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By Okot P’Bitek

Song of Lawino is a poem written by Ugandan poet Okot p'Bitek (1931 – 1982). First published in 1966 in Acholi Luo, it was quickly translated into other languages, including English. Song of Lawino has become one of the most widely read literary works originating from Sub-Saharan Africa. It has also become culturally iconic within Africa, because of its scathing display of how African society was being destroyed by the colonization of Africa.

Okot p'Bitek

Song of Lawino describes how Lawino's husband, Ocol, the son of the tribal leader of their Acholi tribe, has taken another wife, Clementine, who is educated and acts European. Although Ocol's polygamy is accepted by society, and by Lawino herself, her description of his actions shows that he is shunning Lawino in favour of Clementine. Ocol is also said to be fascinated with the culture of the European colonialists.

More about the Poem

- Okot p'Bitek (7th June, 1931 – 20th July 1982) was a Ugandan poet, who achieved wide international recognition for Song of Lawino, a long poem dealing with the tribulations of a rural African wife whose husband has taken up urban life and wishes everything to be westernised. Song of Lawino was originally written in the Acholi language, (Wer pa Lawino) self-translated to English, and published in 1966.

- It was a breakthrough work, creating an audience among Anglophone Africans for direct, topical poetry in English; and incorporating traditional attitudes and thinking in an accessible yet faithful literary vehicle. It was followed by the pendant Song of Ocol (1970), the husband's reply. 

- Both Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol are dramatic monologues. A dramatic monologue is like a play in which there are no actions or movements and only one person speaks. The poet pretends to be someone else and uses the voice of that person to tell the story or express the ideas he is interested in.

- So in “Song of Lawino” we only hear what Lawino has to say, whilst in “Song of Ocol” we only hear Ocol’s voice. Both of these poems express a set of ideas rather than telling a story. All of the ideas that Lawino expresses are connected with her argument with Ocol which she tells us briefly in the first few lines of section 1.



My Husband’s Tongue Is Bitter

After the first 33 lines of the poem we know that Lawino and Ocol are married and are in the middle of a serious disagreement because Ocol is educated and westernised while Lawino is not. We know that Ocol is utterly contemptuous of Lawino’s lack of schooling and that she is reacting to his contempt by mocking him. The rest of the section summaries the kind of insults Ocol uses to attack Lawino, her family and clan and all black people.


Ocol treats Lawino with prejudice just because she’s never been to school and is not westernised. That is not a reason strong enough to make him despise her, who was once his beloved wife. This is very common among the Africa educated elites who mistakenly think that the western education they received elevated them higher and gave them the right to look down upon those uneducated counterparts who did not have that privilege. Lawino says;

He abuses me in English
And he is so arrogant.

He claims to be a modern, civilised and progressive man who has read extensively and widely and can no longer live with a thing like Lawino. His arrogance is not confined to his wife alone but he extends it to the parents who are supposed to be his parents-in-law. She laments;

My husband abuses me together
With my parents
He says terrible things about my mother
And I am ashamed.

Ocol is mentally colonised and has a slave mentality but he has no idea about it. He praises everything that is western whether good or bad and despises everthing that is African whether good or bad. Little does he realise that he cannot become a white man just by falling in love with European culture.
He despises Lawino just because she cannot play the guitar, she cannot read, cannot hear a single foreign word and cannot count the coins. This proves that the kind of education Ocol received was just education for alienation, subordination and creation of mental confusion. Since his education has failed to transform him into a civilised man nothing is expected out of that knowledge to transform his traditional society into a modern one he wishes to see.

Ocol professes to be a man of God but his tongue proves the opposite. He cannot claim to be a God-fearing fellow and all he has got to say about his people is that they are “all Kaffirs”. He says that they do not know the ways of God and the Gospel. He portrays an open hypocrisy because God loves the sinners and the lost but Ocol in Lawino’s account she says.

He says we are all Kaffirs
We do not know the ways of God
We sit in deep darkness
And do not know the Gospel
He says that my mother hides the charms
In her necklace
And that we are all sorcerers

With these words no one can see God whom Ocol claims to worship, as a result people find it better remaining who they are, than becoming what Ocol has become, thus no any transformation is required.

Ocol has betrayed his African identity and his fellow Black People. It is no wonder that Lawino compares him with “a hen that eats its own eggs”. He despises the things that were and are still part of him and by so doing he loses his identity and becomes a completely uncivilised man while he claims to be one. Expressing this detrimental situation Lawino says:

He says Black People are Primitive
And their ways are utterly harmful
Their dances are mortal sins
They are ignorant poor and diseased.


The Woman With Whom I Share My Husband

Lawino introduces us to Clementine and to her rivalry with Clementine for Ocol’s love. She contrasts the way in which Clementine tries to make herself attractive to Ocol by slimming and by wearing cosmetics with a picture of traditional welcome home for a man with several wives. They compete for his attention in the preparation of the meals and are lively and open in front of him.


Lawino being an African woman she knows that it is impossible to stop men from wanting women and so she is familiar with polygamy.  So in this respect, she is not completely jealous of Clementine in a narrow sense of desiring to have sole possession of Ocol (though she partly claims to be a bit jealous) but she is simply annoyed that Ocol prefers a woman who is no younger than her and can match her in none of her womanly accomplishments.
Lawino is okay with this form of marriage because she knows that a man’s heart is won through nice meals, a hot bath and sour porridge when he returns home from the field or from the hunt. She declares;

The competition for a man’s love
is fought at the cooking place
when he returns from the field
or from the hunt
you win him with a hot bath
and sour porridge.

This gives Lawino much confidence because she sees herself better qualified in these womanly accomplishments that her rival. A woman who would be jealous in such cases is the one who is slow, lazy, shy, cold, weak and clumsy.

Ocol has betrayed his wife by falling in love with another woman who has entered his marriage as a third party and has completely changed the family atmosphere cutting loose all the strong strings that held the two together. Ocol loves Clementine simply because she too has lost her identity and behaves like White women. Lawino blames her husband because he has changed in the spur of the moment and has crippled a healthy relationship they had, before the invasion of Clementine. He claims that he is no longer in love with the old type. Lawino laments;

But only recently
We would sit together
Holding each other
Only recently he promised
That he trusted me completely.

Another aspect that Okot addresses in this section is the loss of African identity portrayed by Clementine a perfect replica of Ocol. Like Ocol Clementine is suffering from mental colonisation and cultural alienation. As Lawino says in the following lines;

Brother when you see
Clementine, the beautiful ones aspires
To look like a white woman.

 This is a problem that has affected most African ladies who have come to think that European women appear more immaculate than African women. So they struggle hard to paint their lips red, and use other cosmetics to change their entire physical appearance to be that of a white woman. Lawino uses strong similes to show how detrimental the problem is, and how seriously Ocol has to reconsider his decision because what he thinks as a beautiful woman is actually a fake and ugly creature. Consider the strong comparison that Lawino makes here.

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
It looks like an open ulcer
Like the mouth of a field.

So Lawino goes out of her way to show that the more she tries to beautify herself using the cosmetics the uglier she looks. Lawino says;

Tina dusts powder on her face
And it looks so pale
She resembles a wizard
Getting ready for a night dance.

All these visual images create a picture of a rather ugly than a beautiful woman.

In African setting Sacrifice is a necessary rite when one wants to deal with any unpleasant situations. Lawino evokes this point when she suggests that only sacrifice can restore her peace that has been seriously damaged by Clementine’s sight. She says:

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.

Lawino is surer of her identity and wishes not to compete with Clementine by beautifying herself the way she does. Being aware of her African identity she knows that there are ornaments suitable for Black skins and ones for White skins. She says;

I do not like dusting myself with powder
The thing is good on pink skin
Because it is already pale
But when a black woman has used it
She looks as if she has dysentery.

This is one reason why Lawino would rather remain a typical African woman than try to beautify herself to please her husband.

While Lawino admits to be a bit jealousy of Clementine, she goes a step ahead to claim that it is rather sympathy and not jealousy that drives her to speak what she says about Clementine. She sees Clementine as a person who deserves out pity and sympathy because she has lost her identity unawares. Lawino says;

            But when you see the beautiful woman
            With whom I share my husband
            You feel a little pity for her

Lawino concludes this section by a sudden shift from her description of Clementine and shows the disparity between Western ways and African ways of life. Lawino does not believe that the two ways of life are equally valid for Africans. She thinks the customs of white people are suitable for Whites. She doesn’t mind them following their own ways;

I do not understand
The ways of foreigners
But I do not despise their customs
Why should you despise yours?

 For Lawino those Africans who insist on following the ways of white people are foolish, because they misunderstand their own ways and do not know themselves. If they try to destroy African traditions they will fail.

The ways of your ancestors are good
Their customs are solid and not hollow
They are not thin not easily breakable.


I Don’t Know The Dances Of White People

In this section Lawino is involved mainly in telling the white people that we too have a culture. It is concerned with dances and is done mainly to defend African culture from the abuses heaped on it by the Whites. Lawino mocks the old missionary idea about traditional African dances being immoral because they are danced naked. Western dances are immoral because they encourage people to embrace in public and to ignore the rules of respect for relatives. They are dirty and silly because they are danced in the smoky atmosphere of overcrowded halls where no one can be comfortable and relaxed. Acoli dances are both more moral and more enjoyable, since nothing is hidden and they are danced in the open air, where men and women have rooms to let themselves go and express their pride in competition with each other.


Lawino defends African dances as compared to European dances. The Whites condemned African dances because of immorality of nakedness. Lawino doesn’t waste time in a reasoned and balanced defence of dancing naked. She presents the openness, liveliness, and healthiness of the 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.

Lawino attacks western dances for being immoral and disrespectful for relatives. Western dances are immoral because people embrace in public and dance with anyone, including close relatives. Lawino laments;

There is no respect for relatives
Girls hold their fathers
Boys hold their sisters close
They dance even with their mothers.

Furthermore, Okot shows that Western dances are full of immoral practices including but not limited to filthiness in the dancing rooms, people piss, urinate, spit saliva, smoke cigar, tobacco and cigarette not to mention the latrines that are full of human dungs of different sizes and shapes to a point that the whole atmosphere turns out to be like a cave and a hyena’s den.

Additionally, in the poem Lawino continues to pour attacks on white man’s dances but she adds some important details to make her point. Not only are the dances immoral but the actions accompanied with the dances sum up the immorality of the dances.
Nevertheless, these actions are done by Africans who have been affected by globalization and they copy western mode of life. Lawino pinpoints some of these practices.

-They drink white men drinks.
- Each man has a woman although she is not his wife.
- They kiss each other 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 mouth as white people do.
- They dress up as white men as if they are in white men countries.
- They wear dark glasses and neck-ties from Europe.
- You smoke cigar like white men.


My Name Blew Like A Horn Among The Payira

This section concentrates on ornaments and games. Lawino remembers how beautiful and skilful she was when she was younger and was admired by all the boys because of her singing and dancing. She tells us angrily how Ocol now condemns her inability to dance in the western way then turns and speaks with vigorous mockery about Ocol’s incompetence in all Acoli games.


Lawino expresses the sincere love that Ocol had for her in the days of her youth. She was so famous as her name blew like a horn among the Payira and this could be the reason why Ocol wanted to have the most famous and attractive girl. Ocol was so bold when he was wooing Lawino that he crawled on the floor and wept for her that he never missed a night visiting her to her father’s homestead even after being beaten by her brothers. Today Ocol has betrayed Lawino and all the efforts he employed to get her. Lawino is now wondering;

My man what are you talking?
My clansmen, I ask you;
What has become of my husband?

Lawino shows that some of the reasons that have made Ocol lose his love for her are very silly. She says;

Ocol says; he does not love me anymore
Because I cannot play the guitar
And I do not like their stupid dance
I despise their songs they play at the ballroom dance
I do not follow the steps of foreign songs
I cannot tune the radio

Then she asks “What is all these?” So in Lawino’s thinking these are very poor and lame excuses for his claims of loss of love for her.

Lawino is aware of her African identity and what constitutes the beauty of an African lady. She praises things like tattoos on the breasts and below the belly button. Also the gap between her teeth made her beauty and attractiveness complete. Although Ocol despises her because of the same, she wonders how the woman that Ocol loves cannot even compete with her.
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

Bride price is another aspect of African tradition that emerges in this section. Although Okot does not explain in detail the expected bride price of cattle, he knows that this will not present any difficulty to Africans to understand. In African context it is common when one has a beautiful daughter to prepare the kraal in anticipation of the bride price of cattle when men will come proposing to marry his daughter. She says;

For my breasts shook
and beckoned the cattle
And they sang silently
Father prepare the kraal
Father prepare the kraal
The cattle are coming

Ocol has been alienated from his culture and he is busy praising western ways and traditions. Lawino raises another complaint against her husband in so far as the adornments, games and musical instruments are concerned. She wonders why Ocol is abandoning his culture and a culture of his ancestors and embracing a culture that is not his. Look at the following attacks that she raises.

Like beggars you take up white men 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 and amusements

Then she continues to ask her husband very sincere questions that need to be answered with a reasoned argument. Ocol needs to answer why he is turning to White men’s dances and musical instruments as if there are no such things among his own people.
Western education has made Ocol unable to return to his own people but rather he naturally continues his slavish imitation of the white man. The worst thing he learned from the missionaries was despise and hatred for his own tradition which makes him seek to destroy it.
What he doesn’t understand is that the destruction of this will not only make the building of the new village impossible, but also, in attempting to destroy them Ocol is destroying himself.


The Graceful Giraffe Cannot Become A Monkey

This section makes fun of the pain and efforts that African girls go through to straighten their hair. Lawino condemns the hair straightening and the wearing of handkerchiefs as dirty and calls the wearing of wigs as witchcraft. In the same section she describes traditional hairstyles and adornments of the body and the way in which young men are attracted by them.


Africans need to be aware of their identity. In this poem Lawino reacts to her husband’s complaint. She turns her husband’s complaint into a praise-song for herself and her people. She does so by showing that she is aware of her identity as a black African woman and proud of it. Just like all other women of other races are proud of theirs Lawino sees no need why she should abandon hers. She says;

My father comes from Payira,
My mother is a woman of Koc!
I am a true Acoli
I am not a half-caste
I am not a slave girl

This small part of the poem centres entirely on hairstyles alone. Lawino shows that all people were created naturally beautiful and should be proud of how they are. For Lawino there are no reasons for Africans to do their hair like white women because white women never wish to do theirs like Africans. She uses the images ostrich plumes, chicken feathers, crocodile skin, etc to show that every creature has a point of departure from other creatures. No one creature should ever try to change and become like any other. The same applies for people from different races.

Moreover, Lawino shows how Africans used to deal with different social and natural phenomena. Although it might seem as a kind of incantation, it helped to deal with unusual misfortunes. For example she says if a ring-worm has eaten the little girl’s hair, all they do is put hot porridge on the head, hold a dance, sing a song, and then the hair grows again. This traditional ritual is still relevant to some societies today.

Lawino shows an open protest against European culture that is invading African culture. She does all it takes to educate African women to love and care for what they have, believe in who they are, and what they want to do with their lives. She protests doing her hair like white women. She says;   
It is true
I cannot do my hair
As white women do

Lawino’s final words conclude her stand and protest against her husband’s suggestions when she declares:

The long-necked and graceful giraffe
Cannot become a monkey
Let no one
Uproot the pumpkin.

It is common in African set up for people to do certain practices when death has occurred, believing that it would help in purifying the homestead and clearing the bad luck brought by the death. While in some societies they shave their hair, in Acoli they leave their hair uncombed and remove all the beads and necklaces as a sign of mourning. So a woman who adorns herself in the middle of such a crisis is considered to be the killer and she just attends the funeral to congratulate herself.

Ocol stigmatises Lawino because of her traditional adornments. He claims that Acoli’s adornments are Old-fashioned and unhealthy. Due to this social stigma, Lawino wonders whether she is suffering from a “Don’t touch me disease”. She says

He says I soil his white shirt
If I touch him
My husband treats me
As if I am suffering from
The “Don’t touch me disease”

In this part again, Lawino goes back to Clementine and discusses how she does her hair as compared to the treatment befitting African hair. Tina likes doing her hair as white women, even so, her efforts fail and she ends up appearing like a strange creature. Describing her different looks, Lawino uses strong similes picturing how awkward Tina looks.

She resembles a chicken that has fallen into a pond
Her hair looks like the python’s discarded skin
It lies lifeless like sad and dying banana leaves
It remains untouched, yellowish, and greyish like the hair of a grey monkey.

All these are images of loss of identity because Tina is no longer identical as an African and she does not qualify to be a European. In fact she is living in limbo and in a complete dilemma.

In African traditional setting, many happenings are linked to witchcraft or superstitious beliefs. For example, the ghosts of the dead people are thought to have interactions with the living beings and can cause some things to happen in human life. Lawino for instance believes that the wigs that Tina puts on her head are the hair of some dead white women who died long ago and that alone qualifies her to be a wizard.  As one night the wig fell down, Lawino comments that it was the ghost of a dead woman that did the pull. She says;

One night the ghost of the dead woman
Pulled away her hair
From the head of the wizard

The fact is that Lawino portrays her ignorance about the wigs technology and overstates the matter as a way of showing her anger and discontent with Tina’s rivalry in her marriage.


The Mother Stone Has a Hollow Stomach

Lawino confesses her ignorance of the various kinds of cooking and the tastelessness of tinned and frozen foods. In the second half of the section she describes her mother’s house, the way in which it is organised for the storing and preparation of food and the ways in which food is eaten by her father’s family.


Traditionally it is believed that lightning and thunder are caused by a giant reddish-brown bird (Rain-Cock) that is almost identical with the domestic fowl. When it opens its wings, lightning flashes and thunder is caused when it strikes with its powerful bolt. The Acoli have this belief and they attribute it to the actions of electricity.

The electric fire kills people
They say
It is lightning
They say the Whiteman has trapped
And caught the Rain-Cock
And impresoned it
In a heavy steel house.

This is a portrayal of Lawino and the Acoli’s ignorance of the advancement in modern technology. Her description of the electric stove by linking it to local beliefs on one side and her ignorance of how to use it on the other side tell it all. She rejects the use of the electric stove simply because she has no idea how to use it but she attaches some empty and unfounded claims to justify her protest.
She gives complaints such as it is not proper to cook while standing and the fact that she is afraid of touching the deadly tongue of the Rain-Cock.

Lawino describes Ocol’s life as a perfect replica of Whites lifestyle. In traditional communities food stuffs are not refrigerated before they are cooked. Lawino asserts that White men stoves are good but for cooking white men foods which she describes as tasteless and bloodless meat killed years ago and left to rot, for boiling hairy chicken and for baking bread. They can also be suitable for warming up tinned beef, fish, frogs, snakes, peas, beans, etc.
In contrast Lawino describes the traditional African life by showing the relevance of different aspects of traditional life.

Food storage methods. She shows different containers suitable for storing African food stuffs for future use. They dry them up and store them in different containers like; pots, jars, earthen dishes, grass pocket etc.

Grinding grains. This is done by using the mother stone and her daughter.

-  Different types of firewood. She describes the kinds of firewood found in her mother’s kitchen and their suitability for use.

In traditional communities eating manners are strictly observed by all members of the family in respect to gender and age and the Acoli are no exception. Young boys have to sit cross-legged and the girls are required to sit carefully on one leg and only the father sits on a stool. The eating process itself is done by simply washing the hands and attacking the loaf from all sides. It should also be noted that when eating only the right hand is used even when someone is left handed.
Lawino wonders why she should sit on chairs - which she describes as trees - like monkeys. (Which afterall itn’t bad). She wonders why knives should be used in cutting the millet bread and eating using the left hand is considered to be bad manners and the one who eats using the left hand is considered to be rude.

Lawino shows an open cultural clash between the culture of her people and that of the Whites. She shows the differences that exist between Acoli’s culture and European culture in almost all walks of life and she finalizes by showing that the only way to end the supposed controversy is by retaining her culture. She says

I do not enjoy
white men’s foods
and how they eat
how could I know?
And why should I know?

The fact that Ocol abuses African foods by calling them primitive and backward does not move or shake her in any way. She continues to insist that African foods have made her strong enough to dance all night long and thus she gives her credit to it. To resolve this conflict she advises.

My husband
I do not complain
that you eat
White men’s foods
if you enjoy them
go ahead
shall we just agree
to have freedom
to eat what one likes?

This is to say Ocol should not dictate his wills upon others but should leave the chance to exercise their own freedom of choice.


There Is No Fixed Time For Breast Feeding

This section is about time. Lawino begins with the time of day and compares the western way of telling time by counting the hours with the traditional way of looking at the sun and telling from things that people usually do at that time of day. She confesses she cannot tell the time of the day in western way.
        In the middle of the section she says that Ocol accuses her for wasting time but she shows how Ocol’s determination not to waste time leads him into much more serious kinds of bad behaviour. He treats his visitors, her and his own children extremely rudely because he cannot spare time for them. She tells Ocol that it is the western way of dividing time up mathematically into hours and minutes that has made him behave in that way because he now thinks of time as something that can be used up and finished. Because of his concern to be punctual, Ocol is always in a hurry and is restless and unhappy.
            At the end of the section she talks about months, seasons and years. She compares the way in which Europeans divide years into months and seasons with the traditional Acoli names for seasons which come from the events which usually happen at that particular time of the year. She says she cannot understand the western ways of numbering years from the one event of the birth of Christ. 
            For the Acoli any important event which affected the whole clan community, like a big famine, can be linked with events that happened in the family at the same time. Every mother knows whether her son was born before or after the famine or the outbreak of the smallpox.


Another idea that Lawino evokes is the difference in time telling between the Acoli and White men. The western way of telling time is by splitting it into hours, minutes and seconds while the Acoli look at the position of the sun, and the cockcrow and each activity is associated with that time of the day as the sun gets hotter and hotter. Lawino say;

I must first look at the sun
The cock must crow
To remind me

Towards the end of the section she wonders why the Europeans divide time into months, seasons and years. She compares the way in which Europeans divide years into months and seasons with the traditional Acoli names for seasons which come from the events which usually happen at that particular time of the year. She says she cannot understand the western ways of numbering years from the one event of the birth of Christ. For the Acoli any important event which affected the whole clan community, like a big famine, can be linked with events that happened in the family at the same time. She says;

In the wisdom of the Acoli
Time is not stupidly split up
Into seconds and minutes

She goes on to ridicule western way of telling time by saying;

It does not flow
Like beer in a pot
That is sucked
Until it is finished.

Lawino introduces another aspect of African traditional beliefs which is witchcraft. There are cases of wizards who perform their witchcraft at night while others are asleep. She says;

No one moves at midnight
Except wizards covered in ashes
Dancing stark naked
Armed with disembowelled frogs
And dead lizards

Furthermore, Lawino explains the economic activities done by her people which also relate to the time of the day. She says for instance that when the sun has cooled off it is when trapping, hunting, fishing, carving wooden dishes, weaving and repairing the roofs of granaries take place. Other economic activities mentioned are farming and pastoralism.

Lawino raises another controversial issue which this time is not against the Whites as she’s been doing but she directs her attach towards some bad-mannered African ladies. While some daughters who have good manners help their mothers with the domestic chores and make their mothers proud, those who are bad-mannered are described as morally corrupt and loose. These are the ones who sleep with men even in the grass and never care about helping their mothers. Lawino points a finger at them when she says;

But if your daughter
Has no manners
If she is so loose
That men sleep with her
Even in the grass
Then if you are ill
You must go to the well
To draw water

The issue of punctuality and time management has been a great cause of family conflict in Ocol’s family. Ocol insists on punctuality and time management and prescribes the exact time he should have particular services, but more often than not he gets disappointed because Lawino does not know how to tell time in western ways using the modern clock. For Ocol time is money and the fact that Lawino wastes time it causes frequent family quarrels. She says

He quarrels
Because he says
I am not punctual

Another source of this family conflict is the fact that Ocol is so inconsiderate to a point that when his baby cries he terms it as a disturbance while to Lawino the cry of a baby is a sweeter music.

Ocol has alienated himself from his people although he is living in their midst. Lawino shows how Ocol’s determination not to waste time leads him into much more serious kinds of bad behaviour. He treats his visitors, her and his own children extremely rudely because he cannot spare time for them. She tells Ocol that it is the western way of dividing time up mathematically into hours and minutes that has made him behave in that way because he now thinks of time as something that can be used up and finished. Because of his concern to be punctual, Ocol is always in a hurry and is restless and unhappy. There is no wonder that Lawino describes this situation by saying that time has become Ocol’s master and husband. Lawino laments;

And when visitors have arrived
My husband’s face darkens
He never asks you in
And for greeting
He says
What can I do for you?

This is completely contrary to the African philosophy of “Ubuntu” which makes them never mind wasting a few minutes entertaining and chatting with visitors.

Lawino contrasts the two religious beliefs showing the significance of the traditional religion and the irrelevance of Western religion. She criticizes the Christians (Protestants and Catholics) who have appointed special days they call Sabbaths on which they shout meaninglessly as if they are suffering from headache. Then she shows how relevant the traditional religion of the Acoli is especially when dealing with misfortunes. She says;

When misfortune hits the
The clansmen gather
And offer sacrifice
To the ancestors

In this same way they deal with other calamities like drought or lack of rain. Although it may seem like it works for sometimes, it should be understood that these calamities are caused by global climatic changes and the rains come with seasons. So their practices cannot be scientifically proved to have helped them because they are just based on gullibility and blind faith.

Lawino introduces one of the serious taboos in their culture in as much as family planning is concerned. It is a serious taboo for a woman to turn her back to her husband a sign that can be translated as she is not ready to make love with him. This can only be permitted when the baby is toothless for it is believed that if the couples make love when the baby is still toothless, then it becomes sickly, thin, and the stomach swells as that of a pregnant woman.

Bride price though out-dated it was used to instil the spirit of responsibility among the African youths. Those who had their sisters became lazy since they took it for granted that when their sisters got married they would also get the bride wealth to pay for their future wives. Those who had no sisters on the other hand had to work hard and struggle to raise the bride price required to pay for their future wives. Lawino says;

Others go off to Pajule
To look for bride wealth
For if you have no sister
Then kill an elephant
You sell the teeth
And marry a wife.


I Am Ignorant Of the Good Word in the Clean Book

It is concerned with the way missionary teachers treated their African converts. Lawino uses the experience of her sister Erina and herself to try to show that she thinks the missionaries did wrong. She tells us that when the Protestants wanted to win converts they made Africans work like servants for them whilst they themselves did none of the work in their own houses and did not even share their food with the girls they wanted to convert.
             The description of the Catholic Evening Speakers’ Class illustrates the mistake they did in the classroom. The missionary teachers did not understand the big gap between their ideas and traditional way of thinking. They tried to impose their ideas on the pupils’ minds by rote-learning: the repetition by the pupils of the words and phrases they did not understand until they knew them by heart.
            Lawino compares this kind of missionary education with traditional Acoli education through the playing of games and singing of songs which were “relevant and meaningful”. Lawino thinks the Christian attitude to sexual desire is pointless and hypocritical. She illustrates this hypocrisy by the tale of the teacher who followed her to the dance and the padre who steals glances at girls’ breasts during confessions.
            She insists that it is unhealthy to separate young girls and young boys from one another. Her criticism of the meaningless names that the missionaries made their converts assume is similar to her criticism of the rote-learning in missionary teaching. 


-  This seems to be a central theme in this section. Lawino describes the kind of hypocrisy portrayed by the missionary teachers by telling us that when the Protestants wanted to win converts they made Africans (especially young girls) work like servants for them whilst they themselves did none of the work in their own houses and did not even share their food with the girls they wanted to convert. When it was the time for eating they sent them away to play games and the young girls had to gather wild sweet potatoes and eat them.
-  Another form of hypocrisy is portrayed by the priests who come to conduct the mass while drunk contrary to the Christian doctrine.
-  Lawino thinks the Christian attitude to sexual desire is pointless and hypocritical. She illustrates this hypocrisy by the tale of the teacher who followed her to the dance and the padres who are not allowed to marry but they steal glances at girls’ breasts during confessions. She insists that it is unhealthy to separate young girls and young boys from one another while the same priests start hunting for the girls. She says;

The teacher, still drunk
He too is coming
To hunt for girls.

Africans were mentally colonized when they accepted that their names are sinful, primitive and did not sound good. As a result they had to change their names and acquire Western names which were thought to be holy. Lawino criticises the meaningless names that the missionaries made their converts assume because the process of acquiring a new name was by itself so laborious and cumbersome. At the end, one was colonized both physically and mentally. Ocol himself was christened as Milchizedeck Gregory and insists to be called by his Christian name. He condemns African names saying;

Pagan names, he says
Belong to sinners
Who will burn
In the everlasting fires.

The protestant teachers and Catholic priests made the people work for them by telling them that it is the only way to acquire a Christian name. They made their converts work for them while they themselves did none of the works. The young girls had to draw water, grind millet and simsim, hoe their field, split firewood, cut grass for thatching and for starting fires. They had to smear their floors and harvest their crops. This is the highest level of exploitation that was wrapped by the trick of acquiring a Christian name.


From the mouth of which river?

Lawino continues with the criticism of the missionary teachers by failing to answer the questions she asks them. She also criticises the Christian doctrine of Creation and the Virgin Birth. She uses a long image of a potter moulding things with clay and asks a series of questions about the source of clay and how the potter can begin moulding things before the clay has been created.
Through this image she asks a very difficult question “who created the creator? At the end of the section she also briefly asks how the Virgin Birth could happen. Neither her teachers nor her husband Ocol even try to answer her questions and Lawino wonders if they really know the answers.


One of the methods used to introduce colonial mentality in the minds of Africans and soften their minds to accept colonialism without much opposition was religion. This has succeeded even now as most religious leaders tend to make their followers recite meaningless phrases they do not understand. Lawino shows that the teachers in the evening classes hated people who portrayed a picture of awareness and started questioning some of the church practices and beliefs that seemed controversial. Lawino is one of the victims who suffered from the hatred of the teachers because she asked questions that seemed to have no answers from both her husband and his missionary teachers (the padres and the nuns). She says;

But the teachers of religion
Hate questions

She wonders why these missionaries hate questions and thinks that maybe they to have no answers. She laments;

Whether they do it purposely
Whether they themselves
Have no answers
I do not know
But I know
They hate questions.

The religious leaders have become perfect replicas of their colonial predecessors. They shout meaningless phrases that their followers don’t even understand but they end up collecting gifts from the worshippers. They use the bible and religion as tools to legalise their exploitation by telling the worshippers,

Who sows a little
Will reap a little
Who sows much
Will reap much

Then to hide their really identity and their exploitative mission they quickly add;

It is not by force
The Hunchback thanks those
Who give with soft hearts.

This has made most religious leaders of the modern religious groups to get richer and richer while their followers get poorer and poorer.

In Catholicism those who ask questions regarding certain religious practices are termed as stubborn. For the same reason Lawino is in conflict with her husband, the padres and the nuns because she asks them questions they cannot answer. They just want her to follow and accept their faith without questioning just as they did without asking themselves those critical questions. Lawino suffers both intrapersonal conflicts and personal conflicts. In the former she suffers sleepless nights because the people who are supposed to answer the questions that trouble her mind have no answers and are not even willing to try. They just end up quarrelling with her as she says;

The teachers of
The evening Speakers Class
Hate questions
If you go to the padre
You provoke a fight.

The same happens when you go to the nun who becomes fierce like a wounded buffalo. They discourage her by saying that asking too many questions befits only Martin Luther and the stupid stubborn Protestants.

In this chapter we see another aspect of Ocol’s arrogance and hypocrisy. Lawino asks questions in a genuine mood of enquiry. She does not ask silly questions because the problem of who created the creator, the entire theory of creation and the mysteries of the virgin birth of Christ are problems which better educated people have found to be a barrier to Christian faith. So an educated Christian like Ocol ought to have considered them. His casual refusal to discuss them simply because Lawino is not educated is a lame excuse. If he were really interested in knowledge he would be willing to discuss these things but Lawino doesn’t think 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
Whose preoccupation
Is to boast in the market place. (p.90)

So Ocol is using his arrogance to claim the qualities that he actually doesn’t possess. He says that Acoli language is primitive and cannot express his deep wisdom and that he cannot discuss anything with uneducated person like Lawino but he needs another University educated man or woman. But the fact is, his education is worthless if he cannot answer the questions from uneducated person.

In Acoli it is possible for a girl to visit the man whom she is betrothed to in his bachelor’s hut so as to try his manhood before marriage. Lawino makes this point to contrast what she was taught about the virgin birth, that Mary did not know any man when she gave birth to Jesus while she was betrothed to Joseph. It doesn’t make sense to her, how this virgin birth took place. She says;

Among our people
When a girl has
Accepted a man’s proposal
She gives a token
And then she visits him
In his bachelor’s hut
To try his manhood (p.90)


The Last Safari to Pagak

Lawino tells us that Ocol totally condemns all Acoli medicines. She says that as with European medicines, some Acoli medicines work and some do not. She reports with unbelieving horror Ocol’s rudeness about her lack of hygiene in his house and the dirtiness of the medicine man’s cure. She compares her belief in certain kinds of spirits and in charms with Ocol’s belief in rosaries, angels and the power of prayer. Lawino confesses her ignorance of white man’s medicine and then gives an account of Acoli ways of dealing with disease and misfortunes in which she includes both medicine and religious practices. She ends the section by insisting that no medicine or religion has the power to save a man’s life when his time to die has come. 


We are given further examples of Ocol’s intolerance. Ocol despises his own relatives and wouldn’t let them into his house because he says they will make it dirty or give diseases to his children. (p.91) He portrays an open stigmatization and this is seen in the following lines;

He says
These diseases will be
Transmitted to the children.
He has warned me
That my father’s sister
Has lice in her hair
And jiggers in her feet
She should not visit me.

Ocol is partly haunted by the spirit of selfishness, one must admit. Although he gives many excuses why both his relatives and Lawino’s should not visit him, a careful examination reveals that he has inherited the selfishness of his missionary teachers. Africans have a long standing history of hospitality to both relatives and strangers. Ocol has betrayed the “Ubuntu” philosophy and he does not welcome visitors even when the weather does not permit them to leave. Lawino says;

And when the storm is threatening
He says
There are no beds
In his house
For villagers.

He claims that they will soil his bed sheets and ruin his nicely polished floor. He segregates his own mother and locks the door for her. He needs one to write him a letter before they pay a visit to his house. He even prohibits his children from visiting their grandmother. Only a selfish person can justify these practices and find them genuine.

Lawino goes back to her comparison and contrast between Christian faith as it is represented by Ocol against the Acoli traditional religion. Ocol condemns all traditional medicines although he admits that they are sometimes accidentally effective.
He condemns all the traditional beliefs because he is an educated man and a Christian. To him traditional religious beliefs are no more than foolish superstitions. (p.92) He wants to wipe away all the traditional religious beliefs so he prohibits Lawino never to visit the diviner priest.
For many years now since independence there has been a great deal of reassessment of the missionaries’ view of African traditional beliefs by African Christians. Many African Christians now see much that is of value in these beliefs.

- Lawino does not understand why Ocol prohibits her to wear the charms while he, himself wears the crucifix and his daughters wear rosaries.

- Lawino doesn’t understand why she should not pray to their ancestors while Ocol prays to the ancestors of White men like Joseph, Petero and Luka.

- She wonders why Ocol wants to cut the sacred tree – Okango while he kneels before the stone picture of Joseph.

All these claims make it difficult for Lawino to see the difference between Western religious beliefs and that of Africans and sees no reason whatsoever why Ocol should elevate the Western religion and treat it as superior to African beliefs.
Additionally, in traditional African setting when there are some sorts of misfortunes the sacrifice is done to the ancestors who are believed to be angry because they are hungry, thirsty and neglected. Meat, blood and beer are exchanged then the living people pray to the dead to cleanse the homestead and they pray;

The troubles in the homestead
Let the setting sun
Go down with them

By so doing they believe things resume to normal, but Ocol considers all these as paganism and superstition and accuses Lawino of mixing up matters of health with superstition.

Lawino is proud of African Indigenous education and what it has been able to do and contrasts it with western education. Traditionally one doesn’t need to have formal education to identify a sick child. It can easily be done by simply looking at his watering nose, the hair of the body stands up, his lips are parched, hearing the cry and the worms complaining from his stomach, if he has lost the appetite and he is aggressive but tired and weak. When his body temperature is high but he sits by the fire in the midday of the hot afternoon, all these must help one to know that the child is sick. All that is done is to try various Acoli herbs which cure different forms of diseases.
On the contrary she says that the western educated doctors must use the thermometer (the White man’s glass rod) and read the names of diseases in a book to determine the malady.

There are some cases of illness that in African context are believed to have been caused by someone who has says that when there is a persistent fever and some diseases befalling her child frequently then it is not for nothing there is someone working behind the scenes and causing the malady. All that is done is to call the divineran ill-intention. Lawino  priest who will divine and find out the killer or the jealousy woman who was behind it.
Such beliefs are very dangerous and ineffective as they may later lead to false speculations thus causing unnecessary conflicts among close relatives. They believe that even a close relative can visit a shadow trapper and capture the child’s shadow. (p.97)
Another aspect of superstition is described as death in the bundle. It is believed that when a woman has brought death in a bundle with which to kill people and it finds that the people it was supposed to kill are innocent it bounces back and destroys the bringer. It refuses all types of sacrifices and goes to kill the children, husband, relatives and finally the bringer herself. In this case no white man medicine can stop it.
Lawino shows a series of misfortunes which neither African medicine nor European medicine can be able to stop. She admits that;

It’s true
White man’s medicines are strong
But Acoli medicines are
Also strong.

She also makes another point that all these classes of medicine are only effective when someone’s time for dying has not yet come.

Some misfortunes are attributed either to fate or to curse. For example Lawino believes that some things like; snake bite, spear of the enemy, lightning, blunt buffalo horn, that may face one man when in a group of others all of them come by fate. She describes them as “bitter fruits grown on the tree of fate.” ( p.98)
On the other hand she believes that curse can also work to cause misfortunes to human lives. The following are examples of cases in which curse can perfectly be responsible;

  - If your uncle curses you, you piss in bed until you give him a white cock.

  - If your mother lifts her breasts towards you and asks, “Did you suck this?” or if your father lifts his penis towards you, know that you are in deep trouble.

It is a taboo to wrestle with your father or to look down on your mother.
It is a taboo to abuse your mother.

-  Even when your father mistreats you, you simply say, “Thank you” and never answer back.

A mother’s anger is bitter and it is believed to cause one lose his manhood and to recover it a got must be slaughtered then the mother and her brother must spit blessings  in your hand

That is the only way to regain the lost manhood. No medicine in the hospital can cure a mother’s curse, uncle’s or father’s.

Lawino raises a point worthy of consideration about the subject of death. She deals with the ultimate finality of humanity and shows different scenarios in which people may die regardless of whether there are European or African medicines. In some extreme cases both the two kinds of medicine fail dramatically.

It can be a strike by a black mamba
- It can be a battle arrow
It can be a lightning
It can be a wounded buffalo in a hunt

All these misfortunes have a root cause but when someone’s day has come, no African medicine, no European medicine, no crucifixes, no rosaries, no toes of edible rats, no horns of the rhinoceros can block the path. In a way she is trying to educate Ocol that he has nothing to brag about in European medicines and their advanced hospitals because there is one limitation that both Blacks and Whites face in common; - dealing with the ultimate finality of human beings. Both of them die when the last safari to Pagak has come.


The Buffalo Of Poverty Knock The People Down

         The section is about the effects of the new kind of politics which came to African countries just before independence. Ocol and his brother are local leaders of the two main political parties in Uganda (CP and DP) and Lawino attacks both of them because whilst they talk about peace and unity, they bring nothing but conflict and disunity even within the family.
         She begins by describing the strange activities of Ocol, his brother and their followers.  They are busy all day long, moving from one meeting to another where they shout foreign words which Lawino does not understand.  They wear strange clothes to show which political party they belong to and make violent and silly threats against each other. She says they are greedy for the power and wealth which you can get if you are willing to tell a lot of lies and the effect of this is to destroy those who are reluctant to cheat people.
      Next, she describes one of Ocol’s political speeches. Everybody goes to it to show off to others and not to listen to Ocol. She describes Ocol’s fawning behaviour in his attempt to please the listeners of his party and uses this to show that even within the parties the politicians are fighting each other.
      The biggest division brought by politicians is that between the new group of very rich and the rest of the people who are as poor as they were under the colonial government. Although the politicians say they are fighting poverty and ignorance they are making this gap larger than smaller.


Ocol says in his speeches that they want to bring national unity that will unite all the tribes of Uganda; the Acoli, Lango, Madi, Lugbara, Alur, Iteso, Baganda, and Bunyoro. They should be united together and live in peace. If you look very closely his political movements don’t really seem to be geared at bringing about unity, be it local or national. Most of his time as a politician is taken up with condemning other people. He says that the Congress Party is against all the Catholics and they want to steal people’s properties if elected (communism). He says

The congress party
Will remove all the 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
And all will become the property
of the congress people

Ocol’s brother who belongs to the Congress Party also condemns the Democratic Party that it belongs to the Padres, fools and block heads and they receive their orders from the Italian Fathers. He claims that the DP will sell the land to the poor White men who came to their country.

This political division confuses Lawino completely when she comes to think that the people who are talking about unity are the ones who are dividing the society further apart. She doesn’t see how the idea of unity will be achieved while the two parties have failed to join their parties with a common aim. Both are talking about bringing unity and independence but they are fighting separately with great enmity against each other as shown in these lines;

Ocol says
They want Uhuru
His brother says
They want uhuru and peace
Both of them say
They fight ignorance and disease (p.111)

It appears to Lawino that it is poverty that drives them into power and not unity and independence as they claim.

It is very common among politicians to say one thing and practice completely the opposite. Ocol’s political activities have brought destructive results on his own family as he hates his own brother who is in the Congress Party. Their former closeness and brotherhood have been replaced by enmity and struggle for power and political positions. He even accuses his brother that he wants to murder him. So Ocol and his brother are showing an open hypocrisy when they say they will unite all the tribes of Uganda while they have failed to unity their parties which seem to have a common mission.
Moreover, Ocol prohibits Lawino to talk to his brother whom according to their tradition, if Ocol dies, he has the right to inherit her as his wife. His hypocrisy if further shown by the way he condemns the white people and says that they should return to their home countries because they have brought slave conditions in the country and they usually tell lies.
Ocol forgets that his constant quarrels with his wife are caused by the way he praises white men ways of life and the way he despises his own. He is a hypocritical politician who doesn’t understand what he says or does. He has been mentally enslaved by the same white men, whom he praises and condemns at the same time. Like his white men, he too tells lies.

Lawino points out that in their tradition if a brother dies, then, the young brother has the right to inherit his brother’s properties including his wife and children. Lawino wonders why Ocol insults and prohibits her to talk and joke with a man who may one day become her husband when he dies. Lawino says;

But I know that if Ocol dies
His mother’s son, whom he now hates so much
Will inherit all Ocol’s properties
The goats, the chicken and the bicycles
And I will become his wife
And my children will become his children.


Intrapersonal conflict.
Lawino suffers from intrapersonal conflict because of several reasons;

- She wonders how Ocol and his brother will manage to bring unity and peace out of the insults they heap on each other.

- She doesn’t understand most of their political policies like Communism, and how these people will take properties from the people. She wonders that Ocol calls the white people poor and says they will buy the land from the Congress Party. It seems to her like a contradiction since a poor person cannot afford to buy the land.

Political conflict
Ocol and his brother belong to two different political parties Democratic Party and Congress Party respectively. Politics has destroyed the unity of the home and has brought misery to every member of it. Ocol’s political activities have only created new conflicts without settling the old ones. The main source of this conflict is the material benefit that might partially compensate for these new conflicts. In their political activities you will never think of the fact that they slept in the same womb. Ocol insults his brother in one meeting and his brother does the same in the other. Lawino fails to see the point how these two will succeed to unite the country while they themselves are not at peace. Their political conflicts seem to hold much promise to only few, those who are strong; Lawino says

If your chest
Is small, bony and weak
They push you off (p. 107)

Lawino believes it is the money and competition for position that drives the political leaders to hate one another and quarrel on the platforms.

Family conflicts.
Politics has brought a serious gap in Ocol’s family and has become one of the major sources of conflict in the family. Ocol and his brother are not in good terms as though they did not share the womb.

- Ocol does not enter his brother’s house.
- He hates his brother and calls him a liar and a fool

- He has sternly warned Lawino never to joke with him because the strong gum of the joke will reconnect the snapped string of brotherhood.

- He accuses his brother that he wants to kill him.
- Ocol’s brother also insults Ocol and his followers that they are fools.

So Lawino wonders whether this is what the unity, peace and Uhuru mean. This family quarrel confuses her so much that she says:

Others carry pieces of stones
On their necks
And call them heads.

This is one of the biggest divisions brought by the political activities which followed uhuru. The newly attained independence has ever since produced a class of rich people who got the political positions and enjoyed the favours that came with it and a class of poor people whose life has remained the same as in colonial time. Lawino shows this state of hopelessness among the members of the poor class;

And those who have fallen into things
Throw themselves into soft beds
But the hip bones of the voters
Grow painful, sleeping on the same earth
They slept before Uhuru (p. 110)

So the politicians are not doing anything to help their voters improve their standard of living but they are busy fighting one another.

Most of the political movements and the new independence have not yet been able to fulfil the independence promises. Instead of uniting the people together, the political activities have divided the people into hostile social strata to a point that one is treated in respect to the political party in which they belong to. Lawino says that those who are inside eat thick honey and ghee and butter while those in the countryside die with the smell. She says;

They re-eat the bones
That were thrown away
For the dogs

This further disappointment is reflected in the stanza that follows where she says that the class of those who have fallen into things throw themselves into comfortable beds while the poor voters sleep on the same floor they slept before Uhuru. What a great disappointment!

            Lawino discusses another behaviour common to politicians. They are professional traitors. When the colonial governments realised that they could not stop East African Countries from becoming independent, they began to give a small number of Africans an opportunity for higher education in Britain. They wanted to train people to understand the political system of the colonial government so that they would be able to replace the white men in that system. In that way the change in the time of independence would be very small because there would be no change in the way the country was organised except the change of flag and the change from white to black faces in the important political positions.
As soon as they get their political positions and the supposed benefits, they become rare in the public as she says “They hibernate and stay away and eat” (p.110). They usually return to the countryside for the next election. They are not concerned about solving the problems of their citizens since people are suffering from poverty, diseases, and ignorance. The leaders have betrayed the people because instead of fighting against these enemies they are fighting against one another. Lawino says;

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
The war leaders
Are tightly locked in bloody feuds
Eating each other’s liver

Lawino sees that if they had fought poverty, ignorance and disease the way they fight each other, these enemies would have been greatly reduced by now.

In most African countries that is what happened when independence came. The people who had been educated in Britain (like Ocol) became owners of large farms or directors of marketing boards or ministers in government. They kept the same colonial system that paid them well while exploited the poor peasants and workers. That’s why the poet says;

And those who have
Fallen into things
Throw themselves into soft beds
But the hip bones of the voters
Grow painful
Sleeping On the same earth
They slept
Before Uhuru.

            The buffalo of poverty continues to knock the people down; the python of sickness continues to swallow the children and the elephant of ignorance stands there just as it was before independence.


My Husband’s House Is a Dark Forest of Books

In this section Lawino finishes her argument against Ocol by summarising what has happened to him to make him behave so badly to her and to his own people. In all the books he has read he has learnt only to blindly do what the Whiteman thinks is right like a dog obeying his master. Because he is now like a dog or a woman trying to please her husband and he has lost his own manly qualities and therefore at the same time lost Lawino’s respect.


In most cases the poem shows the negative effects colonial education has had on its African recipients. This idea is the most important in the whole of Song of Lawino and in fact Song of Ocol. Ocol was trained for the leadership of an African nation by the missionaries. In fact they made him completely unfit to lead the nation. He has read many books but the books have not helped him. Instead he has;

lost his head
in the forest of books (p.113)

They took him away from the Acoli dances where he could have learned the African answers to the “fundamental questions” to the classroom where he only learnt to repeat words and phrases he didn’t understand. Ocol and other educated Africans were greatly affected by the kind of education they received and alienated them from their people. Lawino says:

For all our young men
Were finished in the forest
Their manhood was finished
In the class-rooms
Their testicles
Were smashed
With large books!

Here Lawino is mocking all those Ocols who are carrying the habit of slavish imitation of the white men that they learnt in the Mission School into every sphere of their lives in the new nations of Africa.

The missionaries took Ocol away from the ways of his own people into the foreign forest of books in which he was lost. For the generation that will replace Ocol and his friends as leaders of Africa Okot’s message is very clear: to keep their self-respect and the respect of those they will lead. They must treat these people with the dignity (politely and respectfully) traditionally due to them and try and learn from them the way in which Africa should be rebuilt. Although Lawino uses a strong language when addressing the situation of her husband, needless to say that is perfectly what Ocol has become.  He still has the roles of a husband as the head of a household but he is no longer able to perform them. Lawino says;

You may not feel so
But you behave like
a dog of the white man!
A good dog pleases its master!

Lawino sympathises with Ocol because both his father and grandfather were respected members of the community but they have left the ashes behind.

Lawino shows a sense of pity to Ocol because the Whiteman is his ultimate master, acting on him through his continuing cultural and economic influences. He obeys his master’s call and is pleased only by things that belong to his master thus he has lost his identity and he lives on borrowed things including his ideas because he owns nothing. She says;

Aaa! A certain man
Has no millet field
He lives on borrowed foods
He borrows the clothes he wears
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.(p.116)


Let Them Prepare the Malakwang Dish
In this chapter Lawino shows that there are still some hopes for Ocol. Ocol only needs treatments to rid him of this disease. To win Ocol back he must first accept traditional medicine for all his ailments. First Lawino recommends physical remedies since Ocol’s throat is blocked by the shame that has been chocking him for so long. It must be cleaned out by traditional foods and herbs. His ears are blocked by the things he has heard from the priests 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 he has done all that, he must go humbly back to the elders and his mother to get the blessings of his dead ancestors. When he has done that she is sure he will want her and their relationship will come alive again.


The worst thing Ocol learned from the missionaries was despising and hatred for his own tradition which makes him seek to destroy it. What he doesn’t understand is that the destruction of this will not only make the building of the new village impossible, but also, in attempting to destroy them Ocol is destroying himself.
Ocol’s biggest mistake is the way in which he failed to realize how much he depended on his cultural roots. When he thought Acoli culture was shallow he was wrong. Lawino tells us that its “roots reach deeper into the soil” in trying to destroy that culture through his attack to Lawino, his own religious tradition and his family, he nearly destroyed himself.

 When you took the axe
And threatened to cut the Okango
That grows on the ancestral shrine
You were threatening
To cut yourself loose
To be tossed by the winds
This way and that way

Lawino tries to conscietise Ocol to come back to his senses an see how terribly European culture has affected him.

For the real cure, Ocol needs to beg the forgiveness of all those he insulted but he must also seek the blessings of the elders and beg forgiveness from the ancestors because Lawino says;

When you insulted me
I was a mere village girl
You were insulting your grandfathers
And grandmothers. (p.119)

If he does all the things as directed he will become a man again and the ancestors will help him recover.

Lawino’s final concern is her family situation. She wants the life to go back to normal in the household again so that they may live united. She is okay with Clementine to stay but she suggests some adjustments that must be done to her as well,

 Buy clothes for the woman
With whom I share you
Buy beads for her, and
And shoes and necklaces and
Ear-rings! (p.120)

Lawino is sure that things will come to normal if Ocol’s ears are unblocked and he will hear the beauty of her singing. When his blindness is cured he will see and appreciate her dancing. Thus she suggests;

Let me dance before you
My love
Let me show you
The wealth in your house. (p. 120)


The language used is very simple and inevitably easy to understand. The poet has used a lot of literary devices translated from the original Acoli language and they give the poem a sense of Africanness and freshness. Throughout the poem Lawino seems to have the tone of nostalgia when she remembers the good time they had before Ocol lost his head in the dark forest of books. However, there is a considerable variation in tone across the sections to address a specific issue in question. The following are some of the literary devices used to colour the work and carry the poet’s message across;


ü  Some stand there tall and huge like the tido tree. (p.113)
ü  You behave like a dog of the white man. (p.115)
ü  His name still blows like a horn. (p.116)
ü  Dancing silently like wizards. (p.47)
ü  Your sick stomach that has swollen up like that of a pregnant goat. (p.50)
ü  A white woman’s hair is soft like silk. (p.51)
ü  Lurking in the shades like the leopardess with cubs. (p.53)
ü  He hisses like a wounded ororo snake. (p.54)
ü  Hot and steaming like the urine of the elephant. (p.55)
ü  The head of the beautiful one smells like rats. (p.55)
ü  The thing roars like a male lion. (p.57)
ü  It tastes like earth. (p.58)
ü  The stoves are flat like the face of a drum. (p.59)
ü  They are like pawpaw. (p.60)
ü  They burn like paper. (p.60)
ü  The smoke it produces is like a spear. (p.60)
ü  Three mounds of clay shaped like youthful breasts full of milk. (p.61)
ü  Ocol storms like a buffalo. (p.67)
ü  His eyes were like rotting tomatoes. (p.76)
ü  His hair resembled the elephant grass. (p78)
ü  And his cheeks were rough like the tongue of the ox. (p.78)
ü  My name blew like a horn among the payira (p.48)

ü  The reading has killed my man. (p.113)
ü  The stench from the latrine knocks you down, from afar. (p.46)
ü  All the tribes of human dung. (p.46)
ü  And the different smells wrestle with one another. (p.55)
ü  (The hair) it cries aloud in a sharp pan as it is pulled and stretched. (p.54)
ü  My stomach rebels and throws its contents out. (p.57)
ü  The winds go off to visit their mothers-in-law. (p.57)
ü  And the stove has many eyes. (p.58)
ü  The mother stone has a hollow stomach, a strange woman she never gets pregnant. (p.59)
ü  Even if the world has boxed him. (p.99)
ü  And her daughter sitting in her belly. (p.59)
ü  You hear the song of stones.
You hear the song of the grains. (p.60)
ü  (The clock) Its large single testicle dangles below. (p.63)
ü  A hunger begins to bite people’s tummies. (71)
ü  (The moon) it elopes, climbs the hill and falls down. (p.70)
ü  The heads of the young men reject the pillows and prefer the arms of their lovers. (p.80)
ü  When all the diseases have fallen in love with him. (p.96)
ü  When mother death comes she whispers come. (p.102)
ü  When death comes to fetch you, she comes unannounced. (p.102)
ü  Her ripe breasts lift up their hands. (p.97)

ü  My husband has become a woman. (p.116)
ü  I am a mere dog, a puppy. (p.49)
ü  The time has become my husband’s master. (p.68)
ü  It is my husband’s husband. (p.68)
ü  Buffaloes of poverty. (p.111)
ü  The pythons of sickness. (p.111)

ü  My husband’s tongue is bitter like the roots of the lyonno lily. (p.35)
ü  It is hot like the penis of the bee. (p.35)
ü  My head he says is as big as that of an elephant but it is only bones there is no brain in it. (p.36)

ü  A lazy youth is rebuked,
A lazy girl is slapped
A lazy wife is beaten
A lazy man is laughed at (p.69)

ü   …even if your father is totally blind
Even if his ears are dead
Even if the world has boxed him
Even if his legs are dry like firewood (99)

ü  You do not resist
You must not resist
You cannot resist (p.102)

ü  I know their names and their leaves and seeds and barks. (p.60)
ü  Lunch-time, tea-time and supper time (p.64)

ü  The wild white lilies.  (p.53)
ü  Women weeding or harvesting.(p.64)
ü  The sister stone (p. 60)
ü  It goes tock-tock-tock-tock. (p.63)
ü  The cock must crow. (p.64)
ü  It makes no crackling sound (p. 58)

Rhetorical questions
ü  Didn’t the Acoli have adornments?
Didn’t black people have their ways?
Is lawala not a game?
Is cooro not a game? (p.49)
ü  Who ever cooked standing up? (p.58)
ü  Where is the peace of uhuru? Where the unity of independence?
ü  Must it not begin at home? (p.107)

ü  The wild white lilies are shouting silently (p.53)
Ocol calls himself “A modern man, progressive and civilized” but his life proves the opposite.
ü  When a young girl has seen the moon for the first time (p.70)
It is a sign
that the garden is ready
for sowing
and when the gardener comes
carrying two bags of live seeds
and a good strong hoe
the rich soil
swells with a new life.
(She describes the act of making love euphemistically)
And the spears
Of the lone hunters,
The trusted right-hand spears
Of young bulls
Rust in the dewy cold (p.80)

ü  Slowly slowly (p.117)

Sayings and proverbs
ü  Let no one uproot the pumpkin. (p.56)
ü  Who has ever prevented the cattle from the salt link? (p.79)
ü  The last safari to Pagak. (p.91) Pagak is the place of no return or death’s homestead.
ü  He behaves like a hen that eats its own eggs. (p.35)

ü  You cannot wield the shield. (p.50)
ü  Women weeding or harvesting.(p.64)
ü  Sowing, weeding, harvesting. (p.71)

The Pumpkin represents African (Acoli) culture which cannot be easily destroyed by Ocoli and his fellow educated elites.
ü  The graceful giraffe = black people
ü  The monkey = white people
ü  When a young girl has seen the moon for the first time (p.70)
It is a sign
that the garden is ready
for sowing
and when the gardener comes
carrying two bags of live seeds
and a good strong hoe
the rich soil
swells with a new life.
ü  The garden represents the womb.
ü  Sowing means conceiving.
ü  Gardener represents a male partner.
ü  Two bags of live seeds represent the testicles carrying sperms.
ü  A good strong hoe represents an erected and functioning penis.
ü  The rich soil means the womb.
ü  Swells with a new life means becomes pregnant.

ü  And the young men sleep alone cold like knives without handles (p.80)
And the spears
Of the lone hunters, (p.80)

The spears represent the penis of young boys.

The most important influence Acoli songs have had on Song of Lawino is in the imagery Okot uses. Okot has completely avoided the stock of common images in English literature through his familiarity with the stock of common images in Acoli literature. This gives the poem a feeling of freshness for every reader and a sense of Africanness for African readers. These images are found in the songs that are set out as quotations in the poem. These are found in pages 60; 62; 66-67; 76-78; 98; 101; 115; and 120. For example;
Odure come out
From the kitchen
Fire from the stve
Will burn your penis!
Odure is a nickname for small boys who are fond of sitting in the house when his mother is cooking. It is derived from a small boy of that name whose penis was burnt by fire from the stove.

There are various visual, audio, thermal, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, kinetic and organic images used throughout the poem.