Okot p ‘Bitek was born in Gulu in northern Uganda in 1931. Song of Lawino was published in 1966. It is a long poem and has become one of the most successful African literary works, looking at an African culture put side by side with the western culture. The Acholi culture in Song of Lawino is described and explored to its fullest. Song of Lawino is descriptive, packed with a lot of African imagery and the language is Africanized.
Lawino, an Acholi woman laments about her husband, Ocol, whom she feels no longer loves her because she is not modern. In the poem she defends her own culture and traditions and attacks the modern ways which her husband likes so much.
Lawino, though a little jealous of the woman with whom she shares her husband, believes that a true African woman never pretends to be young like modern women. Ocol says that it is his grandfather who can bear the burden of living with a woman like Lawino who are not educated. Where in some African traditional societies it is acceptable to have more than one wife, Lawino agrees that the competition for a man’s love is fought at the cooking place when the man returns from the field or from the hunt and is won by a hot bath and sour porridge.
Lawino does not understand the ways of foreigners but she at the same time does not despise their customs. She then wonders why Ocol should despise his.
Lawino asks Ocol not to cling to everything in his past, but rather not to destroy things for the sake of destroying them.
Lawino is wary of some of the habits of white people such as kissing, which she describes as ‘sucking slimy saliva from each other’s mouths.’ Tina, Ocol’s new wife who is a culturally alienated African woman struggles to look like a white woman by using a hot comb and shoe polish on her hair.
Lawino refuses to appreciate any form of Christianity and she is therefore rejected by Ocol because she has no Christian name. To her, Acholi names are meaningful and she can pronounce them. Lawino is deeply superstitious and whatever is fatal to her is as a result of another’s hand and this calls for a visit to the witch doctor.
Okot’s works promoted African traditions and culture at a time when many Africans looked to European traditions and culture.
The reviewer is an educationist and publisher