Edward G Gitau (1930-2016)

Volume 13, Issue 2  | 
Published 30/11/2016

Edward G Gitau is synonymous to ‘Juha Kalulu’, a comic strip comprising of Juha Kalulu, his wife Seera and their dog Taska.

Having been inspired by an episode of Mickey Mouse, Gitau got into cartooning. A high illiteracy rate among the native Kenyan population back in 1951 meant that he had to use a different language – rather than English - in his comic strip so as to reach out to Native Kenyans.

It is for this reason that Gitau decided to produce Juha Kalulu in Swahili, a language that many native people would understand and to an extent, identify with. At one time, 60,000 copies of Juha Kalulu sold in just two months.

In most of the strips, Juha Kalulu almost always blamed his woes on Taska, the dog. Animal rights activists would have had a field day with Juha Kalulu. When he was not being mean at Taska for no apparent reason, he’d be mean at Pusi, the cat, again for no reason. Or slaughtering goats, or scheming on how to catch chicken for his next meal.

Fed up by Juha Kalulu’s meanness, one day Taska runs away from home and aspires to lead a life in the jungle free from dependence on Juha Kalulu and his wife. He is afraid that should he go back, Juha Kalulu would sell him and use the earnings to buy alcohol. Faced with the difficult jungle life, Taska comforts himself in the knowledge that his distant relatives, the Hyenas, survive without depending on man.

Touching on contrasting traits such as laziness, greed, unfairness, care, compassion and even love, Mzee Gitau persistently produced the Juha Kalulu comic strip for a period of over 60 years.

Another of Mzee Gitau’s creation is ‘Maandishi, Michoro na Pweza’ roughly translated as ‘Writings and Cartoons by Pweza’. Pweza is his a.k.a (nom de plume) and is Swahili for ‘octopus.’

It is under ‘Maandishi, Michoro,’ that Mzee Gitau drew cartoons addressing among others corruption, to land grabbing, KANU politics, IMF lending, to Kenya-Somalia relations, to government responsibility for its citizens, to exploitation of farmers, to illicit brews, to funny behaviors brought about by the advent of mobile phones in Kenya. Important to note is that these themes that Mzee Gitau dealt with in his cartoons years back are the same issues that cartoonists and society at large, are presently dealing with, albeit in other forms.

In one cartoon, two men sitting at a table are depicted: one is in ranger uniform – probably Kenya Forest Service, the other in suit – private developer. An exchange is taking place. Above the table the ranger is handing over a piece of forest to the man in suit while beneath the table the suited man is handing over a bundle of notes to the ranger. Land grabbing is a vice that has been with Kenyans since the creation of ‘Kenya’. When the British created the colony, among the first things they did was to forcefully seize and share the land among themselves. The issue of ‘land’ was central to Kenyans in the struggle for independence; however the hope of reclaiming this land was dashed after the attainment of independence. What was initiated was a system where the elite took as much land as they could, it did not matter whether the land was privately or publicly owned.

In another cartoon addressing the issue of bank interest rates, a fat man holding a briefcase full of money sits on top of a much thinner man and forcefully takes money from him. While in another, a cow gets milked, the milk is delivered into a milk canister – only for a fat cat to end up drinking it. Mzee Gitau continuously endeavored to highlight the poor man’s burden. This burden had a lot to do with fending for himself and at the same time fending or attending to the needs of powerful others. These powerful others could be rich and greedy people or corrupt systems.

Cartoons, by allowing a cartoonist to capture aspects of life in ways through which words alone might not be adequate, are a means through which a large audience might be reached easily. Mzee Gitau knew this. He made cartooning his habit. This habit became, for a period spanning six decades, his persistence in practice.

Fare thee well Edward Gicheri Gitau and shukran for setting the pace for those who have come after you, who looked up to you, who learned and are still learning from your works!


Last modified on Tuesday, 06 December 2016 23:18

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