Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Michael Loudon


In Okot p’Bitek’s Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol, Ocol and Lawino, presenting themselves as a university-educated man and his non-literate village wife, argue the various merits and failings of traditional, Acholi village life and modern, Westernized life. Accompanying this sociopolitical argument is the personal, emotional conflict between the two: Ocol is rejecting Lawino in favor of a Westernized second-wife, but Lawino refuses to leave him, trying instead to coerce him into returning, body and soul, to her bed. The scenario seems straightforward. But below this superficial reading is a more complex one in which Lawino is Ocol’s mother rather than his wife. In this reading, Lawino has no voice of her own, being Ocol’s projection of his own repressed oedipal fixation, against which he reacts intensely both in the fictionalized Lawino’s presentation of him and in his own song.

The first clue to this oedipal reality was revealed by p’Bitek in some of his interviews. He claimed to have based Lawino on his mother but Ocol on himself. Yet Freudian theory is Western, and it is not certain that it is universally valid. However, the Acholi proverb, "Your first wife is your mother," seems to bridge the gap of uncertainty. And textual examination reveals, further, that Lawino is indeed Ocol’s mother and Europe his father.

This disparity between self-presentation and reality suggests further doubt concerning the authenticity of Lawino as an oral villager. Indeed, some critics have claimed that p’Bitek made her exaggeratedly simple. But beyond such a complaint, an application of Walter Ong’s elements of orality to a critical evaluation of Lawino’s song shows that, despite heavy borrowing of techniques common in Acholi orature, Lawino "sings" in a style and with a consciousness which are necessarily literate. Furthermore, she fails to follow the basic rule for the Acholi woman: to obey and respect her husband. The Lawino presented in this song cannot be its singer.

Ocol, however, does not refute Lawino on any of her points of inauthenticity. Furthermore, critics tend to agree that he, rather than Lawino, is insecure, unhappy, or psychologically afflicted. Freudian examination reveals that he is fixated in the oedipal stage of development, his true desire being for his mother Lawino. Yet, unable to accept this morally repulsive desire, he represses all conscious awareness of it. He then projects this desire onto a fictionalized image of Lawino, which accommodates the repression by making Lawino into his "wife." Thus Song of Lawino is Ocol’s masked expression of his repressed desire. And similarly, Song of Ocol is his open reaction against that desire. Additionally, many of Ocol’s childish or violent actions and reactions which may otherwise be inexplicable can be seen as a Freudian regression. Ocol is a man ruled by the mechanisms to which he turned for psychological defense.