The image of the woman in Okot p'Bitek's Song of Lawino and song of Ocol
par Guershom Kambasu Muliro
Unviersité de Kisangani (RDC) - Licence 2007
In analyzing each of the techniques and devices Okot p'Bitek uses in Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol in this Chapter, we fulfil one of the requirements of our analysis.
In this Chapter One, we deal with the Summary of the poems, the characters and characterization, the point of view, the context of the poems, the imagery, form and interpretation, the mood, the theme, and finally the philosophy of life of the author
1. Summary of the Poems
Together Song of Lawino and Song Ocol contributes a heated debate over the future of Africa. In graphic metaphor and with grammatical intensity, the author presents the conflict between modern civilization and old traditions.
As far as our concern is the image of woman in Okot p' Bitek's Song of Lawino and Song Ocol, our much attention will focus on Song of Lawino.
Song of Lawino is an epic poem written by Ugandan poet Okot p' Bitek. First published in 1966in Luo then after translated into other languages, including English. Song of Lawino has become one of the most widely read literary works originating from sub-Saharan Africa that addresses the issues facing a liberated Africa. The poem poses a question: what kind of liberation should Africa take on? Should it honor its traditions, or should it adapt the European values that were already set in place during colonialism? Okot p'Bitek addresses this question by telling the story of Lawino, a woman whose husband, Ocol, throws her out of their home and brings home a more Europeanized woman as a wife. The story is told as a dialogue between Lawino and Ocol. The poem itself is separated in different sections or Chapters, each one detailing the social problems facing Lawino and Ocol in their marriage, their differences and value systems.
The first Chapter sets up the differences between Lawino and Ocol. Ocol despises Black people and their traditional ways and has adopted Europeans values. Because he works in the government, he wants to modernize Africa in those values. Lawino disagrees and implores her husband to stop hating his own people:
«He says Black people are primitive
And their ways are utterly harmful
Their dances are mortal sins
They are ignorant, poor and diseased! ...»( SOL, P. 36).
In this Chapter, Lawino asserts that Ocol is rude and abusive both to her and other people:
«My husband abuses me together with my parents
He says terrible things about my mother
And I am so ashamed! ...» (SOL, P.35).
The Second Chapter addresses the issue of Ocol's new wife. Ocol's new wife, unlike Lawino, is thoroughly Europeanized. Here we note that the attack starts as a fairly straight forward factual account of Lawino's husband's preference for a modern girl. Then to enable Lawino to advance her argument forcefully, Okot gives her the gift of wit and employs Acoli poetic forms to produce a pungent work of satire. She first displays her wit forcefully at the beginning of Chapter two, where (she) Lawino makes a mockery of modern notions of beauty, including the use of make-up and cosmetics, by comparing her rival, Clementine, the girl of modern ways, to what in traditional Acoli Society must be regarded as the ugliest and most weird of all creatures. That which is considered most beautiful by admires of European culture is made to appear absurd and grotesque. We quote a long passage to show how she builds up her argument:
«Ocol is no longer in love with;
The old type;
He is in love with a modern girl;
The name of the beautiful one;
Brother, when you see Clementine!
To look like a white woman;
Her lips are red-hot;
Like glowing charcoal;
She resembles the wild cat;
That has dipped its mouth in blood;
Her mouth is like raw yaws;
Tina dusts powder on her face;
And it looks so pale ;...»( SOL, P.37).
In the Second Stanza the tone changes dramatically to a contemptuous one: «Brother, when you see Clementine!» Then the criticism gathers momentum and builds up to a crescendo as we get horrible image after horrible image in the process of which Clementine is disfigured and transformed from «the beautiful one into a veritable»guinea fowl». But that is not the end .Before Lawino is done, she must demonstrate to us how she, Lawino, is possessed by strange ghosts which make if necessary for a whole ritual to be performed before she can recover:
«The smell of carbolic soap;
Makes me sick;
And the smell of powder;
Provokes the ghosts in my head;
It is then necessary to fetch a goat;
From my mother's brother;
The sacrifice over;
The ghost -dance drum must sound;
The ghost be laid;
And my peace restored.»(SOL, P.37).
In this Chapter Two, Lawino is not unfair to Europeans. She is not trying to impose her set of beliefs on them. She is using her prejudices in an argument with other Africans within Africa. But she is unreasonable in some of her criticism of Clementine and Ocol. Some of her comments are little more than scandal-mongering for example when she first attacks Clementine, the climax of her abuse is:
«Perhaps she has aborted many!
Perhaps she has thrown her twins
In the pit latrine!» (SOL, P.39).
In this same chapter we notice that Lawino is not only witty, she also versatile, conjuring up all kinds of images to bring her going home. This talent is coupled with a sense of humour and an ability to admit her weaknesses in a clever way, as in the following passage in which she cunning confesses that she is jealous of the woman she ostensibly despises:
«Forgive me, broth
Do not think I am insulting
The woman with whom I share
Do not think my tongue
Is being sharpened by jealousy.
It is the sight of Tina
That provokes sympathy from
my heart.» (SOL, P.39)
Then the truth comes out:
«I do not deny
I am a little jealous
It is no good lying,
We all suffer from a little jealousy.
It catches you unawares
Like the ghosts that bring fevers;
It surprises people
Like earth tremors:
But when you see the beautiful woman
With whom I share my husband
You feel a little pity for her.» (SOL, P.39).
By the end of this section, Lawino turns on her attacks and exposes their own immorality and hypocrisy.
These attacks on Western ways are one of the reasons for the popular success of the poem. Okot is making a number of very serious points through Lawino's mockery of Westernized ways. Here, Lawino shows ways in which Western things can be dirty, stupid or hypocritical. At the same time she shows how traditional ways of life allow her to express herself fully and freely as a woman. Both ways of life are open to criticism, both ways are valid. If Lawino has learnt one way of life, why should she change? Why should the Massai wear trousers? The words like «Witch», «Kaffirs» and «sorcerers» that Ocol throws at her don't answer that question.
But Lawino does not believe that the two ways of life are equally valid for Africans, and neither does Okotp'Bitek. She thinks the customs of white probably suit white people. She does not mind them following their own ways.
«I do not understand
The ways of foreigners
But I do not despise their customs» (SOL, P. 41).
The poet has used the proverb in closing this second chapter which is an Acoli proverb:
«The pumpkin in the old homestead
Must not be uprooted» (SOL, P.41).
According to Okot (1972:6) pumpkins are a luxury food. They grow wild throughout Acoli land. To uproot pumpkins, even when you are moving to a new homestead, is simple wanton destruction. In this proverb, then, Lawino is not asking Ocol to cling to everything in his past, but rather not to destroy things for the sake of destroying them. In other words, what Lawino has to say would have been better expressed by another Acoli proverb Doko abila ni eye meni (Your first Wife is your Mother) (SOL,P.13).To mean that you cannot abandon your first pot, for your first pot is always the best one.
In Chapter Three, Lawino praises the cultural dances of her people:
«I cannot dance the rumba,
My mother taught me
The beautiful dances of Acoli.
I do not know the dances of white people.
I will no deceive you,
I cannot dance the samba,
You once saw me at the Orak dance
The dance for youths
The dance of our people» (SOL, P.42).
Accoding to p'Bitek, the «dirty gossip» of colonialists condemned African dances because of the immorality of nakedness. Lawino does not waste her time on a reasoned and balanced defence of dancing naked. She presents the openness, liveliness and healthiness of Acoli dance positively, without apology:
«When the drums are throbbing
And the black youths
Have raised much dust
You dance with vigour and health
You dance naughtily with pride
You dance with Spirit,
You compete, you insult, you provoke
You challenge all», (SOL, P.42).
Notice that the dramatic reversal of values is not limited to cosmetic and make-up. It is only a prelude to a more generalized attack on European social and cultural values which go against traditional codes of behaviour. Imported forms of dancing, for example, result in immoral behaviour when each man dances with a woman who is not his wife .Then, Lawino goes to attack:
«Each man has a woman
Although she is not his wife,
They dance inside a house
And there is no light
Shamelessly, they hold each other
They cannot breathe» (SOL, P.44).
Western dances are immoral because people embrace in public and dance with anyone, even close relatives said p'Bitek. Apart from being immoral, their kissing and dancing are seen as grotesquely ugly:
«You kiss her on the cheek
As white people do,
You kiss her open-sore lips
As white people do
You suck slimy saliva
From each other's mouths
As white people do.»(SOL, P.44).
The Fourth Chapter details when Lawino was a young woman and how Ocol once wooed and won her .While she remembers Ocol `s wooing of her and the beauty of her home, Lawino's voice takes on a note of nostalgia:
«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.» (SOL, P.47).
Then after, Lawino laments because her husband does not love her any more:
«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» (SOL, P.49).
Chapter Five looks at question of what is considered beautiful. Ocol thinks the way Lawino does her hair is ugly; then she laments:
«He says that I make his bed-sheets dirty
And his bed smelly
I look extremely ugly
When I am fully adorned
For the dance!» (SOL, P.53).
On the other hand Lawino praises her beauty and the beauty of her people:
I am proud of the hair
With which I was born
And as no white woman
Wishes to do her hair
Because she is proud
Of the hair with which she was born.» (SOL, P.56)
Then after Lawino criticizes Ocol's wife's hair and that of his people:
«When the beautiful one
With whom I share my husband
Returns from cooking her hair
That has fallen into a pond;
Her hair looks
Like the python's discarded Skin.» (SOL, P.54).
In the previous paragraphs, it is said that Lawino is proud; she is proud; not only of her beauty, but of every aspect of her way of life. From this position of pride she attacks:
«I have no wish
To look like a white woman.» (SOL, P.56).
Now Lawino makes the argument here that Ocol should not try to be something he is not:
Would change into a hyena,
And the crested crane
Would hate to be changed
Into the bold-headed,
The long-necked and graceful giraffe
Cannot become a monkey.
Let no one
Uproot the pumkin.» (SOL, P.56).
The message conveys by Lawino in this section is that African women are invited to run away from artificial and European ways of cooking hair for their beauty. They must remain natural. They could not abandon their traditions. The poem becomes an argument honoring the traditional African values.
Along this Chapter, we also see Lawino's wit at work when she gives an account of the differences between European and African traditions and values. Ostensibly, her argument is that European culture is good for Europeans and African culture good for Africans, but in an apparently objective comparison she uses subtle animal imagery to portray a negative picture of things for European and a positive picture of African values. This is particularly striking in this Chapter Five, where the dominant motif is the comparison of the «graceful giraffe», which symbolizes the beauty of the African Woman, and the «monkey» which stands for the Ugliness of white women and those who ape whites by wearing white people's wigs: See the example given above from song of Lawino page 56.
Chapter Six deals with food and Ocol criticizes his wife for not cooking white people's meals:
Black people's foods are primitive,
But what is backward about them?
Black people's foods are dirty:
Some clumsy and dirty black women
Prepare food clumsily
And put them
In dirty containers.» (SOL, P.62).
Lawino again argues that the food that is native to her people is best for them:
Straight before you
Is the central pole
That shiny stool...
At the foot of the pole
Is my father's revered stool.
The rows of pots
Placed one on top of other
Millet flour, dried carcasses
Of various animals,
Fish, dried cucumber...» (SOL, P.59).
Ocol criticizes the improved stove and Lawino praises it; Ocol gives his point of view of that improved stove:
«I really hate
The charcoal stove!
Your hand is always
And anything you touch
And your finger nails
Resemble those of poison woman.» (SOL, P.57).
Now Lawino reacts:
«I am terribly afraid
Of the electric stove,
I do not like using it
Because you stand up
When you cook.» (SOL, P.58).
She points out another disadvantage of electric stove and she apologizes that she has no notion about cooking white food.
«The electric fire kills people:
It is lightning...» (SOL, P.57)
In this passage she accepts that she does not know such a cooking:
«I do not know
How to cook
Like white women;
I do not enjoy
White men's foods;
And how they eat
How could I know?
And why should I know it?» (SOL, P.62).
In the closing lines of the poem of this section, the poet gives his point of view throughout Lawino that:
«I do not complain
That you eat
White men's foods
If you enjoy them
Shall we just agree
To have freedom
To eat what one likes?»(SOL, P.63).
He also shows the importance of the traditional cooking stove in many societies which is improved for domestic cooking. So the poet shows Lawino's weakness for not being to school to learn how to use white men's cooking stoves. Lawino confesses:
I do not deny!
I do not know
How to cook like a white woman.» (SOL, P.57)
The Seventh Chapter deals with the issues of time. In this section, Ocol puts accent on the respect of time. His wife Lawino reacts that Ocol abuses of the way of using time because of his arrogance for he loses his dignity. He is always in a hurry. He is always ruled by time. Everything he does must take place at a fixed time:
«If my husband insists
What exact time
He should have morning tea
And break fast,
When exactly to have coffee.»(SOL, P. 64).
Lawino doesn't understand the need for these set times. She does things when she wants to. Children are fed or washed when it is necessary and:
«When sleep comes
Into their head
When sleep leaves their head
They wake up.»(SOL, P. 69)
If visitors come when you are doing something, you stop and enjoy their visit. But Ocol has no time to enjoy anything:
«He never jokes
He has no time
To sit around the evening fire.» (SOL, P. 67)
All Ocol`s life is haunted by his fear of wasting time. For him, time is a commodity which can be bought and sold. It must not be wasted because:
«Time is money» (SOL, P. 67);
While for Acoli time is not a commodity that can be consumed until it is finished:
«In the wisdom of the Acoli
Time is not stupidly split up
Into seconds and minutes
It does not flow
Like beer in a pot
That is sucked
Until it is finished.» (SOL, P. 69).
Ocol in his arrogance does not know how to welcome visitors. When they appear at his door he tries to get rid of them quickly with the question:
«What can I do for you?» (SOL, P. 68)
And even the crying of children makes him wild with rage because it interrupts his work:
He does not want
To hear noise,
Those children's cries
And coughs disturb him!» (SOL, P. 67).
Despite his high opinion of himself, he is no more than a servant of time:
«Time has become
My husband`s master» (SOL, P. 68).
No one likely to respect him because of his unkindness, and because he:
«...Runs from place to place
Like a small boy,
He rushes without dignity» (SOL, P. 68).
In addition to investing Lawino with a witty mind, a sense of humour capacity for dramatization, Okot p`Bitek has the ability to make use of traditional troupes and modes of expression in a manner which enriches his poetry and lends it a peculiar freshness. Comparing the modern technological concepts of time with Acoli concepts, Lawino describes the Acoli idea of late morning in the following terms:
«When the sun has grown up
And the poisoned tips
Of its arrows painfully bite
The backs of the women weeding or harvesting
This is when
You take drinking water
To the workers »(SOL, PP 64- 66).
To end this section, it is seen that Ocol is governed by time, often stating the hour whenever the sun rises. Lawino does not understand the importance of being led by such strict definitions and thinks everything happens in its own time without forcing it. This idea is followed into Chapter Eight when Lawino also argues that breast feeding isn't something you can hold strictly to time. When children are hungry, then they will be breastfed. To do it by Ocol's way, children should be fed even if they are not hungry. Religion, healthcare, politics are also dealt with.
In Chapter Eight and Twelve, we have Lawino's explanation of what has gone wrong. Ocol's teachers were like Lawino's teacher in the evening speaker's class. If Ocol had run from them to the dance as Lawino did he would have learnt things that meant something to him:
«We joined the line of friends
And danced among our age- mates
And Sang songs we understood.
Relevant and meaningful songs,
Songs about ourselves» (SOL, P.79).
Ocol wants Lawino to be christened, but she says that her elder sister was a protestant and she suffered bitterly in order to buy the name Lawino joined the catholic evening Speaker' class, but she did not stay long in, she ran away:
«I ran away from shouting
Meaninglessly in the evenings
Like the crow birds
The things they shout
I do not understand»(SOL, P.75).
They do not understand what they shout and the teacher of the evening class controls them only by anger. It seems as if Ocol is still like a parrot, boasting in the market place and condemning everything that the white priests told him to condemn, instead of picking out the good from both African and European ways.
Now Lawino is obliged to leave evening speaker's class:
«Anger welled up inside me
Burning my chest like bile,
I stood up
And two other girls stood up
We walked out
Out of that cold hall» (SOL, P.79).
To end this section, Lawino argues that their spiritual beliefs are just as valid as Catholicism, but also points out the ignorance and arrogance of priest and nuns who run the missionaries in their villages.
In Chapter Nine we see another aspect of Ocol's arrogance. Here Lawino asks questions in a genuine mood of enquiry. She does not ask silly questions:
«Where is the pot?
Where it was dug,
On the mouth of which River?» (SOL, P.87).
Somewhere in Chapter Three, Lawino has spoken about immorality in the dances of white men. The same question of sexual morality is involved in her late comments on catholic priest and nuns. The tradition of priestly celibacy has a long history in Europe. There is also a long tradition of priestly hypocrisy, and of literary mockery of this hypocrisy. To Lawino the whole idea is completely incomprehensible. So when the Padré and the Nun shout at her, it must be their sexual frustration expressing itself:
«They are angry with me
As if it was I
Who prevented them marrying» (SOL, P.85).
Again no priest can possibly discipline his sexual desires. They teacher from the evening speaker's class follows her to the dance. And every teacher must be like this:
«And all the teachers
They have sharp eyes
For girls' full breast
Even the padres
Who are not allowed
Are troubled by health» (SOL, P.81).
To conclude this section, let us write that the problems of who created the creator and the mystery of the virgin birth are problems which better educated people have found to be barriers to Christian belief. An educated Christian like Ocol ought to have considered them. If he were really interested in knowledge, he would be willing to discuss these things. But Lawino does not thing he is really interested in knowledge. She wishes she had someone else to ask:
«Someone who has genuinely
Read deeply and widely
And not someone like my husband
Is to boast in the market place...» (SOL, P.90).
Brief Lawino really makes us wonder whether this progressive and civilised man deserves any respect with all his status. He surely ought to have a little more dignity. Above all he ought to treat his wife, his parents and his home community with a little more respect.
Chapter Ten deals with Lawino's culture and its values. In this Chapter we are given further examples of Ocol's intolerance. Ocol will let neither Lawino's relatives, nor his own relatives into his house because they might make it dirty or give diseases to his children.
«My husband complains
That I encourage visitors
Who should not
Come into his house,
Because they bring dirt and house-flies!» (SOL, P.91).
Ocol condemns all traditional medicines:
The medicine gourds are filthy,
And the herbs
Are drunk from unhygienic cups
My husband agrees
That sometimes by accident...»(SOL, P.93)
Again he condemns all traditional religious beliefs, because he is an educated man and a Christian. In the years since Uganda's independence, there has been a great deal of reassessment of missionaries views of African traditional beliefs by African Christians .Ocol's attitudes have not changed at all. For him traditional beliefs are no more than foolish superstitions:
No such things exist
It is my eyes
That are sick
And only foolish superstitions.»(SOL, P.92).
Ocol not only rejects these superstitions himself, he wants to wipe them out. He prevents Lawino from visiting the diviner priest or making sacrifices when she is in trouble:
«My husband has threatened
To beat me
If I visit the diviner- priest again.» (SOL, P.93)
When his father was alive, he:
«Once smashed up the rattle gourd
Cut open the drum
And chased away the diviner priest
From his late father's homestead.» (SOL, P.95).
He later tried to destroy the tree on father's shrine. Ocol is a religious man yet. Lawino must not wear charms, yet he wears a crucifix:
«My husband wears
A small crucifix
On his neck»(SOL,P.93).
For him prayer can be effective:
«It is stupid superstition superstition
To pray to our ancestors
To avert the smallpox,
But we should pray
To the messengers of the hunch back
To intercede for us.»(SOL, P.93).
Ocol sees no similarity between the two sorts of charms or the two sorts of prayer. Ocol continues to praise White man's medicines. Since the time of patient has not yet come to death every medicine cures him says Lawino:
«It is true
White man's medicines are strong,
But Acoli medicine
Are also strong.
The sick gets cured
Because his time has not yet come.»(SOL, P.101).
Once the time comes, the death knocks at your door, there is no stop. Whatever medicine cannot cure the sick. Even crucifixes, rosaries, toes of edible rates,...none of them can block the path of no return (SOL, P.102
«When death comes
To fetch you
She comes unannounced
She comes suddenly
Like the vomit of days...»(SOL, P.102).
Lawino says that Ocol should be tolerent for, once mother death comes, there is no excuse, neither black nor white it calls them and they have no power on it:
«White diviner priest,
All medicine men and medicine
Are good, are brilliant
When the day has not yet dawned
For the great journey
The last safari
To pagak.» (SOL, P.103).
Brief you may be the man of whatever rank, you cannot resist when death comes to fetch you. Chapter Eleven of Song of Lawino is a very rich poem, Addressing important issues affecting post-independence Africa. The poem is a satirical comment on the neo-colonial mentality of the African petty bourgeoisie-the intellectuals and political leaders of Africa. The target of Lawino's criticism, Ocol, is the representative of this class. He is both an intellectual and politician an embodiment of the disease Lawino diagnoses in her song, satirizing the ills of Africa leaders described elsewhere by Okot in an essay entitled «Indigenous social Ills», in which he refers to them as culturally barren ladies and gentlemen. Ocol's behavior does not lift up him before the leaders of his party. He behaves like: ... a newly-eloped girl (SOL,P.108) he says in his speeches that he is lighting for national unity:
They want to unite the Acoli and Lango
And the Madi and Lugbara
Should live together in peace!
The Alur and Iteso and Baganda
And the Banyankole and Banyoro
Should be united together» (SOL, PP.103-104).
However, his political energies do not really seem strong for bringing about unity, national or local. Most of his time as a politician is taken up with condemning other people.
Ocol says that the Congress Party is against all Catholics, and that they will steal all their property
«The Congress Party
Will remove all Catholics
From their jobs
And they will take away
All the land and schools
And will take people's wives
And goats, and chickens and bicycles,
All will be came the property
Of the congress people.» (SOL, PP.105-6).
And it is not only the other party that he condemns. When he talks to the party leaders, he accuses other party
«Everybody else is us
Is the hard working...?» (SOL, P.108).
The most destructive result of his political activity is its effect on his own family. Ocol's brother is in the congress party. His thinks his brother wants to murder him. Now is this the unity of Uhuru? Is this the peace that Independence brings? (SOL, P.105). He forbids Lawino to talk to the man who may one day become her husband.
Okot does not ignore economic problems in his poems. In this section of song, Lawino criticizes Ocol and the African political elite for political ineptitude and economic mismanagement. She lashes out at corruption, points out that many politicians joined the campaign for material gain:
Independence falls like a bull buffalo
And the hunters
Rush to it with draw knives,
Sharp shining knives
For carving the carcass.» (SOL, P.107).
Using political power for personal wealth is a common feature of petty bourgeoisie in developing countries, for in these countries there is no true national bourgeoisie, as in the USA or EUROPE, which derives its economic power from is the only means by which the political elite can acquire substantial wealth. Lawino speaks in ironic terms when she says:
«The stomach seems to be
A powerful force
For joining political parties,
Especially when the purse
In the trouser pocket
Carries only the coins
With holes in their middle.» (SOL, PP.108).
Lawino is not blind to the fact that, while politicians are fighting to enrich their own pockets and inter-party strife rages, the common people suffer, for they bear the hardest part of the economic problems due to the ineptitude of the political elite:
«And while the pythons of sickness
Swallow the children
And the buffaloes of poverty knock the people down,
And ignorance stands there like an elephant,...»(SOL,P.111).
Politics has destroyed the unity of home and brought misery member of it:
«The women there
Wear mourning clothes
The homestead is surely dead.» (SOL, P.111).
Now, where is peace of Uhuru when there is no harmony and confidence at home?
«Where is the peace of Uhuru?
Where the unity of independence?
Must it not begin at home?
And the Alico and Lango
And the Madi and Lugbara,
How can they unite?
And all the tribes of Uganda
How can they become one?»(SOL, P.107).
This view of African petty bourgeoisie in control of political power is corroborated in song of Ocol by Ocol. First, he is so thoroughly colonized that he hates himself for being black:
This rich granary,
Of taboos, customs,
Why was I born?
Black?» (SOO, P.126).
Accordingly, he and his fellow members of the elite want to destroy all things African, anything that reminds them their African past. Instead, they will erect monuments to the architects of African colonialism-Bismarck-David Livingstone, Leopold of Belgium and others:
«To the gallows
With all the Professors
And teachers of African History,
We'll destroy all the anthologies
Of African literature
And close down
All the schools
Of African studies.» (SOO, P.129).
Secondly, Ocol lends weight to Lawino's view that the misdemeanours of Africans politicians lead to the impoverishment of workers.
The power of the song of Lawiro is due in large measure to the author's successful portrayal of an authentic spokesperson, an uneducated woman who has become highly aware of the necessity for her race to preserve its own culture and identity. She is a vivid and memorable character. At first she may appear lighthearted and flippant, but in fact she advances a sound serious argument. Unlike the negritude poets, she does not overtly claim that African culture is superior to European culture.
Her central argument is summed up at the end of chapter Two:
«Listen Ocol, my old friend,
The ways of your ancestors
Their customs are solid
And not hollow
They are not thin, not easily breakable
They cannot be blown away
By the winds
Because their roots reach deep into the soil.
I do not understand
The ways of foreigners
But I do not despise their customs.
Why should you despise yours?» (SOL, P.41).
The politicians, Okot mentions in this section are too busy fighting one another. Certainly Ocol sees no reason to do anything in Chapter Six of Song of Ocol, he asks the voters to agree that because he has worked harder for Uhuru he deserves:
Some Token Reward (SOL, P.139).
He is not responsible for the sufferings of the waters, although he was rewarded of a large house in the town and a big form in country:
«Is it my fault?
That you sleep
In a hut
With a leaking thatch?»(SOO, P.139).
Song of Ocol again confirms Lawino's opinions. In Chapter Two Ocol trots out for us the attitudes to Africa that he as a politician has swallowed whole from the missionaries:
«What is Africa?
Deep, deep fathomless
Darkness...» (SOL, P.125).
There are two critical quotations we feel should be quoted for this special launch of Ocol's attitudes towards Africa. First is by Professor Eskia Mphahlele from his book with the title: The African Image (1962), whatever single image may emerge of Africa must continue to shift. This is not a continent lying in state. Our heroes also rise and fall. We also have our political clowns, political executioners, political spits, grafters in high places, as every other continent has. We are a vibrant people too. Second is the quotation taken from Okot p'Bitek's book Song of Lawino and song of Ocol (1972):
«I do not understand
The way of foreigners
But I do not despise their customs.
Why should you despise yours?
Listen, my husband,
You are the son of a Chief.
The Pumpkin in the Old homestead
Must not be uprooted!»(SOL, P. 41).
Both quotes impress on Afrocentricism. Particularly, the p'Bitek's written discourse introduces an interesting dialogue between husband and wife. The wife in this case reminds her husband about his Africaness. Our feeling is that we cannot avoid dealing with these bipolar realities that is being African in the current situation that is moved by continuous on a daily basis. This change manifests in many ways; political, social, and economic, spiritually, biotechnologically to name only these. In this regard, the African image and mind wrestle to find place and space. Since Afrocentricism is concerned, we can raise the questions below: Who is an African? Do we need African centers in Africa? Are Africans in a foreign continent? How can they sing being in a foreign land? How foreign is Africa to Africans? Africa needs to assert itself within the context of its diversity.
In Chapter Three of Song of Ocol, Ocol condemns all efforts to find reasons for pride in Africa's past. He would prefer to forget his past:
«Smash all these mirrors
That I may not see
The blackness of the past
From which I came
Reflected in them.» (SOO, P.129).
In other words, Ocol wants to deny his Africanness. These feelings wring from him the cry of anguish which ends Chapter Two of Song of Ocol.
Why was I born?
Black?» (SOO, P. 126).
In Chapter Twelve, Lawino summarises what has happened to Ocol. «Ocol has read many books among white men and he is clever like white men» (S.O.O.p113). This section, from which the above quotation is taken, constitutes the climax of Lawino's argument and demonstrates Okot p'Bitek's use of Apostrophe. The section falls into three major subjections if we go by Lawino's subject matter and her audience. In the first subjection Lawino addresses her clan men. The subject matter is her husband's dark forest of books. Although Ocol has read many books among white men those books has not helped him. Instead he has lost his head:
«Listen, my clansmen,
I cry over my husband
Whose head is lost
Ocol has lost his head
In the forest of books.» (SOL, P.113).
This as we shall see, is at the heart of her argument. In the second subsection she addresses Ocol in the words quoted above and does not mention books at all. Then she ends the section by going back to address the clansmen and returning to the subject of books. And in the end the books have destroyed him:
«... the reading
Has killed my man,
In the ways of his people
He has become
A stump» (SOL, P. 113).
Ocol still has the roles of husband and head of household, but he is no longer able to perform them. Instead he has become:
«A dog of the Whiteman!» (SOL, P. 115).
The Whiteman is his ultimate master, acting on him through his continuing cultural and economic influences. Ocol obeys his master's call and is pleased only by those things that belong to his master. Ocol no longer owns anything. Every thing he uses belongs to his master:
Aaa! A certain man
Has no millet field
He lives on borrowed foods
He borrows the clothes he wear
And the ideas in his head
And his actions and behaviour
Are to please somebody else
Like a woman trying to please her husband!
My husband has become a woman! (SOL, P.116).
And many young men are the same. Lawino calls on her clansmen to weep for them because:
«Their manhood was finished
In the classrooms
With large books!» (SOL, P.117).
Here Lawino is mocking all those Olcols who are carrying the habit of slavish imitation of white men they leant in the mission school into every sphere of their lives in the new nations of Africa. For her, this is not the last word. She thinks there is still hope for Ocol. Ocol only needs treatment to rid him of his disease.
In Section Thirteen, the last section, Lawino's whole approach, manner and tone of voice change: She tones down the bitterness in her voice and instead of lampooning her husband she cajoles him, coaxes him like a loving wife, even advising him to buy clothes, beads and perfumes «for the woman with whom I share you» (SOL, P.120). She assumes the role of both a teacher and a loving wife.
In Section Thirteen, she does not address her clansmen at all. First she recommends physical remedies to Ocol. Ocol's throat is blocked by the shame that has been choking him for so long:
«The shyness you ate in the church...» (SOL, P.118).
It must be cleaned out by traditional foods and herbs. His ears are blocked by the things he has heard from priest and teachers. They must be cleaned. His eyes, behind his dark glasses, are blind to the things of his people. They must be opened. His tongue is dirty with the continuous flow of insults he has been pouring on his people. It must be cleaned.
When the physical remedies have been completed, Ocol will be ready for the real cure. He will be ready to regain his roots among his own people. Lawino explains how he nearly lost those roots:
«When you took the axe
And threatened to cut the Okango
That grows on the ancestral shrine
You were threatening
To cut your self loose,
To be tossed by the winds
This way and that way...» (SOL, PP. 119-120).
For this real cure, Ocol must beg forgiveness of all those he insulted. But he must also seek the blessing of the elders and beg forgiveness from the ancestors, because:
«... when you insulted me
I was a mere village girl,
You were insulting your grandfathers,
And grandmothers, your father
and mother!»(SOL, P. 119).
If he does all these things he will become a man again, the ancestors will help him recover:
«Ask for a spear that you will trust
One that does not bend easily
Like the earth-worm
Ask them to restore your manhood!» (SOL, P. 119).
Lawino's final appeal concerns her domestic situation. She wants things to be normal in the household again. She wants Ocol to behave like her husband. And when he is recovered, if he only gives her:
«... One chance» (SOL, P. 120).
She is certain that things will become normal. When his ears are un- blocked he will hear the beauty of her singing. When his blindness is cured, he will see and appreciate her dancing:
«Let me dance before
Let me show you
The wealth in your house...» (SOL, P.120).
In Chapter Three of Song of Ocol, Ocol briefly, but effectively, comments on traditional medicine. However foolish he might be in condemning all traditional remedies it is difficult not to share some of his horror at the scene he describes:
«That child lying... A gift of death»(SOO, P. 127).
Traditional remedies should have some place here in Africa, but they cannot solve all her medical problems.
In Chapter Four of Song of Ocol, Ocol considers the position of women in traditional societies. It is interesting to compare his description of the walk to the well. Lowino is happy with her traditional role, but she does have to work rather hard:
«Woman of Africa
Smearing floors and walls
With cow dung and black soil
Cook, ayah, the baby tied on your back
Washer of dishes,
Planting, weeding, harvesting,
Runner of errands,
Donkey...» (SOO, P.133).
And in some ways here status is rather low:
They buy you
With two pots
The Luo trade you
For seven cows...» (SOO, P.134).
Really, if we read carefully Section Thirteen, Lawino does not address her clansmen. In Section Twelve, however, her clansmen occupy the center of subject matter which becomes even more apparent when it is compared with Song of prisoner, whose density of texture is sustained throughout and whose language is packed with emotion and feeling.
Some of the traditional modes of expression Okot employs in Song of Lawino do not come off-at least for those readers who do not understand Acoli. In this connection, the proverb which says the «Pumpkin in the old homestead should not be uprooted» occurs frequently, and is clearly meant to play a key role in conveying Lawino's message. But to the author of this thesis, to whom Acoli is a strange language, the proverb conveys little or no meaning. This is also true of some of Okot's imagery. Consider, for instance, the fallowing lines from Section Two where Lawino introduces the conceit of Clementine as the woman with whom she shares her husband:
«Her body resembles
The ugly coat of the hyena;
Her neck and arms
Have real human skins!
She looks as if she has been struck
Or burnt like the Kongoni
In a fire hunt». (SOL, P.37).
This is far from being as effective as the description of Clementine which occurs at the beginning of the same section and which was quoted earlier in the chapter.
There are also some inconsistencies and contradictions in song of Lawino. As a character, Lawino sometimes gets out of hand and Okot is not able to control her and shape her plausibly. What Lawino says in Section Eleven is out of character. Her analysis of behaviour of politicians in Uganda is so sophisticated that one wonders whether she is the same woman who is at one time amazed at the ticking of Ocol's clock (section7).
In Section Eleven Lawino does not strike the reader as a simple woman commenting in a simple way about political rivalry. Naturally, we are not suggesting that peasants cannot be political analysts. They can in fact be more revolutionary than the intelligentsia; but the problem here is that Okot presents us with a seemingly simple peasant woman and then turns her into a political scientist without creating the circumstances that give rise to such a transformation.
To conclude this Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol, in the last chapter of the book, the core of Ocol's speech is his expression of faith in the urban future of Africa, and in the foundations of that future laid by Europeans. Naively and improbable he promises to:
«... Erect monuments
To the founders
Of modern Africa:
Leopold II of Belgium,
Bismarck...» (SOL, P .151).
However, most of the speech is in the form of challenges to various people in positions of influence in Africa to explain the African foundation of their activities. Okot is mocking the borrowed plumes of all these dignitaries and challenging them to justify their borrowings.
Why should lawyers and bishops wear long robes as the English do? Why the African legal system should be based on English Law Reports? Why should all officials in local government take their names from English equivalents (Mayors, councillors, Town clerks). Okot's most serious challenge is to the scholar:
«Can you explain
The African philosophy
On which we are reconstructing
Our new societies...» (SOO, P.150)
Okot has made the foundation on which he wishes to build African nations abundantly clear throughout his poems, Song of Lowino andSsong of Ocol. He wants to challenge all concerned with nation building to make their own activities in light of his ideas. If they do not accept the challenge, then like Nyerere and Sengor who are looking for an African mould for nation-building will be utterly defeated by the continuing cultural influence of Europe on Africa.
In order to provide an easy understanding to our readers, we give some definitions of some techniques according to the dictionary of the English Language.
9Impact, le film from Onalukusu Luambo on Vimeo.
BOSKELYWOOD from Ona Luambo on Vimeo.