Review of Song of Lawino(Part 2)
Published On July 2, 2016 » 22177 Views» By Administrator Times » Columns, Entertainment
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Zam ArtsIN a series of commentaries based on Uganda’s Okot p’Bteck’s celebrated classic book of poetry, ‘Song of Lawino’, we now take a hard look at a discordant sort of axis of evil, a somewhat triangle of fierce battles between husband and wife and a perceived concubine.
In our last story we saw how Lawino lamented the ill-treatment she had been receiving from Ocol, her husband.
She made it clear that she was vexed with her husband’s lack of respect for, not only her aunt and mother, but also for her entire community and the black race upon whom Ocol, the once honorable Chief’s son pours tirades and bitter sarcasm. Lawino’s initial rage is against her English-speaking husband who has rejected all the ways of her people in preference for the ways of a white man, so recently adopted by her lettered and ‘been-to’ spouse. There is also another twist to the story: the intrusion of an ironically ‘beautiful girl’ who has won Ocol’s heart by subsequently rejecting the ‘old type,’ Lawino herself.
In Lawino’s lamentation she turns her bile and guile against this ostensibly beautiful girl (p 15):
He (Ocol) is in love with a modern girl.
The name of the beautiful one is Clementine.
Brother, when you see
The beautiful one aspires
To look like a white woman;
Her lips are red-hot
Like glowing charcoal,
She resembles the wild cat
That has dipped its mouth in
The blood,
Her mouth is like raw yaws
It looks like an open ulcer,
Like the mouth of a field!
Tina dusts powder on her face
And it looks so pale;
She resembles the wizard
Getting ready for the mid-night

Now this is provocative, for a woman the reader is just meeting for the first time, for the woman who has not said anything, for the woman whose case is not yet established. But we know Lawino, don’t we? Did Ocol have to say anything tangible to get all the jibes? But Clementine is the cause of all her troubles or so, it seems; she is modern with a flair for the modern garb. She is just Clementine! but her name alone is too long for the fast-talking Lawino; she had better use a breath-saving name and one which is easy to pronounce and a natural fit for her setting. It has to be Tina. It is amazing how Lawino wants to get every-one involved in her talk as she beckons to an invisible ‘brother’ to see just who this Tina is including her looks. Clementine over- uses her cosmetics; lip-stick makes her look like a blood-sucking cat, like red embers on a glowing fire; she also resembles a wizard on a mid-night mission. Never mind how a wizard looks when she is about to ride on a broom and do not even ask Lawino where she has ever seen one such a wizard! The thing is that Tina possesses such looks and Lawino is envious. But there are still stokes of words about Tina from her rival, Lawino (p 17):
Forgive me, brother,
Do not think I am insulting
The woman with whom I share
My husband!
Do not think my tongue
Is being sharpened by jealousy.
It is the sight of Tina
That provokes sympathy from
My heart.
I do not deny
I am a little jealous.
It is no good lying,
We all suffer from a little jealousy.
It catches you unawares
Like the ghosts that bring fevers;
It surprises people
Like earth tremors:
But when you see the beautiful Woman
With whom I share my husband
You feel a little pity for her!
The constant appeal to an imaginary brother is also an appeal to a reader. Hysterical as Lawino is, she needs sympathy from whoever would care to listen to her. So far as she is concerned Tina cuts a poor figure worth her lashing tongue. Although she confesses to be a jealousy woman, she says this is out of sympathy for the silent but disruptive woman who has walked into her married life. It would be unfair to believe that all she has is ‘a little jealous’ for all the obnoxious words and fury in her heart. But jealousy she is, as she confesses and says it is normal for any human being. Her reasoning about this is made clear with her use of interesting figures of speech. For, she says, jealous is like an earth tremor it comes when you least expect it; it resides in a person’s conscious more or less like ghosts (depending on the reader’s belief) that bring fever; it pounces almost suddenly. Whatever the argument, Lawino is jealousy of Tina. Her fury is repugnant against the woman she so much loathes (p 18):
The woman with whom I share
My husband
Walks as if her shadow
Has been captured,
You can never hear
Her footsteps;
She looks as if
She has been ill for a long time!
Actually she is starving
She does not eat,
She says she fears getting fat,
That the doctor has prevented her
From eating,
She says a beautiful woman
Must be slim like a white
And when she walks
You hear the bones rattling,
Her waist resembles that of the
The beautiful one is dead dry
Like a stump,
She is meatless
Like a shell on a dry river bed
Okot’s imaginative power lies in the use of figures of speech which he uses so creatively to make her heroine be successful in her appeal for her case. The images are derived from a rural set –up, so common for everyone who has had an association with it. To illustration, we have images of a hornet, a small creature in the family of wasps with the smallest of waits so as to create a colorful picture for the reader about Tina’s slim body. A dry river bed will always expose animal life once under the cover of water but since the creatures are now dead and lying on a dry river bed all we can see are skeletons and that is just how Tina’s body looks, literally no skin on it, a museum piece! Or, the reader can imagine a dry stump in a field. These kinds of image associations are powerful and Lawino has a great deal of them. And all this is leading to the fact that Clementine is averse to obesity because according to Lawino she wants to look like a white woman. Lawino also tells us that Clementine’s foot steps are brick, so brisk that she is like one whose shadow has been captured and so one would, therefore, hardly hear her footsteps. There seems to be simmering anger and jealous beneath Lawino’s heart so much so that when she says something to the contrary it is almost impossible to believe her. Listen to her again (p 18):
A woman who is jealous
Of another, with whom she
Share a man,
Is jealous because she is slow,
Lazy and shy,
Because she is cold, weak, clumsy!
The competition for a man’s love
Is fought at the cooking place
When he returns from the field
Or, from the hunt,
You win him with a hot bath
And sour porridge.
The wife who brings her meal
Whose food is good to eat,
Whose dish is hot
Whose face is bright
And whose heart is clean
And whose eyes are dark
Like the shadows:
The wife who jokes freely
Who eats in the open
Not in the bed room,
One who is not dull
Like stale beer,
Such is the woman who becomes
The headdress keeper.
The shift of discussion makes her attacks rather mild but this might just be for a while, perhaps. In her reasoning there is no need for any woman to be jealousy of another. Then she gives attributes or virtues that a truly cultured woman, who needs to maintain her marriage, or rather keep her husband, should possess. She should be one who cares for her husband, an industrious woman who can cook well, prepare water for a bath and porridge after the husband’s hunt or field; one whose  heart is clean and who is generous and, just as if to define true beauty, such a woman’s eyes should be as dark as the shadows.
A clear contrast to Clementine’s artificial beauty, gauntly and wasting, we suppose! At this point, one would give credit to Okot’s finesse in poetry and his cultural aptitude.
It sounds as though we actually hear Okot speak rather than the usual rantings of Lawino.
It is as though Okot, the Oxford trained social anthropologist, has assuredly reared his multi-faceted head, giving us the fineries of his Acholi people and their way of life.
Meanwhile, dear readers, Lawino’s lamentations continue next week; let us make a date with our Lawino, unedu or Lawino, the simple.
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