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Singing the LawOral Jurisprudence and the Crisis of Colonial Modernity in East African Literature$
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Peter Leman

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781789621136

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781789621136.001.0001

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A Song Whose Time Has Come: Northern Uganda, Apocalyptic Futures, and the Oral Jurisprudence of Okot p’Bitek

A Song Whose Time Has Come: Northern Uganda, Apocalyptic Futures, and the Oral Jurisprudence of Okot p’Bitek

Chapter:
(p.78) Chapter Two A Song Whose Time Has Come: Northern Uganda, Apocalyptic Futures, and the Oral Jurisprudence of Okot p’Bitek
Source:
Singing the Law
Author(s):

Peter Leman

Publisher:
Liverpool University Press
DOI:10.3828/liverpool/9781789621136.003.0003

In Artist, the Ruler (1986), Okot p’Bitek claims that the oral artist in Africa “proclaims the laws but expresses them in the most indirect language: through metaphor and symbol, in image and fable. He sings and dances his laws.” This provocative observation was one of the starting points for this book as a whole, and, here, I examine Song of Lawino (1966) and Song of Ocol (1967) in light of his claim that the oral artist is a lawmaker. I also situate his work in relationship to recent conversations about law and modernity in Northern Uganda’s struggle against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Although his work appeared long before the LRA, many of Okot’s texts have reemerged as part of a conversation about how to achieve reconciliation now that the conflict has largely ended. To account for this reception, I draw on Russell Samolsky’s concept of “apocalyptic futures,” arguing that the oral jurisprudence of Okot’s texts has “revealed itself to be ahead of its time,” taking on new significance in the context of the LRA, particularly in portraying Acholi legal principles critical to post-conflict reconciliation.

Keywords:   Northern Uganda, Poetry, Song of Lawino, Song of Ocol, Okot p’Bitek, Apocalyptic Futures, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Law, Oral Jurisprudence, Post-Conflict Reconciliation

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