Obituary - Peter Sidede Onyulo
Peter Sidede Onyulo
Peter Sidede Onyulo was Head of Scott House in 1974, and went on to be a world-famous actor.
Obituary published in the The Standard on 1st May 2008:
Click here for on-line version, or read text below)
Remembering top actor Sidede
Published on May 1, 2008, 12:00 am
By John Oywa
Many times fortunes searched for Peter Sidede Onyulo and often found him in a drinking den.
So talented was he, that filmmakers would replace a cast member who had landed the role whenever he was given a script
even in his drunken stupor.
In fact, when the directors of Nowhere in Africa came calling in Nairobi, they failed to get a good supporting male actor
but word had it that Sidede could fit the role.
The director then sent a casting agent to go for him in Kisumu.
He was traced to a drinking spot and driven to Nairobi for auditions. As Sidede sobered up, he did the first reading of
the script, and voila he had landed the role.
The man with vast film experience who lived like any other holloi polloi passed on in Kajulu, Kisumu last week.
The lakeside residents might have seen the ‘poor’ man riding his bicycle without awe.
Peter Sidede Onyulo, actor par excellence
But Peter Sidede Onyulo, 53, was not just an ordinary film star. He starred in the Oscar winning movie
Nowhere in Africa as Owour and won the Best Supporting Actor award in the Dublin film festival, an honour he
was unaware of until the producer Peter Herrman himself presented the award to him.
Sidede also played supporting roles in King Solomon’s Mines alongside Patrick Swayze, Onyulo had to take a
crash course in Zulu for the role. He has also appeared in The Constant Gardener and Shadow of the Sun.
In 1979, Onyulo quit his law practice to embrace theatre, a move that did not go down well with those close to him.
Onyulo summed up society’s attitude as thus; "They think this is a career that should not be taken seriously and look
down upon actors. They think we are mad the way the people of Kafira thought Jasper Wendo was in Betrayal of the city."
Thankfully, his Nairobi High School drama teacher Kichamu Akivaga who recruited him into theatre while in high school
did not share this view.
Akivaga enlisted Onyulo to participate as Jero in Wole Soyinka’s play Trials of Brother Jero a role that set
him on the path to his destiny as a Kenyan thespian.
Upon graduating from the Kenya School of Law, Onyulo was employed by Vigelegele theatre group with which he performed
Sizwe Banzi is Dead.
Onyulo ventured into theatre in 1974 when he played a major role in Francis Imbuga’s Betrayal in the City, before
it was published.
Three years later, he took part in The Trial of Dedan Kimathi and Betrayal in the City, which were
presented during the All Africa Festival of Arts and Culture (Festac) in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1977.
He later acted in Shaka Zulu that was directed by Alakie Mboya. He was always designated the lead roles in
Imbuga’s plays; The Successors, Man of Kafira, Betrayal in the City.
Onyulo made his film debut in 1987 when he got a role in Shadow on the Sun, which was shot, in Nyeri, Nanyuki and
The movie was based on the true story of the first woman to single-handedly pilot a plane across the Atlantic ocean.
Although he played a houseboy, the talent and charm that he lent to the role may possibly have earned him the role of
Owour in Nowhere in Africa. He also acted in The Last Elephant, The Eye of a Witness, and Two Worlds.
He has been an extra in Mountains of The Moon. The award winning Nowhere in Africa was his seventh film.
Onyulo’s contribution to film in Kenya did not end there and he continued to be actively involved in the industry
working with various performing arts groups as well as well as work with NGOs.
He also lent his talent to television series like Heart and Soul and the anti- FGM (female genital mutilation)
documentary Price of a Daughter.
Onyulo had high hopes for the local film industry and had even alluded to penning his own play while still alive.
Despite his obvious wealth of talent Onyulo is said to have died without he opulence that surrounds venerated actors.
Onyulo moved to Kisumu from Nairobi in 1993 Onyulo moved to Nyanza in 1993 to establish a home there and also to use his
Vigelegele theatre troupe for what he calls grassroots development.
Prior to the filming of Nowhere in Africa, local casting agent Lenny Juma had to physically track him down to his home
near Lake Victoria.
The news about his death hit Kisumu town, with many of his peers and admirers expressing shock at the sudden demise.
Following the success of the movie, he was often a crowd puller whenever he visited his hometown of Kisumu.
He, however, remained modest stating in an interview that he was more recognisable in the streets of Munich at the
time than in Kisumu.
His nephew, Mr Silas Otieno said Onyulo would be buried at his home in Kajulu.
Onyulo who was born and brought up in Kajulu, attended Muthaiga Primary School between 1965-1968, and studied his
A-levels in Nairobi school between 1969-1974.
He studied law at the University of Nairobi between 1975-1978, his classmates included National Assembly Speaker
Kenneth Marende, Kisumu Town West MP, John Olago Aluoch and Kisumu lawyer Alloyce Aboge, among others.
The Kisumu theatre fraternity led by the director of Misango Arts Ensemble Aketch Obat Masira described Onyulo’s death
as a big blow to Kenya’s film industry.
Onyulo fell sick while at his rural home at the foot of Kajulu hills and was rushed to a private hospital and died a
week later. He takes to the grave a rich talent.
He has left a mark as one of Kenya’s best-known actors. The twice-married Onyulo leaves behind three children. He was
son to former Winam MP, the late Nathaniel Onyulo Otene, and only child to his mother, Mrs Winfred Odongo Oyulo.
A towering figure with a rare sense of humour and love for the theatre, Onyulo is said to have had had many more
international friends than peers at home.
Those who knew him say he was a reserved man. He was a powerful man on stage but a very private man off stage. A
former schoolmate, Daniel Omuok, mentioned that Onyulo also had a love for drink.
He will best be remembered for his dynamic role as the cook Owour, a character he played with as much finesse and
mastery as he employed in his many other roles on screen and on stage.
Additional information from: www.artmatters.info