened to the horrors of Darkest Africa and public opinion eventually turned against the companies who were made rich by these enterprises.
Paul Spice concluded, “The Life and Times of Tippoo Tib is a fascinating and exciting window into the period, but it is also a mirror into our times, where human trafficking, killing of elephants for ivory, arms trading and inhumane working conditions still exist in many places around the world. This book will remind its readers that nothing is inexhaustible and all life is sacred. The sad and salient comment made by an anti-slavery campaign eyewitness after visiting the Congo, “If it continues like this, there will be no need to abolish slavery. There will simply be no Africans left to be slaves” is a terrible indictment of public apathy. “Tippoo Tib died in Zanzibar in 1905, but before he is judged one should consider the situation in the world today and hope that history does not continue repeating itself”.