Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Tuesday 21 March 2017       World Poetry Day Press Statement

How do we take back our power if we never knew we had it in the first place?
In 2009, when the first Ugandan annual women's BN poetry prize was awarded to Lillian Aujo, it was a novelty. It was a platform that emboldened the closeted poets; unsure of their poetic power. Floods of gratitude poured in from the Ugandan women. After five years, when the award stretched to include all African poets, it was also the opportune time for a Ugandan woman to say, "Here I am, I'll continue the Ugandan women's poetry prize." That was power.
For the five years it lasted, the poets attended master classes at various continental festivals like Storymoja. where they met and were mentored by London 2012 Olympics poet Lemn Sissay, where they were published in Babishai poetry anthologies alongside Prof. Jack Mapanje and Dr. Susan Kiguli, read from the same stage as Sitawa Namwalie and experienced a vast amount of unlimited poetry.
The conversation about this poetry prize re-emerged during the second Babishai poetry festival in 2016. The panel of impassioned Ugandan women poets spoke with conviction and pride. Let the actions begin. When the prize began, there wasn't even a blog to its name. The founder hadn't published any poetry collection unlike today and her only literary achievement was attending a writer's retreat in Lamu. There were hundreds of others more advanced in their literary careers.
What did the founder of this BN Poetry Award have that was different? The power of decision and the heart to make it happen at all costs. There is every feasibility to revamp this prize. Just say Yes!  Make the decision. The Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation will offer support. Don't wait for an endorsement from heaven. You have it. Anthony Robbins says, "Use whatever life gives you... The truth of the matter is, there is nothing you can't accomplish if you clearly decide what it is that you're absolutely committed to achieving."
To the Ugandan women poets, take back your power. Bring back the prize. Babishai will give its support. As you do so, in the words of Roxanna Kazibwe, published poet, 'Remember to have the time of your life while at it.'
FOUNDER AND COORDINATOR                        

Friday, March 10, 2017


'Husband, now you despise me
Now you treat me with spite
And say I have inherited
The stupidity of my aunt
You say you no longer want me
Because I am like the things left behind'

Lawino,  the central female character in the famous poem by Uganda's Okot p Bitek, Song of Lawino.
Lawino stands for self-respect, traditional values, feminism and she's also still a relevant voice for today. Tonight, you too will believe that Lawino is indeed our uncelebrated Uganda sheroine.
Make Acoli great again. That's what Lawino stands for. Respect of tradition, upholding Acoli values. Acholi people also known as Acoli is an ethnic group from the districts of Agago, Amuru, Gulu, Kitgum, Nwoya, Lamwo, and Pader in Northern Uganda (an area commonly referred to asAcholiland), and Magwe County in South Sudan.
The Acholi language is a Western Nilotic language, classified as Luo. Organised in chiefdoms. Leader is Rwot. Main activity is agriculture.The dances too, Lawino does not waste her time but presents the openness, liveliness and healthiness of Acoli dance positively, without apology:
«When the drums are throbbing
And the black youths
Have raised much dust
You dance with vigour and health
You dance naughtily with pride
You dance with Spirit,
You compete, you insult, you provoke
You challenge all»,

 Her husband Ocol, educated in Western ways, married a second woman called Clementine, an African lady who dressed and spoke in ways that devalued her African tradition and upheld Western ways. This is exactly what Ocol admired. By so doing, held Lawino, his traditional wife, in disdain.

Brother, when you see Clementine!
The beautiful one aspires;
To look like a white woman;
Her lips are red-hot;
Like glowing charcoal;

‘My clansmen I cry
Listen to my voice
The insults of my man
Are painful beyond bearing
He abuses me in English
And he is so arrogant
Second major factor explaining Lawino’s sheroics, Lawino challenged this Western education, whose literacy,  it appeared,  held tradition in contempt. She continues to say,
'In the deserted homestead
You insult me
You laugh at me
You say I do not know the letter A
Because I have not been to school and I have not been baptized. '
And yet, I agree, like Taban lo Liyong, indicated in Popular Culture of East Africa, published by Longman in Kenya, 1972, that while education may be formalized, it may also remain informal in the sense of cultural information. E.g the Luo proverb, Jatelo ogongo ogwari, meaning The leader will be scratched by the thorn.
How many of us here have other rich proverbs in our languages? There are invaluable lessons .
This book, Song of Lawino, which we must all purchase to understand the sheroics of Lawino, is available at Aristoc at 19, 600/-.  The Acoli version was published in 1966 by East African Publishers, before its English translation and last year there was a global celebration of the 50th anniversary. The English version was published in 1984 by Heinemann as part of the African Writers Series.
According to an online essay, written by  poet Allan  King in 2011, entitled, Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol, Colonization's Remnants in Africa, he stated that the verbal brawl between Lawino and her husband Ocol were reflective of husbands who once loved and adored their wives, despised them once they returned from abroad. To Ocol,  a newcomer to European values.
'Akurri ma welo maro moko, which in Acoli means, ' A newcomer is usually in danger of being trapped or tricked.'
Lawino is our uncelebrated feminist, our modern day Leymah Gbowee. Leymah is a Liberian female fighter who led the women's peace movement to put an end to the second Liberian civil war in 2003. She received a nobel peace prize in 2011. Leymah said that it's time for women to stop being politely angry. In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, Book by Alice Walker, Lawino is a womanist, a feminist of colour.
Published in 1983, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose is a collection composed of 36 separate pieces written by Alice Walker. Originally published: 1983
Publisher: Harcourt/
Standing up to Ocol in her unapologetic feminist stance,'
My friend,
age-mate of my brother,
Take care,
Take care of your tongue
Be careful what your lips say.
Dr. Godwin Siundu, who teaches literature at the University of Nairobi, mentioned in an article published on  February 6th 2016, in The Saturday Nation,  in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Song of Lawino, mentioned the relevance of Song of Lawino. The questions  raised enable readers to identify if they have been addressed today and sadly, they haven't. Lawino remains a critical relevant voice in today's debates.
 Let's all become Lawino; feminists, upholders of traditional values and relevant voices of today who are able to embrace Western education while the same time, embracing our culture.

Beverley Nambozo’s speech delivered at Bukoto Toastmasters Club