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PHILLIP NDUNGURU, PIONEERING COMIC ARTIST
One of the greatest inspirations to the current generation of cartoonists in Tanzania has been the late Phillip Ndunguru. By the early eighties at a young age he had created a body of work which would set the trend for twenty years of comics publishing in Tanzania. In this biography, based on an article in Swahili originally published in Sani (1986), we look back at the life of Ndunguru.
Photo: Phillip Ndunguru working at Kenya Times
Phillip Neri Ndunguru was born on 28 January 1962 in Mbinga province (Ruvuma region). He was the fourth child in a family with eight children. His parents were MZee Severin Ndunguru and Martha Haule. From the tender age of two he developed a liking for drawing. In the year of 1964, part of the family moved to Dar es Salaam as Phillip's father took up a job at university, but Phillip stayed behind. In 1967, at the age five, it was evident that Phillip was to become an exceptional artist.
When Phillip reached the schoolgoing age he was sent to Dar es Salaam where he started out at Forodhani primary school, which at the time was known as St. Joseph Convent School. In 1974 he joined the TTC Chang'ombe secondary school, and when he finished in 1978 he became fully involved in arts. A Dutch teacher who had been living in Tanzania for over 20 years, a friend of Phillip's father, further introduced him to the art of drawing. When his teacher died, Phillip was doubtful that he would be able to continue on with his art.
At the time, Sani magazine was the only Tanzanian comics publication. Phillip went to meet with the editor-in-chief and promptly was given the job of Chief Cartoonist for Sani. At Sani, Phillip got the chance to use better equipment and further training. Wamasa publishers introduced him to people at Kiuta (state printing house) and Printpak so that Phillip could learn more about printing techniques. He also took classes with Raza, a painter connected to the university of Dar es Salaam who taught him about use of colours, and with Msoke, a Ugandan arts teacher at university.
Together with cartoonist S.M.M. Bawji he worked on the comic story Chaka la Mauti which to the readers proved his excellent skills. Another good example of his talent could be seen in 'Kipigo cha Dunia' with comic character Mzee Meko, and Sani itself in which he drew characters such as Pimbi, Kipepe, Lodi Lofa and Ndumilakuwili.
In 1981 after a shortage of paper, the release of Sani was halted. Phillip went to work with Continental Publishers, where he learnt more about book printing and binding. After a while he decided to become a self-employed illustrator. But because life as an artist wasn't easy in Tanzania those days, he was eager to go abroad and decided to travel abroad. Before his depart he held exhibitions of his work at the Goethe Institute and Forodhani Hotel where he sold every drawing on show. Then he went to Zimbabwe and Sweden and in 1983 he accepted a job at Kenya Times newspaper in Nairobi.
Photo (right): self-portrait
In Nairobi he started drawing the cartoon Kazibure, which in Tanzania is published in Sani under the name of Ndumilakuwili. The cartoon character of Kazibure got very popular in Kenya and Phillip started receiving a lot of fanmail. Their grief was immense when he unexpectedly died at the young age of 24 in March 1986. Kenya Times received many condoleances, and in Tanzania Sani magazine released a special edition in memory of Phillip.
The cartoon characters that Phillip launched to popularity continued to appear in Sani. A number of cartoons heavily inspired by Phillip's creations appeared in magazines such as Tabasamu and Bongo which started competing on the Tanzanian market in the 1990's. Today, Phillip is remembered by the current generation of cartoonists as a major inspiration. His younger brother Paul is working as a visual artist and his only son has also developed a liking for drawing cartoons.
View the work of Phillip Ndunguru