Jane Okot p’Bitek is the daughter of the renowned poet Okot p’Bitek. She is a lawyer, a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA) and holds an MBA in entrepreneurship and business venturing from the University of Stirling, Scotland.
She was a part-time lecturer at the Law Development Centre and is currently the Deputy Registrar-General (Registries) with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau.
She is an author of Song of Farewell (1994) and a co-author of A Poetic Duet (2016) — both anthologies of poems.
She spoke to the Saturday Nation at the Uganda National Cultural Centre about being a poet and how her legendary father transformed her worldview.
How has it been for you with a tag of the legendary Okot p’Bitek as your father?
The name p’Bitek has been huge and a door-opener up to date. Upon finishing Senior Six, it was a requirement that the District Commissioner approves of your documents before proceeding to university. When I walked into his office in Kampala, he felt elated that I was Okot p’Bitek’s daughter and quickly signed my documents. Everywhere I introduce myself, people always marvel.
Still on the epic name, has it been more of a blessing or a curse to you?
It has been a big blessing. More so, as a poet, I’ve enjoyed tremendous approvals from many readers across East Africa and beyond. On the contrary, I also get a lot of pressure from associates who expect me to measure up to my dad’s writings, which is an enormous task.
Did he in any way influence your writing of ‘Song of Farewell’, which has his flesh in it?
He partly influenced the writing of Song of Farewell as he read and corrected the original manuscript and would take my poems for publication in the mainstream newspapers. I picked the tittle “Song” and wrote the anthology of poems. Many literary pundits thought that I adopted my father’s style of writing and that’s why the label “song”. I began penning Song of Farewell way back when I was in high school.
Looking at the Song school, do you think that your dad eclipsed your writings as his prolific works such as ‘Wer pa Lawino’ and ‘Wer pa Ocol’ remain popular across the continent?
Mzee was so big. It’ll be sacrilegious to compete with his writings. In fact, I write under his towering literary shadows. I usually besiege people to critique my works separately and not to tug his name along. I’m working on a second anthology of poems and it will again follow the Song School.
In the epic ‘Wer pa Lawino’, do you agree with the lead character, Lawino, that all that is black is beautiful?
Black is beautiful. We have our culture as Africans and it shouldn’t be subjugated by the western influence. This is what influenced Song of Farewell, which is so rich in the African culture. On the flip side, I will advocate for a mix of the two cultures, thus partly defending Lawino.
Okot p’Bitek’s ‘Wer pa Malaya’ has been labelled lewd by some literary pundits. How did this go down with your family?
Interestingly, Wer pa Lawino and Wer pa Ocol eclipsed it. We never talked much about this song as a family. It’s true that p’Bitek never “dressed” the song as I did in Song of Farewell, which also mentions a malaya (a prostitute). P’Bitek was blunt and thus didn’t mind the language he used in his works and that’s why the song is unpopular with our schools.
And talking of p’Bitek’s family, your other siblings — Julliane Bitek and George p’Bitek — are hardly visible on the literary scene. Didn’t your dad’s great writings spur them to write?
We were born seven in our family, though we lost one of us. Three of us — Julliane, George and I — went the art route while the rest are scientists. Julliane may not be well known at home (Uganda), as she is based in Canada, but she is a great pen-woman. Sometime back she visited the country when she did a paperback, 100 Days, a book that talks about the gruesome 1994 Rwandese genocide. Maybe if she was here, her works would be in our syllabus.
George has some huge talent in writing. I read most of his works when he was a schoolteacher. Even so, he got more absorbed in business than writing.
Lastly, for me I balance between writing and my career as a civil servant. I’ll fully plunge into writing next year as I’ll be exiting the civil service.
In the poem anthology ‘A Poetic Duet’ that you co-authored with Sophie Bamwoyeraki, ‘The Arrested Ministers Repentant Plea’ makes one jeer at the selfishness of public servants. Is this the norm in Uganda?
Corruption in most African countries is a way of life. When you fight it at the workplace, you become an enemy of the people.
Still on the anthology, ‘For Better, For Worse’ stands out as one of the best crafted poems. Is it tell-tale sign of failed marriages in Uganda?
It’s always amazing the extravaganza for newly married couples and hardly three months later, they are separated. My advice to couples is, have valid reasons for tying the knot. Don’t date one because of the riches but out of love which should be a long-lasting affair. Can you believe it? I started dating in campus and I’ve now lived with my significant other for close to three decades.
P’Bitek was a close associate of other prolific Ugandan penmen such as Okello Oculi, John Ruganda and David Rubadiri. Did you ever interact with these iconic writers?
I hardly remember Okello Oculi, but he used to visit our home in Uganda. As for John Ruganda, he was a regular guest at home. My dad was so close to David Rubadiri and when both were exiled, Rubadiri hardly left our Nairobi house.
You initially preferred to study sciences instead of liberal arts, which was your dad’s forte. Why couldn’t you pick the liberal arts as your first option?
I wanted to know people as a teenager and I thought that the only way out was by studying medicine. My high school headteacher, an Irish woman, insisted that if I opted for the sciences, I’ll have to exit the school. I stayed put as my dad could not entertain me exiting the top school.
Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol have never left most African classrooms, including my home country Kenya. Do you swim in affluence from book royalties?
This is the headache with writing; the writer is mostly slapped with some meagre book royalties. Truth be told, the publishers are never fair with writers. You’re sometimes forced to beg for your dues in order for something to hit your bank account. My mum always advised me never to leave my daytime job for full-time writing.
Your parting shot to budding writers?
It’s good to write. Let’s pacify Taban Lo Liyong’s aphorism that East Africa is still a literary desert. Through writing, we are also certain of preserving our culture. I’ll also advice upcoming writers to be voracious readers as with wide reading, your storytelling skills are honed.
The writer teaches at Ng’iya Girls High School in Siaya County and is a regular contributor on literary issues in the ‘Saturday Nation’. He is the secretary at the International African Writers Association (IAWA) based in Abuja-Nigeria. [email protected]
Singer speaks after attacking lover at WCB signee Zuchu’s star-studded concert
56 minutes ago
On 18 July, there was fanfare at the Mlimani City Hall in Dar es Salaam as WCB signee Zuchu held a thanksgiving concert months after her debut EP, I Am Zuchu. The event dubbed ‘Ahsante Nashukuru’ mainly featured performances by artistes from the WCB stable and attracted the whos-who in the Tanzanian entertainment and political scenes.
However, singer Gigy Money who also performed made the headlines for the wrong reasons after getting into a scuffle with her lover during the much-publicised concert.
READ ALSO: I was bewitched by a friend – Gigy Money
Peaceful arrival, later chaos
Moments earlier, Gigy and her Nigerian man were seen arriving arm in arm at the event whose highlight featured Zuchu receiving a brand new car from WCB head honcho Diamond Platnumz. Donning matching outfits, the couple was spotted on the red carpet as the paparazzi scrambled to capture the moment. However, all hell breaks loose later and viral videos depict the visibly angered Nigerian arguing with a bouncer at the entrance. After a tense confrontation, Gigy’s man is seen being led by the screaming bouncer towards the exit. Shortly after, a similarly irritated Gigy emerges and follows the pair.
“Gigy! Wewe Gigy wewe!” a woman in the background is heard dissuading the singer from pursuing them but the singer pays no heed and heads for the pair.
“You want to beat me?” the boyfriend is heard asking an approaching Gigy as the bouncer acts as a barrier between them. The bouncer manages to steer the incensed man towards the exit as Gigy follows behind, hurling obscenities.
At some point, a barefoot Gigy turns into a sprint before throwing one of her shoes which hits the man who then responds with an insult. Another bouncer finally intervenes and the two are separated. Gigy then asks for her vehicle so she can head home before warning the press against sharing videos of the incident.
Though the cause of their tiff is still unknown Gigy later made reference to the shocking incident in a social media post, hinting that alcohol had a part to play in the fracas. In another post, Gigy shared a photo alongside her estranged lover writing: “My mad man looked handsome before his demons arose and mine arose too.”
‘Running over Ali Kiba’
Gigy is not new controversy and recently said she’d run over her ex, singer Ali Kiba for breaking her heart.
“I will knock all of them down, I mean I will kill them. In fact, I will flatten them like chapatis. The first person I will knock down and kill is Ali Kiba. Actually, I don’t need a weak car, I need a Fuso so that when I knock him down I will be sure he doesn’t survive,” Gigy told Ayo TV.
Dating Kiba brothers
Gigy had in the past admitted to dating both Ali Kiba and his younger brother, Abdu Kiba. She solely laid the blame on Chekecha singer for pursuing her despite knowing that she’d been with his younger brother. Abdu expressed being heartbroken after learning the two had a fling, prompting him to marry.
“I was very hurt on hearing that Ali was dating Gigy Money because I dated her first before she became famous. But it’s alleged that Ali didn’t know. It hurt me for a while till when I married,” said Abdu.
Defunct Nairobi County Council Nurses Go On Strike, Citing Discrimination By The Government
Why Jahmby Kokai is happy her TV anchor dream never came true
37 minutes ago
Popular media personality Jahmby Koikai narrated how her first attempt at auditioning as a TV host backfired and she was sent home on the first day of the audition. Reliving her prime days, Jahmby narrated how she was determined to follow her dream of becoming a news anchor after completing her degree.
“There was a reality show that was running on one major TV channel here in Kenya, searching for the next top news anchor. I’ve always had the knack for news. At the time, I was working at Metro FM. Walked to my boss and asked him if he was ok with me participating in this competition. He agreed to it.
“Auditions were at Film Studios. The queue stretched all the way to the showground. I was at the back kabisa. Imagine 300 people before you. Then we got the briefing paper and it indicated, ‘no persons with experience in a media house allowed to participate in this audition’. Mimi Jahmby Koikai, nirudi home after watu 300 kukuwa mbele yangu?” she posed.
According to the endometriosis survivor, she went ahead to audition for the position despite the warning and was the first contestant to be sent packing.
“So I stayed in line until I got to the audition room. The judges were a few people I was in campus with. I felt a wave of despair. Like I’m here auditioning, yet my classmates will be judging me? I did my thing and I was considered. We got into the house and we were assigned to different groups. I was the group leader and we won the challenge. Later that evening, we were driven back to Film Studios for a briefing. The presenter of the show said some of us have to go home.
“My name was called out first amongst other great people. We were dropped home. I cried. It felt like I’d lost such a great opportunity. My mom and late grandma were so sad cos they loved to watch me do the news,” she narrated.
Later, Jahmby auditioned for another TV opportunity only to miss out as well.
“Then came another opportunity over 10 years ago, I saw a TV ad and decided to apply for the news anchor position. I didn’t get the job.”
However, due to endometriosis, Jahmby was forced to put her dreams on hold and concentrate on getting better. According to her, it is as though God had better plans for her and is grateful to not have gotten the jobs.
“I battled severe endometriosis in silence for over 19 years. I think of how engaging the newsroom is and I’m grateful I wasn’t in that space. I’d have utilized all my sick-leaves and off-days and just declared redundant.”
There was a reality show that was running on one major TV channel here in Kenya, searching for the next top news anchor. I’ve always had the knack for news. At the time, I was working at Metro Fm. Walked to my boss and asked him if he was ok with me participating in this competition. He agreed to it. Auditions were at Film Studios. The queue stretched all the way to the showground. I was at the back kabisa. Imagine 300 people before you. Then we got the briefing paper and it indicated, ‘no persons with experience in a media house allowed to participate in this audition’. Mimi Jahmby Koikai, nirudi home after watu 300 kukuwa mbele yangu? Nikasema zi. So I stayed in line until I got to the audition room. The judges were a few people I was in campus with. I felt a wave of despair. Like I’m here auditioning, yet my classmates will be judging me? I did my thing and I was considered. We got into the house and we were assigned to different groups. I was the group leader and we won the challenge. Later that evening, we were driven back to Film Studios for a briefing. The presenter of the show said, some of us have to go home. My name was called out first amongst other great people. We were dropped home. I cried. It felt like I’d lost such a great opportunity. My mom and late grandma were so sad cos they loved to watch me do the news. Then came another opportunity over 10years ago, I saw a TV ad and decided to apply for the news anchor position. As you see in this pic, I got my hair done at Ralph’s Hair Salon, new suit etc. I didn’t get the job. After KBC, I never got to anchor the news again. I’m grateful I did not get the job even though I felt dejected at the time. I battled severe Endometriosis in silence for over 19years. I think of how engaging the newsroom is and I’m grateful I wasn’t in that space. I’d have utilised all my sick-leaves and off-days and just declared redundant. There are many people like me who are bound by chronic illness and cannot do the things they love. I share your pain. But there’s hope. I’m grateful to God for His reminder that He will restore to you all the years that the locusts have eaten. Also Jer 29:11