Echoes of Lawino play breathes new life in Okot p'Bitek poems

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After a long absence, Ugandan theatre witnessed the return of legendary poet Okot p'Bitek's work in the form of a play "Echoes of Lawino."

Between June 9 and June 11, audiences were able to watch on the National Theatre boards a dazzling debate on African identity, cultural preservation, and the evolution of society that was always the hallmark of p'Bitek's work.

A captive audience watched as the performers flawlessly brought to life the characters vividly described in the timeless poems of "Song of Lawino" and "Song of Ocol."

These poems chronicle the poignant lamentations of a traditional African woman whose husband, upon embracing education and western civilisation, undergoes a profound transformation.

He abandons their cherished African way of life, culture, and traditions and takes pride in marrying a new wife who epitomises the ideals of western society.

The genesis of this theatrical opus stems from the visionary aspirations of its producer, Peter Ojok Okello, who envisions a city that thrives with holistic progress while cherishing and preserving African cultural norms and values.

Divided into sessions, the play delved into various cultural and political themes, highlighting the differences between Lawino and her co-wife in physical appearance, kitchen power, attire, and their ability to cater to their husband's needs, among other aspects.

Throughout the play, the audience was treated to mesmerising interludes of cultural music and spellbinding dance routines, seamlessly intertwining the sessions.

These interludes added depth and emotion to the performances, enriching the overall experience for spectators.

"Echoes of Lawino" illuminated the veils of political and religious hypocrisy, underscored the stark disparities between cultural traditions, and shed light on the impact of civilisation on African heritage.

It implored Africans to embrace the positive elements of western culture while preserving their own traditions.

Alex Kitaka, the director of the play, emphasised the importance of celebrating literary luminaries such as Okot p'Bitek and reigniting appreciation for their work.

He advocated for the preservation of African customs, languages, and traditions while selectively assimilating beneficial aspects of western culture to contribute to Africa's holistic development and advancement.

The show garnered attention from prominent literary scholars, artistes, and politicians, with notable figures such as Nobert Mao in attendance.

Their presence highlighted the significance of "Echoes of Lawino" in sparking discussions about African identity, cultural preservation, and the evolution of society.

"We embarked on this endeavour with the aim of reimagining the literary opus of Okot p'Bitek and celebrating his remarkable stature as a preeminent scholar of literature in our nation and across Africa,” Kitaka said.

He explained that their mission was to serve as a poignant reminder to Africans that amidst the encroachment of western culture, their distinct customs, language, and traditions remain steadfast.

“We firmly believe in the potential to selectively draw upon philosophies and ideas from Western culture that can propel our collective progress and upliftment as African people," expressed Kitaka.

"Echoes of Lawino" at the national theatre succeeded in captivating audiences, reigniting cultural pride, and stimulating important conversations about the fusion of African and western influences.

The production serves as a testament to the enduring power of literature and the significance of preserving Africa's rich cultural heritage in an ever-changing world.

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