Tippu Tip

ca. 1837–1905
Arab trader and ruler

Hamed bin Muhammed el-Murjebi, known as Tippu Tip, was an Arab trader on the CONGO RIVER who established a powerful empire during the late 1800s. Working as an ivory merchant between the east coast and Lake Tanganyika, Tippu Tip gradually built up a military force and gained control of the Upper Congo region.

During the 1800s the sultanate of ZANZIBAR had taken over the SWAHILI trade routes dealing in ivory and slaves. Zanzibar’s Sultan BARGHASH IBN SA’ID gave sections of one of these trade routes between the coast and the interior to Tippu Tip and to Mirambo, a Nywamwezi chief.

Tippu Tip

Both Tippu Tip and Mirambo became powerful independent rulers in the region. However, when Mirambo lost the sultan’s trust, Tippu Tip gained control over the trade route. The sultan hoped that Tippu Tip could prevent the Belgians, led by Henry Morton STANLEY, from sending ivory down the Congo River to the western coast of Africa. The sultan wanted to keep his monopoly on the supply of ivory for trade in Zanzibar.

Named governor of the Upper Congo region, Tippu Tip had authority over a large territory. He appointed his own officials, including many Arab traders, and administered justice. He also negotiated an arrangement between Zanzibar and the Belgians and kept peace among the competing local chiefs. Tippu Tip is a perfect example of a trader who, in an effort to make more money, actually turned into a strong political leader. Because he temporarily owned the only firearms in the area, he was able to maintain political domination over a large area. In 1891 Tippu Tip returned to Zanzibar, where he died. Soon afterward his empire was conquered by European forces. (See also Arabs in AfricaColonialism in Africa, Ivory Trade.)