Review by Kelvin Odoobo
Butterfly Dreams is a story about Lamunu, literally tongue tied, on being rescued from five years of abduction by rebels belonging to the Lords Resistance Army in Northern Uganda.
Told through a powerful narration by her sibling, the narrative touches deeply on the scars of the wounds Lamunu suffered in the bush, the pain which as a result of her abduction remained with her family and the subsequent mish mash of emotions that accompanied her safe return even when her tipu, (spirit) had already been buried to signify her supposed death.
The story begins with the family engaged in a daily ritual of listening to the radio as names of children who had been rescued from rebels in Sudan, when they hear Lamunu’s name.
Her return is a huge relief for the family which lives in an Internally Displaced Peoples camp but brings with it a new reality that the girl they knew is no longer present, as if her spirit which had been mistakenly buried had actually “taken a walk.”
“She expected you to say something. Something that would make her believe your spirit was in that body you carried around. We wanted to know whether your tipu had been buried with your voice.
We had never been taught how to unbury a tipu. We only hoped that your real tipu was not six feet under. We wanted to see you alive again.”
The narrator engages deeply in emotional and physical troubles of the former child soldier who has began to show signs of womanhood and whose unnerving desire to study and achive her lifelong dream to become a doctor defeats all odds and impresses the head teacher who allows her to carry on studies even when her family cannot afford to pay it at one go.
The narrative flashes back to show the reader how Lamunu was abducted and reveals her father’s death at the hand of the same rebels who so inflicted emotional wounds on Lamunu such that at one time in the month, she stands in the rain for the blood to be washed off her body.
Lamwaka succeeds in giving a fresh view of suffering of the Acholi people of northern Uganda during the rebellion using the realities of one family.
She stays true to the main protagonist by avoiding over portray the complexity of northern rebellion and sticks to the plainness of innocent children caught amidst a war they have little to do with and understand least.
She gives an insight into the life of a female child soldier and the metallic spirit that such an experience embeds into the sense of a child.
Her style is unique in that the narrator addresses the main protagonist directly as if telling them a story of things that happened while she was away while at the same time speaking on her behalf the things that Lamunu cannot say.
But most importantly, Lamwaka reveals that all is not doom and gloom. She recognizes that there can and there is life full of opportunities after the end of the conflict that has ravaged after war.
‘Butterfly dreams is the title story from ‘Butterfly Dreams and Other New Short Stories from Uganda’ an anthology published by Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, Nottingham, 2010.
This story has won a nomination for Beatrice Lamwaka for the prestigious 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing. The winner will be announced on 11th July 2011.