Paper Title
Offoh Basil
Arts, Language, and Communication

The late iconic Ugandan poet and philosopher, Okot P’ Bitek, is generally regarded by many modern African literary critics and scholars as the pioneer poet of the Metaphysical tradition in East African poetry. Okot P’ Bitek (1974) expressed a strong affirmation of literary faith in literature as existing ‘first and foremost to be enjoyed’. This is the spring source of his voyage of definite influence into the Metaphysical tradition. He had, thus, arrived at an end and a destination in the business of poesy which every lover of poetry, in particular, and Art, in general, has, in one way or the other, in practice and in principle, come to accept unconditionally as his or her artistic destiny. This is the fundamental explanation one can give for the cesspool of hypnotic imagery that P’ Bitek turned his ‘Songs’ particularly the ‘Song of Lawino’ into. This paper is, therefore, primarily aimed at providing the general reader with another evergreen opportunity to enjoy the variegated buffet of artistic honey distilled from the nectar of Okot P’ Bitek’s uncommon search for intensity and association in the ‘Song of Lawino’. Any reader of this poem tries to appreciate the transfiguration and transplantation of words the writer uses for maximum artistic and utilitarian effect. The reader is equally being treated to a study in the creation of imagery for fundamentally satiric intent. These are what the present researcher tries to expose and therein lies the significance of this paper. ‘’Song of Lawino’’ has become an immortal piece even when many literary critics have placed a very hypothetical verdict of thematic cliché on its content.

Culture-conflict, Feminism, Imagery, Satiric Metaphor and Paradox


Many critics of Modern East African Poetry in English have placed more emphasis on the form of East African poetry as a whole than on its overwhelming culture-conflict content and which emphasis has helped the literary globe to keep the artistic light of that poetry alive as it is constantly powered by breath-taking imagery. R.N. Egudu (1992) captured this unique creative mood of East African Poetry as follows: East African Poetry in general delights and pleases the readers not so much because it has any extra-ordinary ideas to communicate as because of the strange kind of novelty it creates.

‘’Song of Lawino’’, a remarkably long poem of about five thousand lines and originally written in Acholi language before it was translated to English, is a blossoming example of such East African poetry which flourishes in this creation of a ‘strange kind of novelty’  through concentrated breath-taking imagery. It was P’ Bitek’s premiere poem or ‘song’ as he preferred to call it. In this ‘Song’, P’ Bitek succeeds in carving a lasting path for African Cultural renaissance. Lawino chastises Ocol in sardonic tone full of imagery with strong foundation in Acholi traditional folklore. At times, the imagery in the ‘Song’ emerges from the novel and strange interlocking of simile and symbolism. For instance, when Lawino likens the powder on the face of the woman with whom she shares her husband (Clementina) to ‘’ash dirt’’, she condemns Clementina to dust which is the seminal symbolic representation of inevitable mortality. Lawino diminishes Ocol’s disdain of her ‘timid’ cosmological existence with counterbalancing gripping imagery which ultimately affirms the prognosis of many literary critics that East African Poetry is more of an affair of aesthetics, form and style than of content and message. Even though the reader appreciates Lawino, Clementine and Ocol as the remnants of colonialism in Africa, the imagistic dramatization of their unique tragedies in ‘’Song of Lawino’’ makes a timeless point on the bold emphasis on language and style in East African Poetry.


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