By Kitaka Wa Kavalu
Okot p’Bitek is a name that rings a bell, not just in Uganda, East Africa, or Africa but also on the literary globe. His contribution to African literature is unquestionably one of the most awe-inspiring, especially in oral story-telling and traditional poetry forms.
P’Bitek was born on June 7th, 1931, and died on July 20th, 1982 shortly after starting a tenured professorship at Makerere University. He is one of the most popular and celebrated African creative writers and stands the test of time for his epic poem, Song of Lawino which he first wrote in his local Acholi language and then translated into English. Published in 1966, Song of Lawino is an African woman’s lamentations over the cultural death of his husband. Four years later in 1970, Okot wrote Song of Ocol which was the educated and Westernized husband’s response to his rural and ignorant African wife.
To the students of Literature, Okot p’Bitek is one of the creative writers and poets whose poetic sketches are studied as text. It is not rare to find students walking about college compounds with their heads held up reciting the poetic verses from his collection, and envisioning their lives in the future as poets inspired by him.
When you enter the Uganda National Theatre, on the second floor, there is the Green Room. Up above the wall hangs Okot’s portrait, among others who are iconic cultural leaders in Uganda. Okot was actually the first African director of the Uganda National Theatre. I won’t lie, it’s a mixed feeling of fear and excitement directing a play based on a book whose writer directed stage plays and managed the same space.
From the 09th to the 11th of June 2023, Okot p’Bitek returns to the National Theatre in a musical theatrical production called “Echoes of Lawino”. One wonders why it is called “Echoes of Lawino”. Well, we believe Okot p’Bitek’s “Song of Lawino” never really disappeared. This song still rings a bell in millions and thousands of ears. This song is whispered by birds. It is told by trees from one branch to another, from one leaf to another. It is a song for every conscious and concerned African man and woman. The return of “Song of Lawino” is an echo back into our ears. The song is back to remind us of the story of the people on the continent of Africa; of Africa’s fast degenerating culture and what we can do about it.
The Play, “Echoes of Lawino” is an adaption from Song of Lawino. It is written by Kitaka Alex and Ojok Okello. The play is a production by Okere City. It is directed by Kitaka Alex, a practicing theatre director, poet, and actor. It is a three-(wo)man act with casts including Sharon Atuhaire Achiro acting as Lawino; Gladys Chaiga Destiny acting as Clementine, and Ojok Okello acting as Ocol.