Of Poets and Poems
Published On April 23, 2016 » 3005 Views» By Hildah Lumba » Entertainment, Theatre
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Zam ArtsThis week we end Ocol’s swipe across the African continent on a cultural mission of cleansing. His intent to put to extinction works of academics that are inclined to preserving the cultural life of an ancient continent is thorough and profoundly deep. The attack on moribund philosophies and ideological cultural leanings of literary movements like Negritude, African Personality, Bantu Philosophies and a panoply of African court poets is intentional and Ocol would offer no apologies for it.No matter how strong the protest Aime Cesaire would make on behalf of others such philosophies have certainly had their day, so says Ocol:
My negritude is not a stone, its deafness hurled against the clamour
Of the day,
My negritude is not a speck of dead water on the dead eye of the
Earth
My negritude is neither a tower nor a cathedral
It thrusts into the red flesh of the soil
It thrusts into the burning flesh of the sky

Forget the rhetoric: who cares if negritude is not a stone or speck of dead water? Ocol would not care even if it was not a Cathedral, Tower or whatever else. As a matter of fact, it is a stone that has smashed the progress which Africa needs the most; it is a speck of dead water that has dwarfed the growth of Ocol’s development of Africa. Despite its fine imagery, the thrust is a mere fantasy typical of Negritudists; Ocol would simply muse about it. All assumed African cultural apologists need not live to resurrect such reservoirs of shame and retrogression whether they appear in form of University academics, historians or anthropologists or Negroes in search of roots on the Africa soil, or indeed in the glittering images of metaphysical union between man and earth as in the glamorous poetry of Cesaire. Apparently, this brand of cultural chauvinists is little hard nut to crack compared to rural tribal dogmatists whose roots are not deep enough to resist any intended crusade of annihilation.  They include a collection of ethnic groupings of the Karamojong, Kikuyu, Ankole, Ruanda and Burundi, Baganda, Maasai, Kalenjin, the Jolong and the Acoli. Come to think of it, where were they when Ocol was cramming with his friends to pursue higher education at Makerere University College—note the shortened form of Economics for good effect (p 141):
All the time
I was reading Econ.
At Makerere,
And my friend the Resident
Magistrate

Was sweating and cramming
For the Bar,
You were busy
Performing the get-stuck dance,
Spending weeks at funeral
Parties
Or in the bush
Chasing wild animals
Or collecting honey,
Thoughtless and carefree
Like children dancing around
The hut
After a meal

The blame certainly is not Ocol’s for poverty and squalor that any community may engender. Each one has an opportunity; and so, those who choose to collect honey in the wilds, or go out to huntsquirrels, spend the whole time attending funerals, worse still, dance with abandon under the silhouette of a half-moon can only have themselves to blame. Ocol continues to argue his case of blamelessness from any of his people whose destiny is consigned to abject poverty (p 142):

Do you blame me
Because your sickly children
Sleep on the earth
Sharing the filthy floor
With sheep and goats?
Who says
I am responsible
For the poverty of the
Peasantry?
Am I the cause of unemployment
And landlessness?

Did you ever see me?
Touring the country side
Recruiting people’s daughters
Into prostitution?

How did I make men ignorant?
Was it not I
Who asked the Minister
To build a school
In your village
And did I prevent
Children from other villages
From going to school?

Obviously, Ocol is not any of these things, at least not the reason for the calamity that has befallen his people. He argues that every support including the building of a school by playing an advocacy rolewith theMinister was his initiative. He could only go that far but to think he should then have been responsible for discouraging children from attending schoolcould only be dismissed as a far-fetched idea. Ocol maintains that the poverty that affects the population of his countrymen is self-imposed; for, why did they keep playing host to others and sustaining political Party structures with cash contributions (meager though they were) when they should have been doing something meaningful for themselves? So, he confronts this sort of Frantz Fanon’s ‘wretched of the earth’ with disdain (p 142):

Tell me
My friend and comrade,
And answer me simply and frankly,

Apart from the two shillings fee
For Party membership,
And the dances you performed
When the Party chiefs
Visited your village,
And the slogans you shouted,

What was your contribution
In the struggle for Uhuru?

Ocol has transformed himself with the benefits of Uhuru or independence where others have absolutely failed. In this particular context he shares the thoughts of Lawino’s disillusionment about Uhuru. In utter despair about Ngugi’s flag independence Lawino creates a scenario of discontentment for Uhuru (p 110):

Independence falls like a Bull
Buffalo
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 elbow,
You come home empty-handed
And the dogs bark at you!

This is an oracle from Ocol’s former wife, Lawino. Ever since then, Ocol has had his chest grow and has acquired a sharp knife for skinning the hard skin of Uhuru, of independence. Men like him have no need to worry about any dung on their elbows; that is for the weak and the bony. Ocol knew when to rush with the right tools when the buffalo of Uhuru fell; he is a beneficiary of its advent. He is a functionary with a responsibility to rid his country of all retrogressive elements who did not know when the right time dawned for earning an education. It is, therefore, not his fault that he participates in a crusade to rid African of all that is anything regressive, dire symbols of backwardness (p 140):

We will arrest
All the elders
The tutors of the young
During circumcisions.
The gathering of youths
In the wilderness for initiations
Will be banned,
The council of elders
Will be abolished;
The war dance…
The blowing of war horns
Will be punished
With twelve strokes
Of the cane
For each blast

This is Ocol’s remedy for a rite of passage of a continent that has been contaminated for generations by irrelevant cultural practices.  A culture that is torturous to the young people who are dragged into circumcision by village elders.  He is also targeting war dances orchestrated by blasts of animal horns. He knows the root cause of the phenomena; village elders who must pay for the awkward practice. However, Ocol is an antithesis of a forward- looking Africa because he and his cohorts have destroyed Africa through corruption. The fact that he arrives at a fallen buffalo with a sharp knife does not grantee him an animal’s (independence) flesh more than the other citizenry and this seems to be Lawino’s concern about Africa’s political leadership represented here by the greed Ocol. Here Ocol boasts about his knew achievements: (p 153):

We shall build
A new City on the hill
Overlooking the Lake
Concrete, steel, stone…
The termite queen-mother
Will starve to death…
Broad avenues, spacious
Gardens,
Parks, swimming pools…
We will erect monuments
To the founders
Of modern Africa;
Leopold of Belgium,
Bismarck…

Ocol’s demonstration of Africa’s greatness lies in glorifying the empire builders of his day. In his quest to destroy the past and build cities on hills he hopes to redeem Africa. Theluxurious life of swimming pools and expensive monuments is what preoccupies the new Africa. The pride Ocol takes in Africa’s exploitativeWestern empire builders of the likes of Leopold and others should be a nightmare for Lawino. But Ocol makes another startling statement for Lawino’s sympathizers (p 154):

As for Shaka
The Zulu General,
How can we praise him
When he was utterly defeated
And killed by his own brothers?
What proud poems
Can we write
For the vanquished?

What a way to end Ocol’s treatise! Ocol’s transformed thoughts cannot even recognize that Shaka was a king; he is referred to as a General of modern wars. Amazed at how a General can fall under the hands of nonentities, Ocol wonders what kind of poem one should write for such men.

Dear reader, we end our examination of Ocol’s attack on Lawino at this point. I am sure a conclusion can be made about the new Africa set against the back drop of the old, an embodiment of Lawino and her kind. Okot’s attempt was to give us a response through Ocol to Lawino’s lamentations. It is up to the reader to draw a conclusion as to exactly where we are now and the kind of Africa Ocol is carving for his generation (or, is it ours?)
Comments: –ofpoemspoets@mail.com—

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