John Kilaka
John Kilaka


From hunter to international writer and story teller

I was born on 4 th November 1966 in Sumbawanga, the southwest of Tanzania. In 1977 I started primary school, I was 10 and I was very interested to be artist. I was spending time doing sketches in sand. Once I started the school, I felt lucky to be there because there I found papers, pencils and colour chalks. Nine years old, I had begun to draw on paper. Later I started to make drawings on black board. But how much then I disturbed my teacher!!!!

    When I found some free space on the blackboard which teacher had left after our lesson, I used to draw funny pictures on it, so that other pupils could enjoy. But I am not sure if my teacher appreciated it because he punished me! It was disturbing him, because my funny drawings caused his students to laugh and to make noise in the class, while our head teacher was just in the adjacent room doing important things for school.

  So my teacher punished me several times as "class nosy maker". He took even away my position as the class leader because I was supposed to keep students quite during the class, and I didnīt do that. I was the one who caused others to be noisy! Instead he gave me other position in school.

Let us leave that story and look at the chronicle of my life

1983: I finished Primary school. I spent time in my village helping my parents farming, fishing and hunting.

1987: My brother advised me to move from my village to Dar es Salaam city so that I could be able to improve in art.

1990: I joined and learned Tingatinga art style from Peter Martin at Village museum in Dar es Salaam.

1996: I started to be illustrator of children’s books.

1997: I started to write stories and to illustrate them. Frische Fische (Eng. Fresh Fish) was my first book, which was published in Switzerland

2000: I formed my own style of art now called “Kilaka style.”

2000: I published my first book in Switzerland in German language.

2004: I published my second book “Gute Freunde” in Switzerland in German and in Kinyarwanda language.


Peter Martin was always a happy person. He used to tell jokes and stories to his friends at the Village Museum where he was painting the Tinga Tinga paintings. He played also music on the local musical instrument called Mirimba. He was a god story teller. But he never published.

The first fairy-tale book was never realized. It was for a Japanese publisher in 2005. His life ended abruptly after the fifth painting, before the story was put in a book. But only two days before his death, he told the story to his students Nangida Masawe and John Kilaka.

He knew that his life would end so he devoted his last days to paint his last painting – a testament of life. The painting is in Tinga Tinga style and rarely it depicts angel, God, the serpentine, love and hate. It has many hidden symbols and messages.

When the abdominal pain was unbearable he was sent to a doctor in Morogoro, a city 4 hours from Dar es Salaam. But there, far from his family, he unfortunately passed away as young man in his forties. The last painting was sold to a local gallery owner who paid for transport of the late Peter Martin back to Dar es Salaam. The painting paid his own burial too.

Who was Peter Martin? We know that he was a student of Damian Msagula and a teacher of John Kilaka, two prominent Tanzanian artists. His life story is interwoven tightly with these artists.

One day in sixties the family of Damian Msagula had no means to feed their children. So they decided to expel one small boy from the house. He was clever, he would survive. The small boy was Msagula.

The church in Ndanda helped him. When he grew up he decided to go to Tanga, several days journey from his native Ndanda in South Tanzania. In Tanga there was job on sisal plantations. On the way to Tanga he passed Dar es Salaam and he met E.S.Tingatinga and other painters who were Makua like him. He liked their art works.

While working long hours on the plantations in Tanga he planned to come back to Dar es Salaam and try to be an artist like Tinga Tinga painters. It was hard time but the work brought him daily bread. He got few friends, one of them were the parents of Peter Martin. At that time Peter Martin was 13 years old.

When he set out to Dar es Salaam to try his luck as an artist he took with him Peter Martin who helped him to sell vegetables before Msagula started to paint. And when he started to paint it took long time before he taught Peter Martin to paint.They got a place at the Village Museum, after they worked with Tinga Tinga painters at Morogoro stores.

Later Damian Msagula and Peter Martin were joined by Jeremiah Emmanuel, John Kilaka and lastly by Nangida Masawe. Damian Msagula was too distinctive and different person. He left the group and continued himself.

Peter Martin won the third price in a Nairobi exhibition in 1996 and he became famous. He had enough customers and his life was secured. At that time he met a girl who was working in a dancing group at the Village Museum. She was called Asia Hasani and also came from Tanga region. They stayed together and got 4 children but 2 of them passed away.

They stayed together without marriage for 14 years, because Asia was Muslim and Peter was a Christian. But finally Asia decided to convert to Christianity so that they could marry in a church. It was at the time when Peter Martin got a big order from the Japanese publisher. They planned their life, they bought new furniture, TV and rented a better house. They also decided to have one more child.

But one year later Peter Martin died, it was when he worked on his sixth painting for the Japanese publisher. He has never seen his child Steven who is now 4 years old. Only his paintings and the fair-tale is alive.

Peter Martin - my teacher (ca 2000)

Damian Msagula and his brother Noel Kapanda. (ca 1980)

From Left: Jeremiah, Kilaka and Peter Martin (1992)

From Left: Jeremiah, Peter Martin and Kilaka (1992)

Peter Martin receives award at exhibition in Nairobi in 1996

The last painting of Peter Martin

John Kilaka cut Peter Martin´s table and made a musical instrument called Miramba