REFLECTIONs ON SONG OF LAWINO AND ECHOES OF LAWINO
BY: ZZIWA ZINABALA
I was recalling Tess of the d’Urbervilles, a very subtle novel by Thomas Hardy that was adapted for screenplay by BBC. I would not wish to dwell so much into the adaptation of the white man’s classical books into film or theatre. I would much wish to run into something that is Ugandan for us to understand – Song of Lawino. We all have gotten an opportunity to know about this powerful long poem. Some have had to study it in different literature classes. This, in my opinion, is a stepping-stone to the future of Ugandan art.
Many times, people have failed to understand what Ugandan art is. Perhaps, some say we are losing our beautiful art to the replication of Nigerian style and American standards and forget to bring out the Ugandan-ness in the content. However, when you read the entire song of Lawino, you will realize that Okot indirectly prophesized this whole series of lost voices. When you engulf your head in his content, he labors to satirize a character of a husband who went to study and came back well-read and decided to leave Lawino a village beauty, and settled with a plastic woman. He [Okot] believes that Ugandans are forgetting to be Ugandans and focusing more on something that is not them. He stirs his long series into a tribe in North of Uganda called the Acholi [sic]. Through his invented style, he mines gold from the then most prolific publishers of our time that were into the African Writers Series (AWS) – the Heinemann. Okot decided to tell a story that we debate about until then – an immortal concept and theory that a writer never dies but passes on and breathes through the pages of his/her content.
Different scholars have tried translating this beautiful piece of art including a Luganda version that was written by Abas Kiyimba. A professor of literature at Makerere University. Forecasting more popular debates, Abas believed that the original version of Song of Lawino which was “Wer pa Lawino” is the real juice and holds the discipline and secrets of the Acholi [sic] people. The rest of the versions do not display the real discipline of the art that Okot was writing. Besides his writing, Okot actively engaged in the politics of his time, leading to his exile – he loathed the system of Apollo Milton Obote. He satirized and debated their thieving behavior leading to his exile. No one should lie to another that the reason that led to Okot’s exile was Song of Lawino it is a naked lie. In the same manner, his nemesis of UPC, Apollo Milton Obote was initially a lover of literature and it allegedly believed that he adopted the name Milton was due to his love for the British poet, John Milton. So possibly, Obote was a literature genius lost in power and under the spell of hubris syndrome.
The story of Song of Lawino aligned with the conflict between African-ness and the onset of Westernization. This is through different loud monologues of Lawino about her husband and his new wife Clementine. In this very manner, the cast of Echoes of Lawino decided to offer us a theatrical experience that will reflect or symbolize the struggle between particular Africans that are steadfast in preserving their cultures against those that ape or mimic the Westernization of things including language, books, clothes et al.
In this review, I will be reflecting upon Clementine and Lawino. Clementine in this contemporary world of Uganda is Destiny Chiaga alias Midnight Owl. She is a spoken word poetess, who was second runner at the East African Poetry Battle in 2022. Midnight Owl is basically one of the best poetesses in Uganda. In my books, she is the best current poetess in Uganda. Why choose Midnight Owl for this role of Clementine? I was reading her poem “Bleeding Ink” a poem about how words are weapons and there is a silent hunt for different writers, persecution, and gurgling of speech. Definitely, she is the ideal woman to whom Ocol would understand better. For Ocol is a lover of books and reads passionately to understand the world in the spectacle of 3D print.
In the Lamentation of Lawino, Abas translates “Ennyumba ya Baze Yafuuka Gubirabira gwa Bitabo”. This chapter navigates the journey of how Ocol decided to keep books and shelve all the important ones, thus making him marry a woman like Clementine to whom modernity shines. Clementine is a replica of emancipation in this very book albeit with the signing of gender rights in 1995 and the establishment of UN Women, Okot must have prophesized that soon an African woman will be devalued to cosmetics and paint on their lips whilst others try to bleach skins and look white. As Lawino cries out aloud, she wishes to have her traditional husband back – not the one in many books.
In a nutshell, as we wait for the lost Ugandan voice and art. Come support the young creatives trying to rebuild meaning to our art. Let us not forget that this is our art and we need to support it. Build it and love it. Otherwise, the producer of this play confided in me that, there will be music and cultural disciplines by the Okere City storytellers. As we celebrate Okot for being our father in poetry, let us go out in big numbers and watch this show that is to run from 9th June to 11th June, next month – for a tax of Ugx.30,000.