January 22, 2009

Okot p'Bitek

Okot p'Bitek [Uganda]

Born in Gulu, Uganda, Okot p'Bitek was guided from childhood on by his mother, a singer and composer and the head of her clan. From the rich lore of songs and folktales with which he grew up, he absorbed the oral traditions of the Luo people. Educated in a Christian secondary school, he attended King's College in Budo. As a soccer team member, he traveled abroad to represent Uganda, and stayed on in Great Britian, continuing his education in Bristol. He took a law degree at Aberystwyth and a degree in social anthropology at Oxford.

Returning to Uganda, he became lecturer at the University College in Makerer, later becoming the director the National Cultural Center in Kampala. However, political events, triggered in part by his criticisms of the Zambian government, forced him to leave that position, and he emigrated to Kenya. However, he continued there as a senior research fellow at the Institute of African Studies, and wrote several major works on African culture, including African Religions and Western Scholarship (1970), Religion of the Central Luo (1971), and Africa's Cultural Revolution (1973).

In 1953, he wrote his first major literary work, Lak tar miyo kinyero wi lobo, a novel written in the Acholi dialect of Luo. It was a decade later, however, before he published his acclaimed Song of Lawino: A Lament (1966). In 1970, he followed that success with Song of the Ocol. Song of a Prisoner, perhaps his best known work, was published a year later, followed by a collection of that work and Song of Malaya (1971). The songs of Lawino and a Prisoner are both poems of defense, but the latter work is also a statement on African politics and reveals the anguish of the people. The Song of Ocol and Song of Malaya are poems of attack.

p'Bitek died in 1982.


Song of Lawino, A Lament (Nairobi and London: East African Publishing House, 1966; Cleveland, Ohio: World-Meridian Books, 1969); Song of the Ocol (Nairobi and London: East African Publishing House, 1970); The Song of the Prisoner (Nairobi and London: East African Publishing House, 1970; published as Song of a Prisoner [New York: The Third Press, 1971]);
Two Songs: the Song of the Prisoner and the Song of Malaya (Nairobi and London: East African Publishing House, 1971); Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol (Nairobi and London: East African Publishing House, 1971).

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