Wednesday, March 4, 2015


By Ishmael Mzwandile Soqaga

Perforce Western domination in Africa through the long obliterated colonialism scandalously played a scurrilous role to ultimately liquidate African communities and its culture.  However, tentative questions have been raised as to why colonialism should be involved while Africa is absolutely free from foreign puissance.  In fact to some pundits and scholars this cannot be cryptic or peculiar, but to the younger generation definitely it can be flummoxing.    Young people don’t see any obvious repression by extrinsic forces and they are tractable by the comfort and privileges of today.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting to appreciate that African literature has punchy and sufficient answers to the questions that are pertinent to Africa, including colonialism.  To start with, early modern African writers like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Leopold Senghor, Es’kia Mphahlele, Bessie Head, Richard Rive, Okot p’ Bitek, Peter Abrahams etc had churned out breathtaking literary materials that proliferate astronomically.  Essentially the literature they produced is still remarkable and relished by number of people unanimously.

Specifically Okot p’ Bitek a Ugandan essayist, poet, novelist, translator and editor had played an enormous role in ventilating his repine about colonial encroachment of Africa.  It is indispensable to point out that p’ Bitek was not a racist, tribal bigot, or a dramatic stereotype African writer.   Inadvertently he did not promote bunkum racist vitriolic against the West but he rather proscribed the pathological demeanour of the West which caused mayhem in African communities. 

Because he benefited from the privileges that the West brought in Africa, in particular education and he was also a national soccer player of Uganda.  In the summer of 1956 he participated in the Olympic Games in London and remained in England to study at several institutions, including the Institute of Social Anthropology in Oxford and University College, Wales.  He was first recognized as a major new voice in African literature in 1966 when he published Song of Lawino.   Essentially, named director of the Uganda National Theater and Cultural Center, political pressure, however, forced p’Bitek from his directorship after two years.  He moved to Kenya, where, with the exception of frequent visit to universities in the United States, he remained throughout the reign of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.  After founding the Kisumu Arts Festival in Kenya and later serving as a professor in Nigeria, p’ Bitek eventually returned to Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, where he was a professor of creative writing until his death in 1982.

Okot p’ Bitek had produced a corpus of exhilarating literature.  He was a smashing inspiration in Africa.  What made him so sensational and sagacious in African literary context?  Firstly, after his educational accomplishments, he remained firmly strong about Africa’s pride and identity; secondly he was a pragmatic cultural activist who unashamedly propagated African consciousness through art and culture.  This is completely displayed by his explicit verve to establish the highly successful Gulu Arts Festival, which celebrates the traditional oral history, dance and other arts of the Acholi people.

To accentuate further, p’ Bitek had certainly enraptured the world by his Afro-centric style of writing.  One of his famous works, Song of Lawino is a plea for the preservation of Acholic cultural tradition from the encroachment of Western influence.  The prose poem is narrated by Lawino, an illiterate Ugandan housewife, who complains bitterly that her university – educated husband, Ocol, has rejected her and his own Acholic heritage in favour of a modern lifestyle.  Perceiving his wife as an undesirable impediment to his progress, Ocol devotes his attention to Clementine (Tina), his Westernized mistress.  Throughout the work, Lawino condemns her husband’s disdain of African ways, describing her native civilization as beautiful, meaningful, and deeply satisfying:  “Listen Ocol, my old friend, /The ways of your ancestors / Are good. / Their customs are solid / And not hollow…”  She laments her husband’s disrespect for his own culture and question the logic of many Western.

Of course, as a young African myself I am completely fascinated and impressed by the unequivocal writing of the versatile and salubrious p’ Bitek.  His total commitment and genre of literature he produced make one to realize how exquisite Africa is.  Unlike today where you see young generation blending literature with some strange foreign element, one will be in consternation when he reminisces about the heyday of African literature when the world used to evince winsome interest on it.  Apparently, it is really ambiguous to see only few African writers doing exceptionally well in this wise. 

Frivolity and other bizarre trends employed by so called emerging young African writers threaten the solid existence of African literature.  By trying to make African literature some kind of fashion music is actually egregious for quintessential literature.  It can be better if young people concentrate on genuine and outstanding literature instead of making absurd gaffe.  How will the world continue to respect and regard African literature when writers depreciate quintessential literature?  What is more interesting is that early African writers often began their quest for literature at their young age. Okot p’ Bitek is an example.  At the age of twenty-two he published his first literary work, a novel in Acholic entitled Lak tar miyo kinyero wi lobo? (1953; White Teeth).

For African literature to continue to be appealing and spread profusely it will be much better for writers to draw awesome inspiration from a writer of the calibre of p’ Bitek.  He has been prodigious in expressing what is congruous to Africa.  In particular he strongly emphasized rudimentary education through African folktales which apparently is something ignored by Africans themselves.  As a result of urban life African values and culture are shockingly dwindling and eventually another new lifestyle is developing.  This has been a major subject to p’ Bitek work, that Africans must invariably retain their cultural values.  In the preface to his essay collection Africa’s Cultural Revolution (1973), p’ Bitek explained:  “Africa must re-examine herself critical.  She must discover her true self, and rid herself of all apemanship.”   

P’ Bitek s work must be a continuous subject among the Africans, because it contained unambiguous reality about the survival of African identity.  A conscious African will be wary of the power of technology which predominantly influences large number of people.  In fact people are more concerned about writing text messages on the technological device such as Smartphone’s etc and conspicuously neglect quintessential writing.  Therefore, patently this can have negative consequence on upcoming generation of writers as they will not comprehend the importance of grammar and literature.  Sincerely a honest plea is in order to the effect that African literature must always remain authentic, germane and appealing as to avoid its complete corrosion.

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