Okot p’Bitek was an Ugandan poet who was born on the 7th of June, 1931. He became known worldwide due to his collection of poems, “Song of Lawino” which was originally written in the Acholi dialect of Southern Luo, translated by the author into English and published in 1966. He died in 1982.

Song of Lawino is a long poem dealing with the tribulations of a rural African wife whose husband has taken up urban life and wishes everything to be westernised.

This long poem talks about how Lawino’s husband took a new wife, Clementine who is educated and behaves European. While polygamy is accepted by the society, Lawino is annoyed that Ocol is shunning her for Clementine and he does not even want to do anything that is related to Africa anymore. He would rather engage in ballroom dances than the ritualistic African dance. This disturbs Lawino a lot and she advises that he stays true to his culture.

I do not understand

The ways of foreigners

But I do not despise their customs.

Why should you despise yours ?

(Poem 2, Page 41 )

In this same vein and as a reflection of the African society it is a plea that Africa not lose her value and trade her culture for the westernised version.

Lawino talks about the ways of the white people and their manner of dancing. She is appalled by this act of theirs and is naive at the prospect of dancing in that manner, “…I am ignorant of the dances of foreigners…” 

She talks about the dances of Acoli people with more respect than she has ever shown to whatever the white people do.

There are a lot of rhetorical questions asked and commentary concerning religion, culture, hair, marriage, polygamy, politics, youth, dressing, food, cooking, breastfeeding and even death.

Okot p’Bitek’s writing is quite hilarious and makes use of different figures of speech to pass across the message of keeping Africa’s diverse cultures intact.

There are thirteen poems in this collection and each is easy to read and comprehend.

Should You Read?

If you like straightforward poetry, this is for you.