Okot p'Bitek p'Bitek, Okot (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism) - Essay

Principal Works

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Lak Tar Miyo Kinyero Wi Lobo? [White Teeth] (novel) 1953

Song of Lawino: A Lament (prose poem) 1966

African Religion in Western Scholarship (nonfiction) 1970

Song of Ocol (prose poem) 1970

Religion of the Central Luo (nonfiction) 1971

Song of Prisoner (prose poem) 1971

Two Songs: Song of Prisoner and Song of Malaya (prose poems) 1971

Song of Lawino & Song of Ocol (prose poems) 1972

Africa's Cultural Revolution (essays) 1973

The Horn of My Love [translator] (folk songs) 1974

Hare and Hornbill [translator] (folktales) 1978

Acholi Proverbs [translator] (nonfiction) 1985

Artist, the Ruler: Essays on Art, Culture, and Values (essays) 1986

G. A. Heron (essay date 1984)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Heron, G. A. “Introduction.” In Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol, by Okot p'Bitek, pp. 1-33. London and Ibadan: Heinemann, 1984.

[In the following introduction to p'Bitek's Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol, Heron discusses the effects of translation on p'Bitek's poetry as well as details of the poems themselves.]

African writers who choose to use English or French set themselves certain problems. They wish to express African ideas, but they have chosen a non-African tool to express them. There is a grave danger that with the tool of language they will borrow other foreign things. Every language has its own stock of common images expressing a certain people's way of looking at things. Every language has its own set of literary forms which limit a writer's manner of expression. How many of these tools can a writer borrow before his African ideas are affected by the influence of foreign ideas implied in them?

The first few African writers in colonial countries were not concerned with this problem. They simply imitated and praised their conquerors.1 But this group was small, short-lived and insignificant. Ever since the idea of ‘negritude’ emerged in the 1940s among French-speaking writers2 most African writers have been conscious of the dangers. They have tried in various ways to mould European languages and forms so that they could express African ideas. The ‘negritude’ writers based their poems on images taken from African traditions. Chinua Achebe, one of the earliest successful English speaking writers, uses the European novel form, but he is very careful to create an ‘Africanised’ English for the dialogue of his characters.3

Despite these efforts, many European influences are present in African writing and in the criticism of African writing. Sadly, the written literature of the African nations has been clearly separated in many people's minds from the oral literary heritage that is present in every African community. Comparisons have more often been made between African poems and European poems than between African poems and traditional songs. Fortunately this emphasis is now changing.

Okot p'Bitek compels us to make comparisons between his poems and traditional songs. The title ‘Song of …’ that he has given to all his poems suggests the comparison. He used many features borrowed from traditional songs in the writing of Song of Lawino. Partly because of the familiarity of these features to all Africans, Song of Lawino has become one of the most successful African literary works. Some African writers have been read mainly by a small well-educated elite. Okot succeeded in reaching many people who rarely show an interest in written literature, while still winning praise from the elite for his poems.

This success seems remarkable if we consider the fact that some publishers rejected this poem only a few years before this achievement. These rejections probably came mainly from the publishers' familiarity with European rather than African forms of literature. But the idea of a long poem is now a rather strange one in either tradition. Few poets use long poems now. Again Song of Lawino does not fit into any Western model for a long poem. It is not an epic poem, it is not a narrative poem, it is not the private meditations of the poet. This written ‘Song’ form was born in Uganda while Okot was writing Song of Lawino.

If there was now only one ‘Song’, we could perhaps discount this originality of form as an insignificant accident. Okot, however, continued to write even longer poems. Song of Ocol, Song of Prisoner and Song of Malaya are all in similar form to Song of Lawino. In addition, two other writers were sufficiently impressed by Song of Lawino to write their own ‘Songs’. Joseph Buruga in The Abandoned Hut is strongly influenced by Okot, and Okello Oculi in Orphan and Malak is experimenting in different ways to use long poems in English in an African way to express African emotions and problems. It is interesting to look further at these ‘Songs’ to see why they have made an impact.

An equally important reason for the success of these poems is the controversial issues that they raise. In some circles in East Africa, the words Lawino and Ocol have become common nouns. You will hear the ‘Ocols’ or the ‘Lawinos’ of Africa praised or condemned in many arguments. The two characters have become prototypes of two opposing approaches to the cultural future of Africa. You will have your own opinions in this debate and after you have enjoyed these poems you will be able to make up your own mind about the relevance of Okot's contribution to it. This introduction contains a short biography of the writer and a consideration of the influence of Acoli songs on Song of Lawino. Then I discuss some details of the form and imagery of the two poems. Finally I try to suggest some issues raised by the poems which may be discussed.


Okot wrote the Acoli version of Song of Lawino in a period in his life when he was daily concerned with Acoli traditional songs, both in his research and in his activities in connection with the Gulu Festival. In his work for the Festival, he co-operated very closely with a large group of friends. These are some of the people whose help he acknowledged on the title pages of Song of Lawino. Naturally when Okot was writing his poem he also worked together with these friends. He read new versions of each chapter of the poem to these people as soon as they were completed, and their comments were taken into account if the chapter needed rewriting. Thus even its method of composition is similar to that of traditional songs. A group of singers work together and continuously alter the songs as they perform them.

Other elements link the poem to traditional songs. In most parts of the poem, Lawino addresses herself to someone, for example: ‘Husband’ (p. 34), ‘my clansmen’ (p. 35), ‘Brother’ (p. 37). This form of address is a rhetorical device taken straight from Acoli oral literature. Another feature used a lot in Wer pa Lawino and sometimes also occurring in the translation is the use of a repeated phrase as a refrain, emphasising an important idea. There is a good example of this in Chapter 3:

Timme ducu lutimme Munu-Munu
Ping'o lewic pe mako Munu,
Lukwako dako atyer, calo Munu
Luting'o pong' kor, calo Munu
Wumato taa cigara, calo Munu,
Wa mon, wa co calo Munu;
Wunato lem-wu calo Munu,
Wunato dog-wu calo Munu,
Wunango laa dogwu calo Munu,
Ma dog co nywak ki reng'ng'e pa Munu.(7)

In the English version this repetition is considerably reduced:

You kiss her on the cheek
As white people do,
You kiss her open-sore lips
As white people do
You suck the slimy saliva
From each other's mouths
As white people do.

(p. 44)

This translates only three lines of the original. In the translation of the other lines the refrain is missed out. This repetition can be used over a few lines, as in this example, or to tie together a whole chapter. The repetition of this phrase strongly emphasises the idea of slavish imitation which Lawino finds so ridiculous in the dance.

The whole of the poem is tied together by a similar refrain. It is taken from an Acoli proverb. In Wer pa Lawino it reads:

Te Okono obur bong' luputu.(8)

Okot's translation is:

The pumpkin in the old homestead
Must not be uprooted!

(p. 41)

Pumpkins are a luxury food. They grow wild throughout Acoliland. To uproot pumpkins, even when you are moving to a new homestead, is simple wanton destruction. In this proverb, then, Lawino is not asking Ocol to cling to everything in his past, but rather not to destroy things for the sake of destroying them. Again, the refrain is used to emphasise an important idea the writer is putting across in the whole poem.

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 of English literature through his familiarity with the stock of common images of Acoli literature. In the English version, this gives his poem a feeling of freshness for every reader, and a sense of Africanness for African readers. One place where these images are found in the poem are in the quotations for songs that are set out as quotations in the text. There are examples of these on pages 60; 62; 66-7; 76-8; 98; 101; 115; 120. These songs often convey Lawino's feelings more fully than her own words. The song on page 83, for example, expresses the sorrow in the names of sadness very clearly:

Fate has brought troubles
Son of my mother
Fate has thrown me a basket,
It all began as a joke
Suffering is painful
It began before I was born.

More important than these are the innumerable places where Lawino's own words echo the words of a traditional song. If we look at a few lines of Song of Lawino next to a few lines from an Acoli song, we can see this clearly:

Beg forgiveness from them
And ask them to give you
A new spear
A new spear with a sharp and
          hard point
A spear that will crack the
Ask for a spear that you will

(p. 119)

The spear with the hard point
Slits the granite rock
The spear that I trust
Penetrates the granite rock
The hunter has slept in the
I die oh,(9)

Through his thorough knowledge of an African literary tradition Okot has succeeded in using English as a tool to reach a wider audience without borrowing foreign elements that distort his message.

All but a very few lines of Song of Lawino were written in Acoli originally and later translated into English. For most parts of the poem, the translation was an afterthought. When Okot was trying to publish the Acoli version, he translated a small extract for a writer's conference in Nairobi. The enthusiastic reception of this persuaded him to translate the whole poem. Song of Ocol was also an afterthought. Lawino was an unsuitable spokesman for one or two of Okot's comments on the East African scene. Song of Ocol was needed to add this extra dimension. Song of Ocol was written in English throughout; there is no Acoli version.

Okot's ‘Songs’ are not songs in any literal sense. You cannot sing them. They are not simply a written version of Acoli songs. Acoli songs do not grow to book length. They are one or two verses repeated with musical accompaniment. They are not written down under one person's authorship. They are sung and adapted by singer after singer, and each singer is free to create in his own way and change the song to fit current events or refer to his own girl-friend. They do not use rhyme or the regular rhythm used in Wer pa Lawino.

So it is possible to exaggerate the influence of Acoli tradition on Okot's poems. From western tradition he takes the idea of individual authorship, of spoken verse, of rhyme, of division into chapters, of the printed word. But many of the aspects that give them their impact are those aspects which are a direct continuation of his people's own tradition. Okot has adapted a traditional form to new conditions of performance, rather than created a new form.

The writer chose to make a very literal translation of Song of Lawino. The main differences between the two versions are the rearrangement of the order of certain sections within the chapters, the filling out of some descriptions of things unfamiliar to readers of the English version, and the dropping from the English version of some details which are in the Acoli original. There is no doubt that, as Taban lo Liyong has said:

the meaning of deep Acoli proverbs are made very light by their rendition into English word for word, rather than sense for sense, or proverb for proverb.10

Certain areas of meaning are lost through this kind of translation. If we take the lines:

The pumpkin in the old homestead
Must not be uprooted …

(p. 41)

it is obvious that, even after an explanation, non-Acoli readers will not feel the force of the proverb as Acoli readers would. And the poem is full of such references to songs, carrying meanings that have been built up over years of familiarity with the words. It is possible that with a longer, less literal, translation some of this meaning could have been retained, but the result would have been very cumbersome.

But the advantages of Okot's method outweigh these disadvantages. As I have pointed out, many African writers using English or French have attempted to ‘Africanise’ these languages. Okot p'Bitek has succeeded in this more than any other previous writer. A less literal translation would have involved the intrusion of foreign elements into his poem. It is true that Okot's ‘Acoli-English’11 carries deeper meaning to Acoli readers than to others, but it is rarely obscure for Africans.

There are occasions when Okot deliberately adds strangeness in the translation which is not there in the original. The most obvious example of this is in Chapter 8. Instead of using the biblical terms, ‘gospel’, ‘Holy Ghost’, ‘God’, Okot gives us a literal retranslation of the Acoli translation of these words. So we have: ‘good word’ (p. 73), ‘clean ghost’ (p. 74) and strangest of all ‘the Hunchback’ (p. 75). Here the English version carries the strangeness of these words to Lawino when she first heard them more strongly than the Acoli version. Most Acoli readers will be familiar with the Christian meaning of these terms and will not find them strange at all.

If we look at the first few pages of Chapter 4 (p. 47), we can see a more normal example of Okot's translation working well. The first 74 lines of this chapter (up to: “Should they open it / So that the pus may flow out?’) correspond more or less exactly in ideas to the first 49 lines of the Acoli version. One or two details in the description of the house and the abuse of Ocol that are in the original are missing in the translation. The arrangement of the passage has also been slightly changed. The Acoli version uses ‘diro me Acoli’ or ‘ryeko me Acoli’ (the skill or wisdom of the Acoli)12 as a refrain in a very tight description of the home. This repetition is missing from the English version, and the description is filled out with a little explanation, as the scene is unfamiliar to non-Acoli readers.

Okot leaves two words untranslated: ‘Lyonno and nyadyang’. These give the passage a feeling of strangeness without making it difficult to understand. The passage contains a quotation from a song:

Father prepare the kraal etc.

(p. 48)

and also an image borrowed from another song:

And my name blew
Like a horn
Among the Payira.

(p. 48)

Okot does not explain the reference to the expected bride-price of cattle but this will present no difficulty to Africans. In this section, Okot gets the advantages of a literal translation with very little loss of meaning.


In Song of Lawino Okot replaces the regular rhythm and rhyme of the Acoli version with irregular free verse in the English version. His lines in Song of Lawino usually end with a strong emphasis. He builds his lines around the words he wants to emphasise, crowding weaker words into the beginning of the line:

They mould the tips of the cotton nests
So that they are sharp
And with these they prick
The chests of their men

(p. 39)

This gives a staccato effect to his verse. This can be clumsy, but it sometimes successfully underlines Lawino's contemptuous moods:

He just shouts
Like house-flies
Settling on top of excrement
When disturbed.

(p. 49)

The arrangement of the verse suits Lawino's feelings.

Sometimes Okot successfully softens these lines to convey Lawino's wistful moods. The section from the beginning of Chapter 4 illustrates this. While she remembers Ocol's wooing of her and the beauty of her home, Lawino's voice takes on a note of nostalgia (p. 47). The staccato effect of the lines is reduced in sympathy. There are soft sounds ending many of the lines, for example: ‘briskly’, ‘lily’, ‘cattle’, ‘silently’. The lines flow smoothly to express Lawino's gentler mood.

In Song of Ocol the emphatic stresses at the end of Okot's lines are replaced by much more varied patterns of stress. The lines are shorter and Okot often misses out structural words which sometimes crowd out the lines in Song of Lawino. Okot also makes very effective use of one or two syllable lines to provide shock changes of pace. This changes the staccato effect into a lively bouncing rhythm:

You sister
From Pokot
Who grew in the open air
You are fresh …
Walk with me …

(p. 138)

Song of Ocol is very easy to read aloud. In this poem Okot shows himself to be a master of English free verse.

The language and imagery of Song of Ocol lack the references to oral tradition which give Song of Lawino some of its richness, but Okot shows himself well able to create his own imagery. One source of pleasure in the poem is the poet's evident delight in the use of words. The images crowd on top of one another so that the reader's imagination is feasted on a succession of vivid pictures:

Mad creature
Her hair
A burnt out forest
Her eyes
Shooting out from the head
A pair of rockets
Serpent tongues
Spitting poison
Lashing crocodile tail …

(p. 127)


The character of Lawino dominates Song of Lawino and it is important for you to consider how successful Okot's portrait of her is. The poem is based on a real social problem, very common in rural areas in East Africa. Many wives have seen their husbands move out of the range of their education and experience through travel. Many ‘Ocols’ return home with nothing but contempt for the ways of their parents and their wives. What we need to consider is whether Lawino's response to this situation is ‘real’. Does she react in the way we would expect women in such a situation to react?

To consider her character, we can divide the poem fairly easily into three sections. In the first five chapters Lawino is a perfect portrait of a woman scorned. She lashes out at Ocol, who used to admire her, and Clementine, who has usurped her place, indiscriminately. Then Tina disappears. In Chapters 6 to 11, Lawino seems much less concerned with her personal plight. She defends the customs of her ancestors with more and more profound comparisons between Western and Acoli ways. The last two chapters tie the concerns of the other two sections together. Lawino's desire to win back Ocol's admiration is combined with a commentary on the whole Acoli community and an appeal for the renewal of traditional ways.

I find the Lawino of the first five chapters extremely credible. She is not jealous of Clementine in the narrow sense of desiring to have sole possession of Ocol. She is familiar with polygamy, she knows no other form of marriage. She is simply mystified and annoyed that Ocol prefers a woman who is no younger than her and can match her in none of her womanly accomplishments. Her mystification finds expression in wistful descriptions of her own beauty, and her annoyance in abuse of everything she has seen or heard of Ocol's new way of life.

I think the sudden disappearance of Tina weakens the portrait of Lawino a little. I think it is this slight change in emphasis which has led some critics to make a distinction between Lawino as the woman scorned and Lawino as the defender of Acoli customs. In his review of Wer pa Lawino Okumu pa Lukobo says:

In choosing as his text Ter okon bong' luputu (Don't uproot the pumpkin) I think Bitek has made a mistake. What Lawino has to say would have been better expressed by another Acoli proverb which says Dako abila ni eye meni (Your first wife is your mother). For what Lawino is really concerned with is a personal matter—her rivalry with her husband's mistress Kelementina.13

This seems to me to be a misunderstanding of a very common feature of literature. Both oral and written literatures often operate at the same time on different levels of meaning. A domestic situation may be used by a singer or a writer to make a political comment. I see no contradiction between Lawino as an offended first wife and Lawino as the defender of Acoli values.

In fact, I think that a great deal of the appeal of Song of Lawino comes from Okot's exploitation of the dramatic possibilities of Lawino's rivalry with Clementine. Other writers have satirised aspects of life together or appealed to such a wide audience. Part of this success is due to the credibility of his portrait of Lawino.

Nevertheless, by allowing Tina to disappear completely from the poem, Okot gives some slight justification to these critics. But it should be pointed out that Lawino is concerned mainly to attack Ocol, and that Ocol is very clearly present in every part of the poem. Unlike Ocol in Son of Ocol, she doesn't shift from attacks on one group of people to attacks on another. Throughout the poem she is mocking Ocol. The domestic situation and the character of Lawino in themselves provide a fairly consistent level of meaning in the poem. This level of meaning contributes to the success of Okot's more serious aims in the poem.


If Song of Lawino were no more than a good picture of a woman from an Acoli village it would not have attracted all the attention that has been devoted to it in the few years since its publication. Lawino is the writer's tool for making his own comments on the way people behave in East Africa. At first sight it may seem that he has chosen a very bad tool. Certainly Taban lo Liyong, when he wrote The Last Word, thought so. He wrote:

Africans have been mad at expatriates for taking the African houseboy as the representative African. Okot hasn't done better by letting a mere catechist criticise the West and Westernisation. … The trouble with his method is that his discussion is conducted in a low key; it is the simple that he deals with … things...

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Tanure Ojaide (essay date spring 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ojaide, Tanure. “Poetic Viewpoint: Okot p'Bitek and his Personae.” Callaloo, no. 27 (spring 1986): 371-83.

[In the following essay, Ojaide examines the personae of Song of Lawino, Song of Ocol, and Song of a Prisoner and the way they function thematically and stylistically; and from this examination, he proposes p'Bitek's viewpoint.]

Okot p'Bitek, who died in 1983, is one of the best known African poets. After the long domination of the African literary scene by West Africans, p'Bitek stormed the “literary desert of East Africa” with Song of Lawino in 1966. This was followed by Song of Ocol (1970) and Song of a...

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Ogo A. Ofuani (essay date September 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ofuani, Ogo A. “The Form and Function of Repetition in Okot p'Bitek's Poetry.”1META 31, no. 3 (September 1986): 300-13.

[In the following essay, Ofuani discusses the emotional effects of repetition in p'Bitek's poetic monologues.]

Okot p'Bitek needs no introduction on the African literary scene. His songs under consideration here are Song of Lawino, Song of Ocol and Two Songs (Song of Prisoner, Song of Malaya)2. They are all dramatic monologues—one-speaker poems in which the conflicts, confrontations, etc., are presented consistently from the point of view of the speaker.


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Ogo A. Ofuani (essay date 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ofuani, Ogo A. “The Image of the Prostitute: A Reconsideration of Okot p'Bitek's Malaya.” Kunapipi 8, no. 3 (1986): 100-14.

[In the following essay, Ofuani rejects critical interpretations based on morality of the prostitute figure in p'Bitek's Malaya monologue, focusing instead on a more balanced assessment of the character.]

Malaya is the female character, a prostitute, in Okot p'Bitek's lesser known and admired Song of Malaya (in Two Songs).1 It is a dramatic monologue, written in movements, in the pattern of his earlier songs (Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol), and in free verse. The narration is from the point of...

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Ogo A. Ofuani (essay date fall 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ofuani, Ogo A. “Digression as Discourse Strategy in Okot p'Bitek's Dramatic Monologue Texts.” Research in African Literatures 19, no. 3 (fall 1988): 312-40.

[In the following essay, Ofuani examines the effects of digression in p'Bitek's poetic monologues.]

This paper discusses the use of digression as discourse strategy in Okot p'Bitek's dramatic monologue texts: Song of Lawino, Song of Ocol, Two Songs (Song of Prisoner, Song of Malaya).

What marks a digression is precisely the fact that “it is not directly related, syntactically, semantically, and even pragmatically, to the main conversational...

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Ndubuisi C. Osuagwu (essay date 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Osuagwu, Ndubuisi C. “A Traditional Poet in Modern Garb: Okot p'Bitek.” Literary Criterion 23, nos. 1-2 (1988): 13-29.

[In the following essay, Osuagwu discusses the influence of traditional African literary forms on p'Bitek's poetry.]

A discussion of Okot p'Bitek as a traditional poet in modern garb calls for a definition of concepts. The concepts involved are the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’. For the purpose of this paper, traditional poetry refers to the poetry of the people in the African countryside. It could be written; it could be performed. When written, the form, theme, appeal, style, including language must be able to send spontaneous...

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Emmanuel Ngara (essay date 1990)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ngara, Emmanuel. “Cultural Nationalism and Form in Okot p'Bitek.” In Ideology and Form in African Poetry: Implications for Communication, pp. 60-76. London: James Currey, 1990.

[In the following essay, Ngara examines the literary devices p'Bitek uses to express his sense of African nationalism.]


Okot p'Bitek is one of the most widely acclaimed African poets. He has been lauded for his successful use of oral forms in his English-language poems. Okot published several major pieces before he died, and, except for Horn of My Love, all of them are called ‘songs’—Song of Lawino, Song of...

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Nkem Okoh (essay date 1993)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Okoh, Nkem. “Writing African Oral Literature: A Reading of Okot p'Bitek's Song of Lawino.Bridges: An African Journal of English Studies, no. 5 (1993): 35-53.

[In the following essay, Okoh regards Song of Lawino as an experimental oral piece.]


Literature is both a multifaceted phenomenon and a potentially powerful mode of communication. It is thus significant that our title echoes three (writing, speaking, reading) of the four basic communication skills. It is of even greater significance that two of our terms, namely “oral” and “writing”, apparently present a problem, indeed a commonly discussed...

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Ogo Ofuani (essay date winter 1994)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ofuani, Ogo. “The Poet as Self-Critic: The Stylistic Repercussions of Textual Revisions in Okot p'Bitek's Song of Ocol.1Research in African Literatures 25, no. 4 (winter 1994): 159-76.

[In the following essay, Ofuani explores p'Bitek's revisions of his poetry to discover the overall direction of his poetry.]

Creative writers have often assumed the mantle of literary critics and, as self-critics, revised their own published texts in a bid to produce the ULTIMATE TEXT. This urge has fascinated other literary critics who have shown that the trend is neither genre-specific nor restricted to regional and linguistic provenance.


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Ogo A. Ofuani (essay date summer 1996)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ofuani, Ogo A. “Old Wine in New Skins? An Exploratory Review of Okot p'Bitek's White Teeth: A Novel.Research in African Literatures 27, no. 2 (summer 1996): 185-93.

[In the following essay, Ofuani discusses the difficulties in translating p'Bitek's works, focusing particularly on White Teeth.]

White Teeth: A Novel is Okot p'Bitek's first—and last—published work. This apparent contradiction can be explained: it was his first published work because it appeared as Lak Tar Miyo Kinyero Wilobo (“White Teeth Make People to Laugh a Lot on Earth”), a story in the Acoli language published by the Eagle Press of the East African...

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Ogo A. Ofuani (essay date 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ofuani, Ogo A. “Lexical Cohesion in Okot p'Bitek's A Song of Prisoner.” In The Language of African Literature, edited by Edmund L. Epstein, pp. 205-28. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, Inc., 1998.

[In the following essay, Ofuani explores elements that add to the thematic unity of Song of Prisoner]

Despite numerous studies by critics and literary scholars, the effectiveness and aesthetic use of language in Okot p'Bitek's Song of Prisoner (1971) have remained largely unexplored. Scholars have made contributions to our understanding of p'Bitek's themes, images, historical and biographical background, and traditional poetic devices, but have...

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Charles Okumu (essay date 1999)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Okumu, Charles. “Towards an Appraisal of Criticism on Okot p'Bitek's Poetry.” In Uganda: The Cultural Landscape, edited by Eckhard Breitinger, pp. 149-75. Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Publishers Ltd., 1999.

[In the following essay, Okumu presents an overview of criticism on p'Bitek's poetry.]

Since about 1966 there has been an on-going debate as to which of the following critical traditions is best suited for the literary criticism of African literature: formalism, socio-culturalism, Marxism or historical, psychological, anthropological or folkloristic criticism. Except for folkloristic criticism, most of the critical approaches owe their perception to the...

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Jahan Ramazani (essay date 2001)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ramazani, Jahan. “The Poet as ‘Native Anthropologist’: Ethnography and Antiethnography in Okot p'Bitek's Songs.” In The Hybrid Muse: Postcolonial Poetry in English, pp. 141-78. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001.

[In the following essay, Ramazani examines the complex relationship between anthropology and postcolonial literatures using p'Bitek's Songs.]

The vexed relation between postcolonial literatures and anthropology has sometimes been condensed in one of two conflicting propositions: that postcolonial literatures are ethnographic or that they are nonethnographic. According to the first formulation, advanced primarily by Western...

(The entire section is 15030 words.)

Further Reading

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


Fike, Matthew A. “Jean Toomer and Okot p'Bitek in Alice Walker's In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens.MELUS 25, no. 3-4 (fall-winter 2000): 141-60.

Examines how Walker's treatment of material from Toomer and p'Bitek further illuminates her essay's handling of black women writers.

Liyong, Taban lo. “On Translating the Untranslated: Chapter 14 of Wer pa Lawino by Okot p'Bitek.” Research in African Literatures 24, no. 3 (fall 1993): 87-92.

Discusses the translation of chapter 14 from We pa Lawino, the Acholi-language version of Song of Lawino, which does not have a chapter 14...

(The entire section is 256 words.)