‘Husband, now you despise me
Now you treat me with spite
And say I have inherited
The stupidity of my aunt
You say you no longer want me
Because I am like the things left behind’
Lawino, the central female character in the famous poem by Uganda’s Okot p Bitek, Song of Lawino.
Lawino stands for self-respect, traditional values, feminism and she’s also still a relevant voice for today. Tonight, you too will believe that Lawino is indeed our uncelebrated Uganda sheroine.
Make Acoli great again. That’s what Lawino stands for. Respect of tradition, upholding Acoli values. Acholi people also known as Acoli is an ethnic group from the districts of Agago, Amuru, Gulu, Kitgum, Nwoya, Lamwo, and Pader in Northern Uganda (an area commonly referred to asAcholiland), and Magwe County in South Sudan.
The Acholi language is a Western Nilotic language, classified as Luo. Organised in chiefdoms. Leader is Rwot. Main activity is agriculture.The dances too, Lawino does not waste her time but 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»,
Her husband Ocol, educated in Western ways, married a second woman called Clementine, an African lady who dressed and spoke in ways that devalued her African tradition and upheld Western ways. This is exactly what Ocol admired. By so doing, held Lawino, his traditional wife, in disdain.
Brother, when you see Clementine!
The beautiful one aspires;
To look like a white woman;
Her lips are red-hot;
Like glowing charcoal;
‘My clansmen I cry
Listen to my voice
The insults of my man
Are painful beyond bearing
He abuses me in English
And he is so arrogant
Second major factor explaining Lawino’s sheroics, Lawino challenged this Western education, whose literacy, it appeared, held tradition in contempt. She continues to say,
‘In the deserted homestead
You insult me
You laugh at me
You say I do not know the letter A
Because I have not been to school and I have not been baptized. ‘
And yet, I agree, like Taban lo Liyong, indicated in Popular Culture of East Africa, published by Longman in Kenya, 1972, that while education may be formalized, it may also remain informal in the sense of cultural information. E.g the Luo proverb, Jatelo ogongo ogwari, meaning The leader will be scratched by the thorn.
How many of us here have other rich proverbs in our languages? There are invaluable lessons .
This book, Song of Lawino, which we must all purchase to understand the sheroics of Lawino, is available at Aristoc at 19, 600/-. The Acoli version was published in 1966 by East African Publishers, before its English translation and last year there was a global celebration of the 50th anniversary. The English version was published in 1984 by Heinemann as part of the African Writers Series.
According to an online essay, written by poet Allan King in 2011, entitled, Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol, Colonization’s Remnants in Africa, he stated that the verbal brawl between Lawino and her husband Ocol were reflective of husbands who once loved and adored their wives, despised them once they returned from abroad. To Ocol, a newcomer to European values.
‘Akurri ma welo maro moko, which in Acoli means, ‘ A newcomer is usually in danger of being trapped or tricked.’
Lawino is our uncelebrated feminist, our modern day Leymah Gbowee. Leymah is a Liberian female fighter who led the women’s peace movement to put an end to the second Liberian civil war in 2003. She received a nobel peace prize in 2011. Leymah said that it’s time for women to stop being politely angry. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, Book by Alice Walker, Lawino is a womanist, a feminist of colour.
Published in 1983, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose is a collection composed of 36 separate pieces written by Alice Walker. Originally published: 1983
Standing up to Ocol in her unapologetic feminist stance,’
age-mate of my brother,
Take care of your tongue
Be careful what your lips say.
Dr. Godwin Siundu, who teaches literature at the University of Nairobi, mentioned in an article published on February 6th 2016, in The Saturday Nation, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Song of Lawino, mentioned the relevance of Song of Lawino. The questions raised enable readers to identify if they have been addressed today and sadly, they haven’t. Lawino remains a critical relevant voice in today’s debates.
Let’s all become Lawino; feminists, upholders of traditional values and relevant voices of today who are able to embrace Western education while the same time, embracing our culture.
Beverley Nambozo’s speech delivered at Bukoto Toastmasters Club