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How Mzee Gitau created ‘Juha Kalulu’ cartoon

Wednesday May 18 2016

Edward Gicheri Gitau works on his

Edward Gicheri Gitau works on his "Juha Kalulu" cartoon at Nation Centre. Mr Gitau, who drew his cartoon strip for 62 years, died at Gatundu District Hospital in Kiambu County on May 17, 2016. He was aged 86. FILE PHOTO | FREDRICK ONYANGO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

SAMUEL MUIGAI
By SAMUEL MUIGAI
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Kula tano, weka tano” was the trade mark greeting the late Mzee Edward Gicheri Gitau used every time he shook someone’s hand.

Mr Gitau is the founder of the longest running cartoon strip in the region — Juha Kalulu.

Mr Gitau, together with the late Terry Hirst and Frank Odoi are Kenya’s pioneer cartoonists.

Mr Gitau, born on December 8, 1930 in Gichuka in the then Kiambu district, attended Kiamwangi Primary School then went to Kabaa School in Machakos in class four.

At Kabaa he schooled together with Archbishop Ndingi Mwana a’ Nzeki.

He later enrolled at Kenya Teachers College in Githunguri, Kiambu in 1947 where one of his teachers was Kenya’s first president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

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In 1948, the Labour Department took Mzee Gitau and about 100 other students to Tanganyika — current day Tanzania — where they acquired different skills that enabled them to work in farms of soldiers who had returned from Burma.

The soldiers had been given the farms on which they grew groundnuts.

Mzee Gitau trained as an electrician.

While working in Lindi, near the Tanzania-Malawi border, Mr Gitau learned a little Nyasa, a Malawian language that would later enable him coin the name Juha Kalulu. Juha is clown in swahili while Kalulu is rabbit in Nyasa.

However, he left his electrician job in 1951 after falling from a roof while repairing an electric fault. He broke his arms and was hospitalized for 10 months.

He was later to say that the fear of falling off again made him decide to abandon his electrician job.

MICKEY MOUSE

In 1951, after watching how the Mickey Mouse cartoon brought laughter and happiness to patrons at a Cinema Hall, he thought he could also do the same.

He enrolled for a drawing course to polish his skills at the Fine Art Photo Engravers Company.

Three years later, Juha Kalulu comic strip was created and first published in Tazama newspaper, then Baraza published by the East African Standard and later joining Taifa in 1961 before the paper rebranded to Taifa Leo.

He worked for Taifa Leo until his death. The characters in the comic included Juha Kalulu, his wife Serah and their family dog Taska.

He was later to explain that he used Kalulu and Taska to teach people social values, as they would identify themselves with the experiences of the two.

Besides publishing cartoons in newspapers, the late Mr Gitau published three cartoon strip booklets in 1978, 1985 and 1991.

The 1978 edition was prefaced by former president Mwai Kibaki who was then minister for Finance while the second one, in 1985 was prefaced by JJ Kamotho, then minister for Higher Education and the last one prefaced by George Muhoho who was then minister for Tourism, Science and Technology.

Since publishing his first cartoon, he never knew any other job. Even with the advancement of technology, ‘Juha Kalulu’ chose to colour his cartoons manually.

He leaves behind 11 children who are keen to retain the Juha Kalulu brand but in a different way.