The Resurrecting Writers Series: Song of Lawino & Song of Ocol

image Taking the book solely at face value, Song of Lawino & Song of Ocol are verses concerned with the disintegration of the marriage of Lawino, a rural African (Acoli) woman and Ocol, her western-educated husband. However, peeling back the cover of the words even a tiny bit reveals a woman committed to her indigenous culture versus a man who thinks that her culture needs to be removed from the face of the earth. How could two such people co-exist in the same household? How could two such differing ideologies co-exist on the same planet? According to Ocol, not at all. His song is full of imagery that calls death upon the culture Lawino praises in her song.

We will smash

The taboos

One by one,

Explode the basis

Of every superstition,

We will uproot

Every sacred tree

And demolish every ancestral


In Ocol’s song, the thing that is so striking about this book – the use of indigenous Acoli symbols to present a woman solidly rooted in her culture – gets turned on its head. Every thing African becomes associated with death, decay and other imagery meant be extremely negative. However, that is not the case with Lawino. Unlike she does not hate foreign customs. They are simply not hers.

I do not understand

The ways of foreigners

But I do not despise their


Of course if things were as simple as that, there would be no need for Lawino to sing her song. For instance, I agree with Ocol’s installing of an electric stove in their house. . Lawino doesn’t know how to use it and is, in fact, scared of it.

I am terribly afraid

Of the electric stove,

And I do not like using it

Because you stand up

When you cook.

Who ever cooked standing up?

And the stove

Has many eyes

I do not know

Which eye to prick

So that the stove

May vomit fire

And I cannot tell

Which eye to prick

So that fire is vomited

In one and not in another plate.

Instead of patiently teaching Lawino the benefits of the stove and how to properly use it, Ocol rails against her. He considers her lack of knowledge one more African deficiency he wants to divorce himself from. His attitude is revealing especially because he later becomes a leader of his country’s independence struggle for Uhuru (freedom). As Lawino tells it, Ocol says

White men must return

To their own homes,

Because they have brought

Slave conditions in the country.

He says

White people tell lies

That they are good

At telling lies

Like men wooing women

Ocol says

They reject the famine relief


And the forced-labour system.

After revealing this, Lawino goes on to question an Uhuru where her husband can’t even get along with his brother.

When my husband

Opens a quarrel

With his brother

I am frightened!

You would think

They have not slept

In the same womb,

You would think

They have not shared

The same breasts!

And they say

When the two were boys

Looking after the goats

They were as close to each other

As the eye and the nose,

They were like twins

And they shared everything

Even a single white ant.

Even more astute however, is her statement describing the period of “independence”.

Independence falls like a bull


And the hunters

Rush to it with drawn knives,

Sharp shining knives

For carving the carcass.

And if your chest

Is small, bony and weak

They push you off,

And if your knife is blunt

You get the dung on your


You come home empty-handed

And the dogs bark at you!

In raising questions that center around the concept of post-colonial independence and how such an entity impacts on the consciousness of Africans who have been educated outside of africa as well as rural Africans who have never left the continent, the Song of Lawino & the Song of Ocol ranks up there with Ama Ata Aidoo’s Sister Killjoy. Both Sissie and Lawino were asking the same questions. The current state of the continent provides the answer.

~ by Tichaona Chinyelu on March 18, 2011.

2 Responses to “The Resurrecting Writers Series: Song of Lawino & Song of Ocol”

  1. Thanks for a great review. I had not heard of this book before. Thanks for joining the Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge and reviewing this book.

  2. […] The Resurrecting Writers Series: Song of Lawino & Song of Ocol ( […]

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