A Concise History of Edward Saidi Tingatinga

A Concise History of Edward Saidi Tingatinga

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. Edward Tingatinga’s father was a farmer, who belonged to the Ngindo ethnic group whereas his mother belonged to the Makua ethnic group. Edward 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, Edward 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 Edward Tingatinga moved to Dar es Salaam, a major commercial city of Tanzania, in 1960.

Edward 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, Edward Tingatinga was hosted by his cousin, Salum Musa (Mzee Lumumba) who worked as a cook for George Pollack at Msasani. Edward 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, Edward Tingatinga and his cousin moved from Oysterbay to Msasani-Mikoroshoni where Edward Tingatinga began to sell fruits to earn a living.

Since Edward 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 painting.
A strong bond that Edward 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 African Paintings, therefore, initially comprised a nucleus family.

Edward 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, Edward 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 African paintings to Morogoro Stores Shopping Centre at Oysterbay and sold them to expatriates who went there for groceries. According to Mture (1998, p.31), Edward 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 African 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.


Edward 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. According to Mture (1998, p. 32):


One Saturday night in 1972, Edward Tingatinga met his untimely and tragic death. They were three people in [a] Volkswagen Beetle speeding away from a police patrol car along Independence Road, now Samora Avenue, in Dar es Salaam. The police had mistaken it for a get-away car used by robbers. They fired several shots at the car, one bullet got Tingatinga. He died on his way to the hospital.

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

Edward 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 African 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 African painting lessons from the school, they later joined the training. These apprentices include Mohamed Chalinda, the late Damian Msagula and George Lilanga. Edward Tingatinga’s youngest brother, George Simon Mpata, was not ready to accept new recruits in the school because they could not paint like Edward Tingatinga. He claimed that their African 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.

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 Edward Tingatinga, and, thus, could hardly sell their African 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 African 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 Tingatinga Arts Co-operative Society.


The first generation of Tingatinga painters produced the early Tingatinga African  paintings. Their painting style flourished between the late 1960s and 1970s. Painters, who emerged during this period, include Edward Said Tingatinga (the founder of Tingatinga style), and his students, namely, Simon George Mpata, Kasper Henrick Tedo, Ajaba Abdallah Mtalia, Adeus Mandu Mmatambwe, Omary Abdallah Amonde and January John Linda. Other artists such as Abdul Mkura also flourished during this period. Tingatinga has been evolving from one stage to another in different times.

The term ‘style’, according to the Oxford Student’s Dictionary of English (2007) is the way that something is done. Art style is defined by free dictionary (2015) as art movement, a group of artists who agree on general principles. Kleiner et al. (2003) categorises style into different groups, such as period style, regional style and personal style.

The term ‘authentic’ according to Dutton (1994, p.1) is ‘real’, ‘genuine’ and ‘true’. Philosopher J.L. Austin calls the term authentic a ‘dimensions word’ whose meaning remains uncertain until the dimensions of its referent being talked about is known. To make it clearer, Dutton (ibid.) exemplifies a ‘Mwai’ dance mask from Korogo village in New Guinea by saying that, for it to be ideally authentic, the mask should be carved by Korogo for the purpose of attaching it to the headdress and dancing in a local Korogo ceremony. In this analysis, Dutton associates the Korogo ceremony to ritual activities. Therefore, Korogo masks were primarily made for ritual purposes aimed at fulfilling certain social functions. Tingatinga paintings, on the other hand, were not primarily painted for ritual purposes.

Tingatinga painters presented their emotional and intellectual contents in certain form. They used hardboard panels rather than canvas by applying a single colour and blank backgrounds. A term form, according to Zelanski and Fisher (2002, p.536) refers to the mass or volume in a three-dimensional work or the illusion of volume in a two dimensional-work. Kleiner et al. (2003, p. xxiv) refer to form as an object’s shape and structure, either in two dimensions or three dimensions. Two dimension objects could be a figure painted on a flat surface such as canvas or hardboard whereas three dimension objects could be a statue carved from a piece of wood or marble block.

Tingatinga used enamel paints to paint on a 2 by 2 feet hardboard panel, which in this case is a two-dimension format. According to Goscinny (2003, p.32), one day Tingatinga went to a hardware store and bought a few cans of enamel paint of different colours, a couple of brushes, a bottle of thinner and a sheet of 4 by 4 feet ceiling board that he had to cut into 8 square pieces of 2 by 2 feet. He brought the material home and started doing his first painting for sale. The enamel paints are liquid oil-based colours, which need several hours to dry once applied on the surface and usually ends up with a shiny finish. For better results, the colour should be dissolved in thinner or kerosene before painting. After painting, the brushes are also washed using thinner or kerosene. The hardboard panels are those used by carpenters for house roofing (ceiling boards), which are rough on one side and smooth on the other.


Historical settings of Tingatinga painters influenced them to recreate wildlife emotions, ideas and stories. The content in their paintings, in most cases reflected the life experience that they had gone through. Content, according to Zelanski and Fisher (2002, p. 534) is the subject matter of a work of art and the emotions, ideas, symbols, stories, or spiritual connotations it suggests. To understand what is going on in a work of art, one should initially try to grasp the content (ibid.). The content in any work of art is subject to various interpretations depending on personal perception. Indeed, audiences perceive contents based on their emotions, life experiences, beliefs and cultural backgrounds. And so do the artists. Contents are usually influenced by artists’ cultural background and historical settings. Tingatinga painters, for example, painted from the memory of what they saw in the area where they grew up. They were born and grew up in rural areas in southern Tanzania, and thus they possibly used to see wild animals and birds around. Cahill (2001, p. 33) suggests that for the painting to be authentic, the practice of making it, which includes the brush strokes and lines should best describe its functions. Silbergeld (2001, p. 33) elaborates that the original artist, which in the case of this paper, is Tingatinga and his students, is primarily concerned with depicting something. The paintings of Tingatinga artists reflect the naturalism that was pursued and grasped. In fact, the content of most of Tingatinga paintings focuses on the flora and fauna; each animal is a subject of the painting.

Apart from the historical settings, which influenced Tingatinga into drawing wildlife subjects, Tingatinga art customers, who were mostly from Denmark, Norway, Italy and Finland, preferred such kinds of paintings. The Danes, Norwegians, Italians and Finns saw the freshness of the Tingatinga vision of life, which were peaceful, rustic rural life, harmony with African nature and approach to daily appreciation of natural beauty.

Tingatinga was a mentor to his students. They adopted his style of painting wildlife themes. The contents of their paintings reflected the wildlife emotions, ideas and stories. At the beginning, these students painted single figures of animals and birds on each piece of the hardboard. The authenticity of these students’ paintings seems to be uncertain just as it is with the Korogo mask carved by a non-Korogo native. Dutton (1994, p. 2) argues the authenticity of a mask carved by the non-Korogo carver who got married to native Korogo woman, and who was influenced to embrace Korogo culture. The non-Korogo carver (husband) got his mentorship from native Korogo carvers who share the culture with his wife. Some of his wife’s relatives would claim that his masks were not like those produced by old Korogo craftsmen.

However, among all the Tingatinga students, Simon George Mpata’s paintings were like the ones produced by the founder because they exhibited most of the founder’s characteristics. Mpata did not change the founder’s style as manifested by two paintings. Mpata’s painting on the right carries most of the characteristics evident in Tingatinga’s painting on the left. Both artists used single and plain colour in the backgrounds. Both paintings do not show other objects in the background such as the ocean, mountains or the sky except a tree in Mpata’s composition. In each drawing, there is a single figure of wild animal, which seems to be a hyena. The hyenas in both compositions are painted with black skins but for their dots. Tingatinga’s hyena has white whereas Mpata’s has yellow dots. Both hyenas’ dots appear in large size on their bodies and small on their legs and face. A slight difference is seen where Mpata does not give a breathing room of his dots and makes them too dense whereas Tingatinga gives them a space from one to another. Whereas Mpata’s dots extend to the ears, Tingatinga’s extend to the paws. Both of these hyenas seem to be in a calculated slow motion indicated by the closeness of their front and back legs, which seem to be floating and not even touching the ground. Both hyenas are facing the viewer on the left side with friendly and sympathetic faces, suggesting that they are not getting ready to attack at the moment. In actual fact, both painters appear to paint the spotted hyena in contrast to a striped hyena.



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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