The Form in Poetry

Poetry can be defined as a writing that formulates a concentrated, imaginative awareness of experience chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through its meaning, sound and rhythm.

Unlike other forms of creative writing, Poetry concentrates, sharpens and condenses what it has to say.


Narrative Poetry: This is a kind of poetry that narrates a story. For example, in the poem ―Always a suspect‖ the poet is telling us the story of a black young boy in South Africa who was suspected to be a thief for his appearance and had to show documents to prove that he is innocent.  Didactic Poetry: This is the type of poetry whose aim is instructional to the reader rather than an appeal to his imaginative understanding. They have explicit political or social messages e.g poverty, development, diseases.

Lyrical Poetry: These are poems which express the thoughts and particularly the feelings of the writer. For example, Love poems are Lyrical e.g ―I love my Gentle one‖


Poetry is the product of oral traditions and songs. The musical elements of poetry are an important part of attraction.

Rythm: A pattern of stress in speech. Rhythm is used to add to both the meaning and music. Important words in the poem are given stress. For example, from the poem, ―If we must die‖t he word in vain is given a stress.  Refrain: The words or lines repeated at the end of each stanza.It can be very long or very short. The repetition here shows the monotony of the work.

Symbol: The word or an image that represents other or more meaning than what it represents in common. For example the word ―Piano‖ can represent western culture and ―Drums‖ can represent African culture.  Persona: The use of the pronoun ―I‖ in the poem refers to the poet who writes the poem.

Verse: A single line in a poem. The combinations of verses form a stanza.

Poetic License: This is the ability given to the poet to use broken English to fulfill his/her needs of conveying a message to the audience e.g. ―Your lost‖ instead of ―You are lost‖


Type of the poem: Free verse/open form type of a poem.

Structure: The poem has four stanzas. The first stanza has seven verses, the second stanza has eight verses, the third stanza has five lines, and the last stanza has one verse.

Diction: The language used is clear and straight forward.

Figures of speech: Personification e.g‖Hollow heads torture me‖. Irony - The persona calls his enemies friends (3rd stanza).

Tone/Voice: The tone is serious because the persona is ready to fight till his/her last blood.

Mood: The mood of the persona is sad because he/she is oppressed, tortured, harassed and confused.


Understand well the title of the poem: Understanding the title of the poem makes a reader to predict the content of the poem. For example, the title‖ Your pain‖ can be predicted that there is suffering as a focus in the poem.

Consider the form and type of the poem-Judge whether the poem is Lyric, narrative, ballad etc. You have to state whether the poem is Open(free verse),or closed.

Consider the Tone of the poet-The attitude or mood of the poet has great contribution to interpretation of a poem. The poet determines whether the poet is angry, happy, sad, or serious.

Consider the musical or sound features of a poem-Consider Rhyme, Rhythm, alliteration or refrain. These features are very important in poetry.

Think about possible themes-Consider the poets‘ central idea of discussion. In the poem, there are one or more themes.

Consider the message of a poem-The message refers to what the poet wants the readers to know or do after reading the poem e.g. avoid child labor, misuse of power etc.

Consider the relevance of the poem- Look at the issues/themes raised in the poem. Relate what you read in the poem with what happens in your community.

Consider Language use -Study how the language has been used in molding the poem. Consider diction (choice of words), symbols and symbolism and the uses of figures of speech e.g. Metaphor, Simile, personification etc.

Comment on the success or failure of the poet--check the use of language, presentation of message and themes etc.

It is the first collection of poetry in English in Tanzania. Although Tanzania was under British colonialism, the poets in this collection are young people brought up in the ferment of the policy of socialism and self reliance. Their poetry is therefore would be expected about problems of building socialism. They are about and against ideologies which mystify the vision people have of themselves and of their lives.

They are also about ordinary human questions and about the search of the poets for personal happiness and meaning in their life. There are about the suffering of our people under imperialist exploitation, in alliance with its local argents who include bureaucrats, and dishonest leaders.

SUN RISE (Jwani Mwaikusa)


The sun has arisen,

And with it the sons of the land have arisen too

Forward they go,

Well armed,

Singing praises to the beauty of the sunrise,

With the determination of long-term warriors,

Challenging the enemy With the courage of a free mind And the vigour of a clear purpose.

Sit and wait brethren,

Wait and see what glory they bring at sunset;

How they pay homage to the land - And their people!

Analysis of the poem

a. What is the poem about?

The poem is about the sons of the land who have risen up singing the beauty of the sunrise. They are challenging the enemy waiting for a victory at sunset.

b. For whom does the poem tell us that the sun has risen?

From the poem, the sun has risen to the oppressed ones (the sons of the land i.e. peasants or workers who should rise up against oppression, exploitation, discrimination)

c. The poet talks about -challenging the enemy‖ who do you think the enemies might be?

The enemies might be oppressors, humiliaters, exploiters, imperialists etc.

d. What events do you think the “sunrise and sunset” probably symbolizes?

The sunrise symbolizes the beginning of the struggle against evils in the society or a period of rain, while sunset symbolizes the end of the struggle, and a period of harvest.

e. With the determination of ―long – term warriors‖ what do you think the word -long – term‖ tells us about the poet`s view of the struggle?

The word ―long – term‖ means the distant future. The word implies that the struggle will take a long time.

f. There is one line that does not have normal word order. Which line is it and why is it so?

It is line 4, ―Forward they go‖ it`s function is to stress the word ―forward‖ to encourage people to continue with the struggle.

g. The poem contains two major images. What are they? The images are sunrise and sunsets.

üSunrise - symbolizes the beginning of the struggle (rainfall)

üSunset – symbolizes the end of the struggle or freedom time or area of harvest.

h. What is the theme of the poem?

The poem talks about evils of colonialism/imperialism or oppressive ruling class.

Therefore the main themes are; Exploitation, Oppression and Humiliation of the lower classes by the powerful class.

i. What type of poem is this?

It is a sonnet poem, because it has fourteen verses with free verse.

DEVELOPMENT (Kundi Faraja)


A man of the

Enters his office to sit on the throne of Party and State,

His stick of power Across the table.

He looks into the files

To see the demands

Of the millions of people

Who for years since Uhuru

Have just managed to survive

They ring out one message

Man of the people

You have always been telling us What we need...

Health centres,

More schools,

Clean water,

Better transport facilities,

Better living conditions.

Do you plead incapable To bring about development?

I declare running

Better than walking

For a young and poor country;

I plead fighting underdevelopment

Tougher than fighting

A wounded buffalo

With a pocket knife;

I plead underdevelopment

Stronger than the blows of the sea When the hurricane is at its height.

I plead fighting underdevelopment

Tougher than combating colonialism;

I see that it's more difficult To maintain peace

Than to stop a coup d'etat

I plead the cry

Of the nation

More painful than the yell

Of a woman

As her husband dies of sickness;

It's more painful than the screams

Of a man

Dying in agony

In the coils of the greatest python Found in the African forest

How is development

To be brought brother

When the people to whom We have entrusted power Are corrupt?

I plead the stomachs

Of the privileged few

Greater than the Rift Valley;

They cannot be satisfied With a normal share.

I plead the thirst

Of the minority

Greater than that of the Sahara:

No rains can quench it.

I reckon the minority

More sensitive to egoism

Than to National Development;

Nothing that is not theirs Is of any interest.

Their response to egoism.

Is faster than camera film to light

But as slow as tropisms to nation-building.

The majority plead




But, brother, How is development to come?


i)What is poem about?

The poem is about development in developing countries. The poet argues that whenever there is selfishness, corruption, exploitation, and oppression there will be no development.

ii)Is the persona happy in this song? Why?

The persona is unhappy. He is complaining about the behaviour of some leaders who are corrupt, selfish, and irresponsible. Such leaders lead the countries into underdevelopment

iii)What does the term ―Egoism‖ means in this poem?

The term ―Egoism‖ refers to selfishness. It is thinking of one`s own interest or needs without thinking about others. It is also means not sharing what one has with others.

iv)Trace the verses which trace the possible themes and tell what themes they carry?

a)―…the people to whom we have entrusted power. Are corrupt‖ These verses carry theme of corruption.

b)―I reckon the minority, More sensitive to egoism‖ these verses are portraying the theme of selfishness.

c)―The majority pleads exploitation‖ it depicts the theme of exploitation.

v) Discuss the themes found in this poem?

a)Selfishness. It is the thinking of one`s own interest or needs without thinking for others, or it is the behavior of not sharing what one has with others. In the poem, the poet has depicted selfishness of leaders as one of obstacle against development in the developing countries like Tanzania. The leaders are sensitive to selfishness than building the nation. He says: ―I reckon the minority

More sensitive to egoism

Then to National Development‖

It is true that the selfishness of most leaders is very dangerous in the process of development.

b)Corruption. It is immoral action where one gains his favour by giving bribes. It can be in terms of sex or materials. This is a problem which most of developing countries and even the developed ones are facing.

In this poem, the persona argues that it is very difficult for a nation to develop when corruption dominates the society. We cannot get development with the corruption. The persona says,

―How is development

To be brought brother

When the people to whom

We have entrusted power

Are corrupt?‖

Therefore the poem maintains that corruption hinders the development.

c)Classes in the society. In this poem, the persona has pinned down the two major classes in the society. The first class is the upper class in which the persona seems to dislike it.

To him this class includes the minority who are selfish and corrupt. It is the class of the people whom we have entrusted power.

The poet say,

―I plead the stomachs

Of the privileged few

Greater than the rift valley; They cannot be satisfied With a normal share.

The second class is that of the majority who are exploited, cheated, and disregarded. In the last stanza, the persona says:

―To majority plead

Exploited Cheated.


But brother

How is the development to come?

d) Exploitation. It refers to the use of manpower or materials selfishly or unfairly. In this poem, the minority are selfish and not satisfied with what they have. The poet says:

―To majority plead Exploited Cheated.


But brother

How is the development to come?

The lower class is complaining that the upper class is exploiting them. So with this evil, there will be no development.

d) Poor social services. The persona has discussed the issue of social services in the society. Since independence, people have been demanding better living standards and improvement of social services. But all these years of Uhuru have proved failure. Leaders have proved incapable of bringing development. People need health centers, more schools, clear water, better transport facilities and better living conditions. In the second stanza, the persona says:

He looks into the files

To see the demand

Of the millions of the people

Who for years since Uhuru

Have just managed to survive

They ring out one message

Man of the people

You have always been telling us

What we need…

Health centers

More schools

Clean water

Better transport facilities

Better living conditions.

From the above stanza, development seems to be tough. Luck of social services are indicators of underdevelopment.

According to the persona, all these problems have been contributed by leaders.

They are not capable. Here says,

―Do you plead incapable To bring about development?‖ 6. What do we learn from this poem?

The lessons we get from the poem is that; wherever there is egoism, corruption, exploitation, poor leadership, then it is too difficult to develop. Therefore, we should fight against all these evils.

7. What is the form of the poem?

a) Type of the poem.

  • This is an open form of poem. The poem length varies systematically in the length of the verse, and in number of verses in each stanza. There is no pattern to explain the poetic form. b) Structure of the poem

The poem has twelve stanzas. The first has six verses, the second has fourteen, the third has two verses, and the fourth has ten verses, while the fifth has five verses, the sixth has ten verses, the seventh stanza has five verses and the eight has five verses.

The ninth stanza has four verses, the tenth has five verses but the eleventh stanza has four verses and the twelfth stanza has six verses.

e) Language/ diction

  • The language used in this poem is simple, ordinary, clear and straight forward.

Although the language is characterized by the following:

i) Repetition of words for emphasis i.e. ―plead‖ ―underdevelopment‖

―development‖ and ―A man of the People‖

ii) For stance, ―A man of the people‖ emphasizes an irony towards leaders. ii) Barbarism: the poet has also used a swahili word, i.e. ―Uhuru‖ in the 2nd stanza.


g)Exaggeration is used to magnify the ideas, example, ―the stomachs of the minority greater than that of the Sahara‖ iii) Personification has been used in this poem. This can be seen in the fourteen stanza when a country is given qualities of running and walking. The persona says:

―I declare running

Better than walking

For a young and poor country…‖

d) Tone/voice

  • The altitude of the poet is ironic, sympathetic or satirical. The persona is in very deep feeling.

e)Mood. The state of mind of the poet is ironic, serious and angry: this is due to exploitation, selfishness and corruption. The pardoner hates the leaders who are selfish, corrupt and exploiters.

f)The relevance of the Poem. The poem is relevant to all developing countries, like Tanzania and other African countries where corruption is rampant. The persona says: ―How is development

To be brought brother

When the people to whom

We have entrusted power Are corrupt?‖


One says that

My children are dwarfs

That no one seems taller Than the other.

That they never take a bath,

That they are soiled,

That they eat lice

From their clothes Let them eat, brothers,

Until the system changes. Until exploitation ends:

Let them eat brother,

Because we are on the way

To build Ujamaa

But, at present,

The system has not changed.

Let them eat, brother,

Because the rich nations

Are not yet ready

To die a little

So that the poor nations may live:

Let them eat, brother,

Because the rich man

Is not yet ready

To die a little

So that the poor man may live.

Let them drink water.

Let them eat air.

Let them digest the sunshine

Because that is what I can afford to buy.

Meanwhile I wait

For Uhuru to flower,

ForUhuru to come

When the time is ripe.

Let them eat brother.

Because the rich man

Is convinced that It's because I'm lazy That they don't have food.

That they don't have good health. That they wear rags.

And that their house

Is like an abandoned hut

Let them eat brother

Because the rich man

Thinks that it's because

I don't plan my Family

Let them eat brother.

Because the rich man

Does not like to hear

That he is rich

Because of me

That I work hard,

But for him and

Not for myself

That it's only because

I'm a slave of a system

That I lead a poor life


i. How many stanzas does this poem has? This poem has six stanzas.

ii. What is the poem is about?

The poem is about a poor person who is disappointed with the existing system. The relationship between the developed countries and developing countries is exploitative in nature. iii. What do you think the poet means when he says, ―to die a little‖ He wants the rich nations to relieve the poor nations so that they can develop. Therefore, to die a little‖ is to be considerate for the benefits of the poor countries.

iv. What type of poem is this?

It is an open form poem. This is because the number of syllables varies in each verse, even the length of the verses varies. There is also a variation in number of verses in each stanza.

v. Themes

Exploitation. It can be looked in different forms; it can be through forced labour, un equal exchange etc. The foreign bourgeoisie uses African government leaders and businessmen as puppets to protect their interest and to help continue exploiting the African masses. The presence of poor living conditions in the society is result of exploitation. The poet says―  ―one says that

  • My children are dwarfs

...they are soiled

  • That they eat lice…

…let them eat brothers

...until exploitation ends‖

In other words, exploitation has made most of the families lead poor life.

a) Impact of neo – colonialism to developing countries. Neo colonialism refers to the use of economic or political pressure by powerful countries to obtain or to keep influence over other countries especially their former countries. The poet argues that since big countries are using their powers in economy and political matters, then the poor countries will not develop. In this poem, neo- colonialism can be evidenced when the poet says:

  • …because the rich nations
  • Are not yet ready
  • To die a little
  • So that the poor nations may live.‖

The persona sees neo-colonialism as an obstacle to development. Had the rich countries been ready to reduce powers over these poor countries, it would have been easier for poor countries to develop. But the rich people and rich nations are not ready.

b) Poor living conditions. The standard of living among most Africans is below the average. Most people are living poor life. They do not get important and necessary services at better level, i.e. few schools, poor health centers, poor communication systems, etc. Due to this, children are getting Kwashiorkor as a result of underfeeding. The existing system has failed to solve problems in order to improve the living condition. The poet says,

―one says that

My children are dwarfs

That no one seems taller

Than the other

That they never take a bath

That they are soiled

  • The health of these children seem to be poor due to poverty.

c)Classes in the society. Two classes of people emerge in this society, especially after independence. The class of poor people does not own anything. That is why the poet says:

…because the rich man

Is not yet ready

To die a little

So that the poor man may live…

This proves that the rich are exploiting the poor. The relationship between these two classes is exploitative in nature.

d)Poverty. It is a state of being poor, or lack of important human needs. Most of Africans are poor, they cannot afford basic needs. On this poem the poet says:

Let them drink water

Let them eat air

Let them digest the sunshine

Because that is what

I can afford to buy

…that they don‘t have good health That they wear rags.

h) What lesson do we get from the poem

The system must be changed in order to improve the living conditions of developing countries. Exploitation done by both the rich people and rich nations is an obstacle to the development.

Form of the poem

a) Type of the poem? It is a free verse poem.

b) Language/ diction

The language used is very clear and straight forward. The poet has employed images and figures of speech.

i) Satire. ―let them digest the sunshine because that is what I can afford to buy‖

ii.Symbolism. ―to die a little ― to sacrifice a little bit‖

iii.Imageries. The poet has used the terms ―dwarfs, soiled, rags, abandoned hut‖ indicating poverty. d) tone/voice

üThe tone of the poet is satirical and sad.

e)Rhyme schemes

üIt has irregular rhyme pattern.

f)The relevance of the poem

üThe poem is relevant to all developing countries where most people are still poor and there is exploitation of lower class by rich people. g) Mood of the poet

üThe altitude of the poet is sad. He believes that if the system is changed, then development can be achieved.



There are only white women around: Awful fakes of white females Reflecting an awful mass of ugliness: And I want a lady To mount the rostrum with And announce to the world:

―Black is beautiful!‖


I want a black beauty queen

With ebony thighs and huge hips

With skin sweating blackness

And a face dark as the night And bare breasts bouncing Vigour and energy.



But my eyes, oh my eyes!

They don‘t see anything black;

It‘s only white skins and masks

Flashing past and slashing,

Destroying my sight so I can‘t get what I want.

I cry and sing to them

The inbred tune of our people,

I shout to them in the black tongue

But no black sister hears me;

Only white masks I see.

I turn and weep upon myself And then, only then I realize: I am not black either.

Lost beauty is a critical poem written by a late Tanzanian professor, Jwani Mwaikusa (1952-2010) that clearly depicts the effects both colonialism and neo-colonialism have had on Africans and African culture in general. Today most Africans are suffering from colonial hangovers. While some wish they were born white, some have taken a further step ahead trying to make themselves look white. So they strongly struggle to appear at their best, think, act and live like white people. What they forget however is that described by Okot P‘Bitek in the ―song of Lawino‖ that ―The graceful giraffe cannot become a monkey‖ this is to say Africans should remain Africans and white men should remain as they are.



Principally, the poem assesses the effects colonialism has had on the African culture. African culture has been seriously damaged by what Africans were fooled to believe as the way of civilized people.

Today most Africans, (especially women), struggle to change their skin colour using cosmetics, curl their hair and as if that‘s not enough they wear wigs with different white women‘s hair fashions. They don‘t even realize that black colour is stronger than their white counterpart. Nevertheless, according to the poet the more they beautify themselves in white fashions the uglier

they look (line 3). He has the following to say (lines15-17)

My eyes oh my eyes They don‘t see anything black Its only white skins and masks.


Initially Africans were very proud of their body morphology, but in the turn of the 20th and 21stcenturies things have changed dramatically. Africans were created naturally beautiful, and for so long they have lived appreciating this wonderful creation. However, after the coming of white people things have changed in a sense that Africans now cling to the culture that is not theirs. Not only has this affected the way they look at things but also the way they themselves appear. It is hard nowadays to get a naturally beautiful African lady. They curl their hair and wear wigs to look like white women. They don‘t

realize that black is beautiful says the poet.(lines 9-14)

I want a black beauty queen

With ebony thigh and huge hips

With skin sweating blackness

And a face dark as the night And bare breast bouncing

vigour and energy


The poet‘s reflection on himself draws a clear picture of awareness and consciousness by showing how grand is this dilemma. He goes back and looks at himself; perhaps the way he dresses, the food he eats, the language he uses, the education he has and his general lifestyle and comes into a conclusion that these values are not African either. This is to say the poet is aware that colonialism has left effects to both African men and women. This sense of awareness comes to him in the last stanza when he says;

I turn and weep upon myself And then only then I realize I am not black either.


The poet seems to table a discussion for African to debate and arrive at a conclusion on whether or not the direction we are heading is right. We need to stop a bit and rethink where we came from where we are, where we should have been. We are losing our identity as Africans while in the process we shall never be white people altogether. This has been a concern of most African novelists, poets/poetess, and playwrights. Since white people never wish to change and look like Africans, then why should Africans do? Since the graceful giraffe cannot become a monkey, let us be proud of our

Africanism and struggle to create a black identity. As the poet says in (lines 47);

And I want a lady

To mount the rostrum with And declare to the world Black is beautiful.


a)What does the title ―Lost beauty‖ tell you?

The title shows that there was some kind of beauty initially which has been lost now. It simply refers to Africans who have lost their natural African beauty in the process of trying to look like white people by using artificial designs.

b)The poet says ―my eyes oh my eyes! They don‘t see anything black‖ what does he mean?

Considering the surrounding atmosphere in the poem it shows that all the people around him have masked themselves with European fashions and he can‘t find one who is displaying the qualities that are completely African.

c)Who is the person in this poem?

The person is an African man who is aware of how European culture has dismantled African culture.

d)Comment on the tone and the mood of the poem.

The tone is lamenting, satirical and sarcastic. The persona cries for the change that has taken place, but later he realises that even himself is affected by this change. This makes his mood sad and unhappy.

e)The poet says, ―I shout to them in a black tongue‖ what do the words ―black tongue‖ mean?

The fact is, there is no black tongue in colour, but ‗black‘ here implies African tongue. In other words it means in a way (language) that Africans can hear and understand.

f)Comment on the figures of speech and poetic devices.


And a face dark as the night Hyperbole :

―to mount the rostrum with and announce to the world‖ the fact is one cannot announce to the whole world from a rostrum (stage)


My eyes oh, my eyes!


―White masks‖ this is an image of Africans who have artificially changed themselves to look white.


Black beauty queen

And bare breast bouncing….

g) What message do you get from the poem?

  • Africans should be proud of their identity.
  • Black is beautiful

h) Read again the last line of the last stanza. In what sense is the poet not black?

The poet realizes that he is not black in a sense that the white men values have affected him as well. And not in terms of skin colour.


The poem is relevant to most African countries since the effects of colonialism have affected the whole continent. Today a lot of women struggle to change their black skins to be white by using cosmetics. Some even hate their black hair and were wigs or curly their hair.

NECTA (2012) poems have their own part to play in the struggle to create a new man. Use the poem above to prove the statement.


Isack Mruma

Questions (BRN 2013)


i. How many stanzas are there in the poem? There are six stanzas in the poem. ii. What is the tone/mood of the speaker?

ii) The tone is sad and lamenting.

iii.Comment on the use of figures of speech.


To you dada

It is to you dada


… the tenderness that asks where my wallet is With your passion chasing my bank account.

iv.Comment on the rhyming scheme.

The poem has irregular rhyming patterns with exception of only two lines that seem to rhyme. Lines (14-15)

Never are passions cool

To you I am now a tool

v.Is the poem relevant to the society today? Why?

The poem is relevant to our societies today because today love can be bought. Most girls today wish to marry men who are well-off. And if at some point in your life you happen to have money then you have a dozen of girls around you kissing, hugging and chasing for your money, but the moment you run bankrupt you lose all your girls altogether.

vi.What are the themes of the poem?


The kind of love portrayed in this poem is not the true one. It is a love focused on money. This girl kisses the man only when she notices that he has money. If the guy happens to have no money she minds her own business, then there is no love. Your glance sister,

Is to me the measure

Of the heat of the dough

In my pocket

The persona shows that the girl has turned him into the tool of production or the source of income. He works and his entire wage is claimed by the woman.

Never are passions cool

To you I am now a tool

And all my wage is now the fare

I ride on your throbbing kisses


The man in the poem shows a sense of protest because he has realised that his mistress is not in true love with him. The woman‘s love is focused on the money she gets. When no money, no love. So the man is protesting against his mistress‘ behaviour. It is to you dada

That my pen tears the pad

For I only see your love

Focused on my purse (wallet)


The man is aware that the woman is only exploiting her money in the name of love. Even when she pretends to touch him romantically, she just searches for the wallet. So the man has realised that her love was lost a long time ago, what makes it going is money. Here says the poet;

It is you I accuse,

Because your love is lost

And you only touch me

With the tenderness that asks

Where my wallet is


The woman seems to be engaged in prostitution because her love is for sale. She looks for people with money and has no true love. This is a very dangerous behaviour because it exposes her to terrible sexually transmitted diseases. The man shows that the woman is always chasing his bank account.

For I only see your love

Focused on my purse With your passions

Chasing my bank account.

What lessons do you lean from the poem?

a)Prostitution is dangerous because it may expose someone to STDs.

b)Love based on money is not good. Because when one runs out of money love is lost altogether. by tribe. His father was a teacher at Gullu Mission Centre. His mother was a composer and singer of Acoli songs. Okot got his education from Gulu High School. King‘s College. Budo (Uganda): Government Training College (teacher): Bristol University (Education Diploma): University College of Wales. Abersytwyth and Oxford University. He was once a choir Master and a footballer. He was interested in oral literature.


Song of Lawino is a dramatic monologue which reveals two characters, Lawino and her husband, Ocol, In disagreement. Both Lawino and Ocol belong to the Acoll tribe of Northern Uganda. They represent an African husband and wife. Ocol is educated and westernized while Lawino is not.

Section 1: Lawino tells us how Ocol insults and looks down on her and her ways, family, clan and all black people and their traditional ways. Lawino reacts on Ocol‘s insults by mocking him with his Western ways.

Section 2: Lawino introduces us to Clementine, the city girl who is her rival for Ocol‘s love. She despises the way Clementine resorts to artificial ways of beautifying herself, like using cosmetics, wearing wigs and slimming. She thinks she can compete with Clementine by welcoming her husband warmly, and by the preparation of good meals, etc.

Section 3: Presents Lawino‘s attitudes towards European traditional dances which she thinks are meaningless, immoral and unhygienic. They encourage people to embrace and kiss in public and hence ignoring the respect for relatives. In addition, they dance in darkness, with the dancers drunk, smoking and wearing improper dresses. Lawino prefers traditional dances which she believes are meaningful, require skills and they are danced in broad daylight and in the open.


Lawino describes the game, ornaments and other accomplishments of the Acol youth. She is remembers how beautiful and skillful she was when she was still young and how she used to be admired by all the boys including Ocol because of her singing and dancing

Section 5

Lawino condemns the western hair treatment (style) and the wearing of wigs and head kerchiefs. She sees that there is no reason for aping the European in their fashion styles because what is good for Europeans may not be necessarily good for Africans. She also describes the beauty of traditional hair styles and adornments of body and and the way they attract young men.

Sectin 6

Lawino confesses her ignorance of how to eat with forks and spoons. She despises the tastelessness of the timed and frozen food and the cooking stoves of the white men. She describes how every young ocol girl is taught to look after the home and prepare food. She also describes how nicely her mother‘s house is organized.


Lawino compares the western ways of telling time by counting seconds, minutes and hours by clocks with the traditional ways of observing nature or by needs felt by human being. She makes funny of Ocol for becoming a slave of time to the extent of being unhappy and restless and blames him for treating his children and relatives with great disrespect for the sake of observing time.

Section 8

Lawino expresses the attitude toward the Christianity and those who preach and love it. She blames the preachers of Christianity for maltreating their converts. She shows that the missionaries are wrong in their way of thinking: Education, sexual morality and naming individuals. She blames the preachers for preaching good things but practicing things contrary to Christianity. She thinks that it is better to join with her poor people in the area where meaningful and relevant songs and cultural activities are performed.

Section 9.

Is a continuation of criticism given against the preachers and Christian doctrine. Lawinno criticizes the preachers for failing to answer the questions concerning Christianity. She also questions Christian doctrines of creation, virgin birth and Eucharist

Section 10

Lawino tells us how Ocol despises traditional medicine, hygiene, food, and child upbringing. She believes that like European medicine, some Acol medicine work and some do not. She compares her belief in traditional spirit and charms to Ocol‘s belief in rosaries, angels and the power of prayer.

Section 11: Lawino attacts the local leaders of two rival parties her husband, Ocol, and his brother. These leaders talk about independence, unity and peace, only to bring more conflicts and disunity even within the family. She also attacks the folly of these leaders: engaging in political conflicts and forgetting the suffering of the people under poverty, ignorance and diseases.

Section 12: Exposes the irrelevance and effects of Western education. Lawino asks Ocol of what use for him are the books as person since the knowledge in them cannot help to create a better society. According to her, the books have killed Ocol as a man with Western education has brought him to the point where he belongs neither to European culture nor to African culture.

Section 13: Lawino advises Ocol on how to regain his manhood. According to her, he can do that by throwing away all the symbols of hypocrisy, by begging for forgiveness of the elders, offering traditional sacrifices using doctors and medicines.


This poem contains three characters:



An African woman who lacks formal education and who is not converted to Christianity (p.14), A strong upholder of African tradition (good or bad). She is proud of her womanly and cultural accomplishment. She despises all the new ways (good or bad) being followed by her husband, Ocol. She is a responsible mother who loves and cares for her children. Like any other person, she is jealousy and most of her bitterness to her rival-Clementine, is provoked by her appearance (p.24).


He is an African man who has got Western education (University education). He imitates the white men in everything and he is proud of and upholds all Western ways (good or bad). He despises all traditional ways of life (good or bad). He despises Lawino and her relatives, his own relatives and all black people. He is arrogant (Eg. Abusing, Lawino in English). He is Hypocrite politician (leader of DP) who preaches unity and at the same time he is in conflict with his brother who belongs to another political party (UPC).


She is a modern girl; she is Ocol‘s girl friend and a rival of Lawino. She is a westernized woman who symbolizes Western fashions and behaviours of women. She imitates the white women in their ways. She is fond of artificialities. She is arrogant (p.27).


This poem has the following themes: African traditions, Protest, Conflict. Disunity/Allenation, Hypocricy, Position of women in society, etc.

African Tradition

Based on traditional beliefs, Lawino believes that when diseases such as small pox attack people, the players and sacrifices to the ancestors can help to eradicate the disease, (p.154). The Acoll believe in the powers of ancestors, spirits gods. Lawino describes the various spirits that cause trouble. For example, Joke Omara (for madness). Joke Odude (for tying up a woman‘s womb). Etc.

The acoll also believe in the ability of diviner priests. Lawino blames Ocol for condemning diviner priests. She believes they can tell the cause of diseases (pp.153-162). The Acoll believe in witchcraft. Lawino believes that someone (shadow raper) can capture the child‘s shadow for evil purpose (pp.162-164).

They believe in the power of human curse. For example, the father can curse child by pointing his penis at him or her. The mother can do that by lifting her husband‘s penis. The curse of one‘s aunt can cause a person to pass in his or her bed. There is a system of naming people. Normally, the names given have meanings. The meaning derived from the fact that people are named according to one‘s position in the line of birth, the place, season or occasion of birth, one‘s body attraction, one‘s fate, behavior of one‘s parents, etc. (pp. 129-131.

They hold some taboos. It is a serious taboo for a woman to refuse to have sexual intercourse with her husband when she is ready to have another child. She is not allowed to have sexual intercourse when the baby is still young (pp. 99-100).

Other African traditions found in the text are: Dances, songs, adornment, telling time, food, medicine and hygiene, etc. If we try to assess African traditions, we find that while most of them are good, these are few to assess African traditions, we find that while most of them are good there are few others, which are bad and not progressive. Some of these traditions include superstitions. Poor hygiene, ignorance, etc, However, the pumpkin in the old homestead must not be uprooted. This means that one should not destroy something which is durable and which ensures security. The pumpkin offers security from hunger if there is famine. Also, it sends its foot deep into the soil and then grows, spreading itself in all directions. The root can be compared with the root of a very deep tradition.


To protest refers to the act of going against (to be in opposition) ideas, statements or directions. In this poem, it is Lawino who protests. She has great love for African ways and deep dislike for foreign ways. However, we do not have to agree with her argument. We must take her arguments critically.

She protests due to the fact that she is dissatisfied with Ocol‘s ideas, practices, and attitudes towards her, her relatives, his relatives and the black people and their ways of life. She also protests against Clementine‘s ideas and protest, i.e. arrogance, artificially, aping Europeans etc.

Lawino protest against foreign things and ways, artificially, aping Europeans and modern politics.

Lawino attacts Christianity in the following aspects:

She attacks the preachers (missionaries) teachers, etc for using religion to exploit and oppress their converts (i.e. making them house girls). The preachers show hypocrisy. They do not practice what they preach. For example they drink and seduce girls. They are unable to make people understand what they preach. This is probably because they themselves do not understand well what they preach or because their teaching methods are poor. They do not like questions. The Christian doctrine is incomprehensible, meaningless and irrelevant to Africans. For example, Lawino fails to understand the concepts of creation and virgin birth. Christian names are meaningless and difficult to pronounce. Lawino protests against songs and dances (European), i.e. the songs and dances have no meaning and relevance to her society.

Lawino protests against Europeans adornments i.e. Clementine has to resort to false and unnatural cosmetics, straightening her hair, wearing wigs, wearing false breasts, slimming (pp. 22-24, 26). These adornments and artificialities distort the natural beauty of the African women. Lawino protests against Europeans food. She dislikes European food because it is useless.

Lawino protests against European medicine and hygiene. She condemns Ocol‘s negative attitude towards all Acoll medicines and positive attitude towards European medicine because they are modern (pp. 154-155).

Lawino protests against Western education. She condemns Western education for corrupting Ocol‘s mind to the extent of alienating him from the African culture. His identity as a blackman (manhood) has been killed by Europeans education (pp. 207-209). Also, Lawino protests against artificially and aping foreigners.


A conflict is a fighting, collision, a struggle, a contest, opposition of opinions, purpose, and tec. In short, we can say that conflict is a misunderstanding between two sides.

A conflict can arise when different groups have conflicting ideas, beliefs, purposes, opinions, interest and values. If they do not compromise, their differences become more and more extreme and fanatical. Haired and jealousy also play a role in increasing conflict.

The main cause of conflict in the book is the existence of the two opposing cultures African and European. The types of conflict in the book can be grouped as follows:

A conflict between Africa Culture and European Culture

The differences existing between these two cultures cause conflicts in the society.


Traditional religion vs Christianity

Traditional dances vs foreign dances

Traditional medicine vs modern medicine

Traditional adornments vs foreign adornment.

African ways of telling time is modern ways of telling time

Conflicts between People

The conflict takes place because each individual holds different cultures.

Examples Ocol vs Lawino

Ocol insults and despises her and Lawino‘s relatives that they are uneducated, pagan, primitive and superstitious. Lawino reacts by urging that the European culture has killed Ocol‘s manhood. She blames and accused him of following the ways of the Whiteman and despising his own people and their ways.

Ocol vs His Relatives

Ocol despises his relatives that they are dirty, pagan and primitive. For example, he is reluctant to welcome his relatives, including his own mother to his home because he believes they are dirty and are a burden to him (pp.


Lawino vs Clementine

Lawino and Clementine are in conflict for Ocol‘s love. Clementine speaks to Lawino arrogantly: Lawino despises Clementine for the latter‘s artificially and arrogance.

Conflict between politics


Educated people like Ocol alienate themselves from the African culture. Also, they alienate themselves from the follows (Africans who are not educated). Christians such as Ocol also alienate themselves from non-Christian. So this brings disunity among the people of the same clan.

Conflict among the people also causes disunity among the members of the society. For example, there is disunity among political parties such as DP and UPC. This situation leads to misunderstanding among the people. Therefore this is a factor which can hinder development of any society.


Hypocrisy means making oneself to falsely appear to be virtuous or good (better). Lawino attacks Hypocrite politician. She blames Ocol the leader of the Democratic Party (DP) and his brother who belongs to a different party, Uganda People‘s Congress (UPC). They both preach independence, unity and peace, but they bring conflict and disunity even within the family (pp 180, 182, 183). Also, these leaders are not interested in the welfare of the people, but in positions and money. While they are locked in political conflicts, people suffer under ignorance, poverty, and diseases (p. 198). This habit causes a lot of problems to the society, hence hindering, and social development.


Ocol is a great betrayer in this book. This is because he insults and despises Lawino and her relatives by saying they are uneducated, pagan, primitive and superstitious. Also, he despises his relative that they are dirty, pagan and primitive. For example, he is reluctant to welcome his relatives, including his own mother in his home because he thinks they are dirty and burden to him (pp. 151-152). This is a sign of betrayal.

Also, Ocol betrays his wife (Lawino) by falling in love with Clementine. As a married man, Ocol is not supposed to do that. This habit causes conflicts to this family. After acquiring Western education Ocol alienates himself from African culture. This habit is a symbol of betrayal due to the fact that Ocol (an educated man) fails to use his education to educate or liberate his society from ignorance, Poverty and diseases. Betrayal of any kind in a society is dangerous for it can cause disunity, humiliation, oppression as well as alienation among members of society.

Position of Women in the Society

The writer portrays women in various ways in the society.

Firstly, a woman as portrayed as an oppressed, humiliated, alienated, exploited person in her society. This is seen through Lawino who is oppressed, humiliated, alienated as well as exploited by her husband due to the belief that she is uncivilized uneducated static and unchanging woman.

Secondly, a woman is portrayed as a mother who is responsible members of her society Lawino, as a mother, is responsible as seen when she makes sure that children have eaten. A mother of this his hind is indeed a good mother.

Thirdly, a woman is portrayed as strong representative upholder of African tradition (whether good or bad). She fights against Western culture which has been interfering with African culture.

Fourthly, Lawino is one among the majority of African women who lack formal education. This symbolized that African women are humiliated, segregated, oppressed, discriminated, exploited as well as alienated in the society compared to men. This situation causes inequality in the society and deprives women of development rights.

Western Culture

It was introduced by Europeans. Europeans used religion and education to destruct African culture. Western culture brought disunity among Africans. i.e. Christian vs. Europeans to the African countries caused a lot of problems in all aspects of life including culture, economic as well as political sphere of life.


The conflicts have not yet been resolved. Whether the conflicts will be solved or not it depends on the kind of reaction Ocol‘s will show to Lawino‘s advice on how to recover his lost manhood. Unfortunately, Ocol seems to reject her advice because in the introduction of Song of Ocol attacs Lawino and some of her ways and strongly defends his.


Qn.1 .Poetry is one of the most effective genres that have been used by poets to reflect the conflicts that emerged due to the contact between the old traditions and the modern ways. With reference to two poems verify the statement above.


It is true that poetry is one of the most effective genres that have been used by poets to reflect the conflicts that emerge due to contact between the old traditions and the modern ways. In response to this statement two poems, 'Song ofLawino and Song ofOcol"by Okot p' Bitek and "You Are Lost" by Isaac Mruma will be used.

From "Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol" we site-out the following conflicts that came as a result of contact between old traditions and the modern ways.

Conflict of customs (dancing and dressing): In the poem Lawino considers European dances as meaningless, immoral and unhygienic. This is because they encourage people to embrace and kiss in public. In she complains that they dance in darkness as the dancers drink, smoke and wear immoral dresses. She praises traditional dances which are meaningful, require skills and are performed in broad daylight.

Religious conflict (Christianity): Lawino blames the preachers of Christianity for mistreating their converts by making them house-boys and house-girls. She also blames them for preaching good things but themselves practicing things contrary to their preachings. She also blames Christians for exploitation as priests live a luxurious life while most ofthe parishioners are poor.

Family conflicts: The whole book is basically an argument between a husband (Ocol) and his wife (Lawino). The cause of the conflict is the difference in perspectives between Ocol who is an educated follower of the new ways and Lawino who is a traditional woman. Lawino exposes the irrelevance and effects of western education. She asks,

"Ocol what use for him are the books if the knowledge he got cannot help to create a better society and be closer to hisfamily."

Conflict of attitudes and styles: Lawino condemns hair treatment and the wearing of wigs. She believes that there is no reason for wigs or copying European fashions and styles because what is good for Europeans is not necessarily good for Africans. She also describes how traditional hair style and ornaments of the body attract young men.

Traditional food against European food: Lawino despises the tasteless, fried and frozen food and the cooking stove of the white man. She also hates the tendency of eating with spoons and forks. She also goes on to describe how every young Acoli girl is taught to look after the house and prepare food.

In the poem "You Are Lost',' the poet also portrays how modern ways of life conflicted with traditional ones in the following aspects:

Love for money: In the poem the persona complains to his girlfriend because of her modern ways of life which demand a lot of things which all need money to get. She is not in love with him anymore but rather her love is on his money. This is evidenced in stanza four verse three which reads,

"For I only seeyour love Focused on my purse,

With your passions

Chasing my bank accounts"

Therefore, it is high time now for the members of the society to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of both modern and traditional ways of life so as to avoid unnecessary conflicts.

Qn. 2 With reference to the poem below, highlight the central theme and relate it to what is currently happening in our society.

Death, be not proud - by John Donne (England)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Might and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom you think'st though dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, not yet canst though kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,

Much pleasure — then from thee much more must flow;

And soonest our best men with thee do go,

Rest of their bones and souls's delivery.

Though art slave to fate, chance, kings and desperate men,

And dost with poison, war and sickness dwell;

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well,

And better than thy stroke. Why swell'st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

And death shall be no more. Death, thou shalt die.


  • The central theme in this poem is life after death.
  • The theme is relevant to our society because in many churches Pastors and Padre's preach about it.
  • They preach about believing in eternal life after death and they emphasize that we should not worry about physical death because it is just a short sleep and thereafter our souls will be delivered and enjoy eternal life.

Qn. 3 When trying to follow foreign culture, the African finds himself or herself divorced from both his culture and the foreign one. Using four (4) poems show how this is true.


It is true that when trying to follow foreign culture the African finds herself/ himself being divorced from both their culture and the foreign one.

In response to the above statement the following poems: "Lost Beauty" by Jwani Mwaikusa, "Doom Ahead" by Mokando E. Mandia, "Song ofLawino and Ocol" by Okot p' Bitek and "Poor Woman" by Jwani Mwaikusa will be used to analyse the above statement.

Starting with the "Lost Beauty',' the persona in the third stanza fails to get what he wants; rather he sees white skins and masks. That means women who try to dress and apply makeups so as to resemble or look like Europeans fail and instead they end-up looking like they are wearing masks.

In the "Song of Lawino and Ocol'; Lawino describes how Clementine looks like when she uses some makeup's in order to resemble the European lady. She says: "Her lips are red hot, like glowing charcoal . ... ..... she dusts the ashdirt all over her face and when little sweat begins to appear on her body she looks like the guinea fowl." This implies that Clementine tries hard to resemble the white lady but she fails to be one and she neither looks like a European nor Lawino who is the typical African.

In the poem "Poor Women" the persona describes an African woman who is lamenting that her child is lost because she brought the child in the western ways. This is because she refused him her breast and fed him with powdered milk. The poor woman laments and mourns the death of her son and she can not reverse his life as a result of imitating western culture.

Lastly in the poem "Doom Ahead" we are introduced to how Africans (black people) used to live before they started imitating western culture or ways of life. People used to wish each other the best of living. But nowadays human values are no longer there and life is measured in terms of material things.


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