(East) African postcolonial ecocriticism: Revisiting Okot p’ Bitek’s Song of Prisoner
This article celebrates Okot p’Bitek’s contribution to East African literature in general and the song school of East Africa in particular, by revisiting one of his less-known works, Song of Prisoner on the fiftieth anniversary of its publication. I subject the text to a close reading in order to demonstrate how p’Bitek uses imagery that is drawn from East Africa’s natural environment in a way that evokes issues that are an assault on the prevailing social and political order in East Africa at the time, in a nuanced manner. With the benefit of hindsight, the paper establishes that p’Bitek’s attempt to preserve his natural environment (that of East Africa) through writing it into his poetry, was a precursor for texts that would later be examined within the framework of the contemporary critical theory of postcolonial ecocriticism, and that using the text, one can narrow the scope further in a manner that takes into account the specificities of (East) African environmental literature. In so doing, the paper establishes that p’Bitek indeed highlights social realities through his poetry, in order to launch his attack on the existing neo-colonial capitalistic order prevailing at the historical moment of his writing, thus confirming that he displays a social vision that strives for decolonisation without the exploitative aftermath encapsulating modernity. The paper thus demonstrates how this poem is still relevant as a study to the student of East African literature reading it in the 21st century.
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