Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino #UgBlogWeek

Originally posted on Tuesday, 10 May 2011 at 23:33

If you meet a foreigner and ask them about Uganda, the first things to come to their minds will be Idi Amin, some think he still rules the country, nowadays Museveni has been confused with Amin so much, so the tag that we are a country ruled by a dictator seems to be a permanent one for now. Those who follow Olympic sports especially who remember the past will tell you of Aki Bua. Those who treasure their knowledge of geography, especially African geography may tell you of the second deepest lake in Africa, Lake Bunyonyi being in Uganda, or will tell you of the River Nile having its one of the many potential sources here or of Lake Nalubaale (some people call it Victoria) etc. If you meet one who has read African Literature, especially poetry, you will be told of Okot p’Bitek.

Okot lived from 1931 until 1982. His work however did not die. He lives in those who have read and heard his poetry. His better known work, Song of Lawino and its companion, Song of Ocol must have sold the largest number of copies in history for a Ugandan literary work. But Okot also wrote Songs of Malaya, Song of Prisoner, The Horn of my Love and Hare and Hornbill among others.

Every time I read Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol, the better known of his works, it is a new experience. It is a typical example of a living work. A work that does not die. A work that remains relevant through time and times. This day, I quote some extracts from Song of Lawino and trust me, we just need to look around ourselves, for the Africans we are, these things Okot railed about, live with us.

Here we go; From “The Buffalos of Poverty Knock the People Down”;

And while those inside

Eat thick honey

And ghee and butter

Those in the countryside

Die with the smell,

They re-eat the bones

That were thrown away

For the dogs

 

And those who have

Fallen into things

Throw themselves into soft beds,

But the hip bones of the voters

Grow painful

Sleeping on the same earth

They slept

Before Uhuru!

And they cover the ulcers

On their legs

With animal skins.

 

And when they have

Fallen into things

They become rare,

Like the python

With a bull water buck

In its tummy,

They hibernate and stay away

And eat!

 

They return

To the  countryside

For the next elections

Like the kite

That returns during the Dry

Season

Part II

Originally posted  on Friday, 15 July 2011 at 00:03

Part I of Re-visiting Okot p’Bitek was published here on Facebook on Tuesday, 10 May 2011 at 23:33. Then, I hoped Part II would come on the heels of Part I. But let me not stir complaints among you who read and enjoyed Part I. 15, July, 2011 is not so much a long time after Part I was published, here on Facebook of course.

In Part II, we again visit Song of Lawino, this time to that poem, My Name Blew Like a Horn Among the Payira. I am not quoting it in its entirety. I am quoting just a few extracts of the poem to make the point I desperately want to make. Here we go;

I was made chief of the girls

Because I was lively,

I was bright,

I was not clumsy or untidy

I was not dull,

I was not heavy and slow.

 

I did not grow up a fool

I am not cold

I am not shy

My skin is smooth

It still shines smoothly in the moonlight.

 

When Ocol was wooing me

My breasts were erect

And they shook

As I walked briskly,

And as I walked

I threw my long neck

This way and that way

Like the flower of the lyonno lily

Waving in a gentle breeze.

 

And my brothers called me Nya-Dyang

For my breasts shook

And beckoned the cattle,

And they sang silently:

 

Father prepare the kraal,

Father prepare the kraal,

The cattle are coming.

 

(…)

 

You trembled

When you saw the tattoos

On my breasts

And the tattoos below my belly button

And you were very fond

Of the gap in my teeth!

My man, what are you talking?

My clansmen, I ask you:

What has become of my husband?

Is he suffering from boils?

Is it ripe now?

Should they open it

So that the pus may flow out?

 

(…)

 

My husband says

He no longer wants a woman

With a gap in her teeth

He is in love

With a woman

Whose teeth fill her mouth completely

Like the teeth of war-captives and slaves.

 

*

 

Like beggars

You take up white men’s adornments,

Like slaves or war captives

You take up white men’s ways.

Didn’t the Acoli have adornments?

Didn’t Black People have their ways?

 

Like drunken men

You stagger to white men’s games,

You stagger to white men’s amusements.

 

Is lawala not a game?

Is cooro not a game?

Didn’t your people have amusements?

Like halfwits

You turn to white men’s dances,

You turn to musical instruments of foreigners

As if you have no dances;

As if you have no instruments!

Does one need to add anything, to this?

As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work.  This is the third post.

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