Wednesday, April 28, 2010


As an undergrad in college I took a literature class and was introduced to the writing of Ugandan writer Okot p'Bitek.  After reading the first pages of Song of Lawino I fell in love with the text of this long prose poem. 

p'Bitek was one of East Africa's best-known poets, helping redefine African literature in the English speaking world, by emphasizing the oral tradition of the native Acholi people of Uganda. His prose poems, can be and have been categorized as poetic novels, reflecting the form of traditional Acholi songs while expressing contemporary themes such as politics, male female relations, the meeting of disparate cultures and the effects of such interactions on interpersonal realtionships.

His first collection of poetry, Song of Lawino, is the lament of a nonliterate woman over the strange ways of her university-educated husband, whose new ways are incompatible with traditional African concepts of manhood.

Stop despising people
As if you were a little foolish man,
Stop treating me like saltless ash
Become barren of insults and stupidity;
Who has ever uprooted the Pumpkin?
(from 'My Husband's Tongue Is Bitter,' in The Song of Lawino)

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 coore not a game?
Didn't your people have amusements?
(from My Name Blew Like A Horn Among the Payira, in The Song of Lawino)

All misforutnes have a root,
The snake bite, the spear of the enemy,
Lightning and the blunt buffalo horn,
These are the bitter fruits
Grown on the tree of Fate.
They do not fall anyhow,
They do not fall at random,
They do not come our way by accident,
We do not just run into them.
When your uncles curses you
You piss in your bed!
And you go on pissing in your bed
Until you have taken him
A white cock!

When your mother lifts her breast
And asks you,
Did you suck this?
If your father lifts his penis
Towards you!
Know that you are in trouble.

No one wrestles with his father,
no one looks down
On his mother,
You cannot abuse your mother!
Because it was that woman
And that man
Who hewed you out of the rock
And molded your head and body.
(from The Last Safari to Pagak, in The Song of Lawino)

The Padre and the Nun are the same,
They only quarrel
They are angry with me
As if it was I
Who prevented them marrying.

To them
The good children
Are those
Who ask no questions,
Who accept everything
Like the tomb
Which does not reject
Even a dead leper!
(from From the Mouth of Which River, in The Song of Lawino)

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