Okot P’ Bitek's Song of a Prisoner


Date Posted: 10/21/2012 4:21:31 PM

Posted By: vann  Membership Level: Gold  Total Points: 1015

Song of a prisoner is just one of the many poems Okot P’ Bitek has written in an attempt to addressing what really was after the colonial masters had gone back to their homelands. Okot is a renowned and prolific poet worlwidewhose works have been of great teaching to the world. Just after colonial era and the Africans gaining Uhuru, a lot came to light. The lucky elites who grabbed the African lands were at the time controlling the African affairs and the wananchi had to face their wrath.

Okot in this poem shows how superiority, as shown by the controllers of the economy, can give fellow human beings certain characteristics that they never had. Shortly after independence, Okot identifies what Uhuru had turned East Africa into. Just characters like those that the whites had so did the African leaders who took power after the whites. Okot reveals the extent the African leaders could go just to clinch on power. He shows this through the killing of Patrice Lumumba in Democratic Republic of Congo and the harsh rules they set their fellow African like political assassinations, oppression of the poor, immorality and exploitation among other harsh and many injustices Africans faced.

It’s ironical that these harsh rules shown by these leaders make the natives, poor and innocent ones, long for the whites who previously ruled them. They seem comfortable being ruled with foreigners rather than fellow natives who instead of considering their plights as holding on one reason, go ahead and turn against their expectations. Their lamentations show how disappointed they are in their leaders, ‘though we free from the yolks of colonial masters, though we are free and not in prison, these issues still make us African prisoners.
In his poem song of a prisoner, Okot P’ Bitek employs different styles to bring out his artistic and more of mature themes through the same.

Apostrophe is one of the many styles herein presented by Okot in his poem. He uses this to enable the protagonist outline his or her ideas much more economically than a narrative explanation would permit and have impact on whoever is being addressed. The prisoner uses apostrophe to reveal his life details about his family which is in poverty and his wife being exploited by the big chief. Apostrophe introduces dramatic confrontation that causes the protagonist outhurts hence producing a framework for each poem’s discussion.
Anaphora and Repetition are used to convey speaker’s attention and also to pile up evidences. An example has been shown in the stanza,
Do you plead
Not guilty?
Rhetoric questions clearly bring out the theme of tribalism. The prisoner rhetorically asks his father why he never eloped with the right community. The theme of exploitation has been brought out clearly through the use of simile ‘my nose is broken down, youthful blood leaps like a cheetah after a duiker’.
Superstition is brought out when the prisoner claims that he want to go to the village to be cleansed. He hopes that everything will now be well after he killed the corrupt dictator. Corruption is shown as a theme through this revelation.

Okot uses fascinating characterization. The song seems comprise of ‘prisoners’ of which one is a former murderer, a dismissed bodyguard, a vagrant and a minister. The characters of each appears the same, maintaining the pride of their deeds and attacking the circumstances, both are strong,heroic,courageous and responsible for their families. Okot make the ‘prisoners’ heroic to show that the hopes of freedom in post independent African countries have been horribly betrayed hence his cry for political justice.

The feelings of the prisoner is laid bare to us, frustrations, hatred and despair are hardly the words to expect from a person who invest his idealism in struggle for Uhuru and yet reaps totally the opposite of the expectations. He is alienated by the power of elite that rules his society. The society rather than the prisoner owns particular ‘crimes’. So according to him the society is a true criminal. When questioned if he pleads guilty or not? He responds that he pleads sickness, diseased with diseases of the society and his torture heightened by the family sufferings. He imagines that his family is involved in his sufferings and he’s mentally tortured by mixing his trouble with their pathetic life. His children are in a worst plight, they cannot go to school because they cannot afford school fees, their infant pregnancies (kwashiorkor) are years overdue.
Though he is jail, he is expected to feed his family. His wife waits for beans, maize flour and salt which the prisoner had promised to take home for lunch. The irony is, even the prisoner himself who is suppose to care for the hungry, pleads of hunger!
Another prisoner with a totally different bibliography that emerges in the song is a former minister, who was arrested owing to the political quarrel with the cabinet,
Stop it
I am a minister
Do you not know me?
Unlike the previous prisoner, the minister’s children are in school and he do not want his family to know that he is in prison but to be informed that he is on a safari and will not come home.
He is sure that he will be out in three days time. Well, who knows, since his brothers are the chief of army and the police?
The figure of the political prisoner is a powerful symbol of the twentieth century. He symbolizes the tyranny of intolerance and the courage of his own convictions.

Okot makes to us clear that we are often guilty of sentimentality and hypocracy. We actually do not know who the prisoner killed, a hero of freedom or neo-colonialist betrayer of freedom? His assassin was neither idealistic nor constructive. ‘My God, what a beautiful shot!’ is the concern he raises which isn’t with the social significance of his acts but solely with his technical beauty.
He finalizes not analyzing the objective reason. The readers and the prisoner remain in dilemma. What does the prisoner seek freedom for?

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