A Concise History of Edward Saidi Tingatinga

A Concise History of Edward Saidi Tingatinga

January 09, 2022

Edward Saidi Tingatinga was born in Namochelia, currently known as Mindu, Masasi in 1932 near a village called Nakapanya. Masasi is one of the six districts in Mtwara region. Other districts in the region are Nanyumbu, Tandahimba, Newala, Mtwara Rural and Mtwara Municipality. Mtwara is located in the southern part of Tanzania. It is bordered by Mozambique to the south, Ruvuma region to the west, Lindi region to the north and the Indian Ocean to the east. Tingatinga’s father was a farmer, who belonged to the Ngindo ethnic group whereas his mother belonged to the Makua ethnic group. Tingatinga went to Mindu Mission School where he completed Standard IV. For some economic reasons he did not continue with his education. By then, Mindu was a village called Namochelia, located in Tunduru district in southern Tanzania.

At the age of 25 in 1957, Tingatinga left his home village and went to work as a sisal labourer in Tanga region, which is located on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Some of his relatives also joined him in Tanga before Tingatinga moved to Dar es Salaam, a major commercial city of Tanzania, in 1960.

Tingatinga left his sisal labour in Tanga, according to the present author’s personal interview held in 2008 with Omary Abdallah Amonde, due to a decline in sisal prices worldwide, owing to the introduction of synthetic fibres such as nylon. Indeed, according to Hartemink, “since the 1960s sisal production had dramatically declined in Tanzania due to decreasing world market prices and management problems at the plantations.” Many sisal estates were either closed or left unattended to during that time. Upon his arrival in Dar es Salaam, Tingatinga was hosted by his cousin, Salum Musa (Mzee Lumumba) who worked as a cook for George Pollack at Msasani. Tingatinga’s behaviour impressed Mr. Pollack and he hired him as a gardener at his residence. According to Goscinny (2003, p.28) “at the very same place he was hosted he started working as a gardener”. When George left the country, Tingatinga and his cousin moved from Oysterbay to Msasani-Mikoroshoni where Tingatinga began to sell fruits to earn a living.

founder of african paintings

Since Tingatinga was also involved in handcrafting activities, he spent his free time making baskets and designing table mats and bed-sheet decorations. He tried to apply the same decorations on the hardboard material by using enamel paints. That marked the beginning of his African paintings career.

A strong bond that Tingatinga had with his relatives, who then became his first students was reflected when he invited them to Dar es Salaam in the late 1960s and started teaching them how to paint like himself. The first Tingatinga School of Painting, therefore, initially comprised a nucleus family.

Tingatinga, who later in 1970 got married to Agatha Mataka, was also active in Makonde traditional dance. In fact, he played the xylophone in the group. His fame in the dance group led him to join the Tanzania African National Union (TANU) youth league, which was a political wing of the then ruling party. Through the league, Tingatinga secured a job as lab attendant at the then Muhimbili Medical Centre (MMC) in Dar es Salaam, currently Muhimbili National Hospital. He used his free time to paint at home. He had rented one room and stayed with his family. His wife, Agatha and nephew, Omary Amonde used to take his paintings to Morogoro Stores Shopping Centre at Oysterbay and sold them to expatriates who went there for groceries.

According to Mture (1998, p.31), Tingatinga’s standard of living improved when he quit his regular job at the MMC and began to paint fulltime for the National Art Company, where he sold most of his paintings at a better price. He was introduced to the National Art Company by one of his customers who appreciated his works and thought Tingatinga deserved to work for the company.

Tingatinga died in 1972 after being shot by a police officer during a car chase in a case of mistaken identity. The police though they had been firing at a gate-away car filled with bandits.

This tragic death was reported the following day in newspapers and the nation realised that Mr. Tingatinga was prematurely dead. However, that was not the end of his school.

Tingatinga’s abrupt death was a blow to his students. They had no option but to continue doing what he did best. They continued to paint and sell their paintings at the minimum price to people who came to for groceries at Morogoro Stores Shopping Centre. Initially, the students who were involved in this business, according to Mture (1998, p.31), included Kasper Henrick Tedo, January John Linda, Adeus Mandu Mmatambwe, Abdallah Ajaba and Edward’s youngest brother, Simon George Mpata.

Although non-family members were initially barred from receiving painting lessons from the school, they later joined the training. These apprentices include Mohamed Chalinda, the late Damian Msagula and George Lilanga. Tingatinga’s youngest brother, George Simon Mpata, was not ready to accept new recruits in the school because they could not paint like Tingatinga. He claimed that their paintings contained some disparities that violated the original Tingatinga style. In fact, he was so steadfast with his objection to their joining the school that broke away from the group. He moved to Nairobi, Kenya, where he opened his personal painting studio, and painted for the rest of his life. While in Kenya, Mpata challenged the group by painting the same style that was left by Tingatinga.

founder of african paintings

Most of these new recruits were inspired by, for example, African nature and urban life. They were just benefited from the training that exposed them to the techniques and then got inspirations from various life-styles. According to an interview with Goscinny (2015), once they were trained in the Tingatinga techniques of painting, each student followed his/her own inspiration.

At the beginning, these students were not competent enough to paint at the level of Tingatinga, and, thus, could hardly sell their paintings. As a result, some of them could not continue painting and decided to return to their respective villages and do farming instead. Those who remained behind continued to paint and sold their paintings at minimal prices. After quite a long time of hardships, Salum Musa (Mzee Lumumba) came up with an idea of establishing and registering a society in a bid to alleviate the difficulties they were facing economically. These students welcomed the idea. To honour the founder of their painting style, they registered a society called Tingatinga Partnership Society in 1989, which had about 20 painting artists. According to Mturi (1998, p.33), after registration the society was chaired by Omary Abdallah Amonde, who was seconded by Saidi Chilamboni as deputy chairman. The Tingatinga Partnership Society managed to secure a title-deed of a place where they used to work, under a bamboo tree. Moreover, some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and art lovers made donations to facilitate the building of a permanent structure for these artists to work and store their paintings. A year later, in 1990, the Tingatinga Partnership Society morphed into the present.

Size Guide

Centimeters (CM)

Inches (IN)

50CM x 40CM

19 11/16 in X 15 3/4 in

50CM x 50CM

19 11/16 in X 19 11/16 in

60CM x 60CM

23 5/8 in X 23 5/8 in

70CM x 50CM

27 9/16 in X 19 11/16 in

80CM x 60CM

31 1/2 in X 23 5/8 in

100CM x 80CM

39 3/8 in X 31 1/2 in

140CM x 110CM

55 1/8 in X 43 5/16 in