Tuesday, November 3, 2015


“I’d rather look at what you do than hear what you say about yourself,” says Julius Ocwinyo, editor at Fountain Publishers Uganda, and highly acclaimed novelist. At the invitation of Dr. Danson Kahyana, four writers visited the second year East African Literature Class of Makerere University. Jane p’Bitek Langoya, Julius Ocwinyo, Professor Arthur Gakwandi and myself, Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva.

East African Literature Class, Makerere University

I came first and began by sharing about myself as a poet and writer and how I was mentored by some of the very panelists present. Then I spoke about the Babishai Niwe Poetry Foundation, its goal to promote poetry around Africa, its new programme with training children and building libraries in schools and the upcoming festival in August 2016. During the festival, we will hold a platform for Ugandan women to showcase their work either as a poetry collection, performance piece, theoretical discussions or otherwise. We’ll also be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Song of Lawino, where all interested participants are invited to speak or read a piece on Okot p’Bitek’s famous and very important poem. I closed my first session with a poem from my unpublished manuscript, #Haiza.
Since you attended my funeral, I’ll also attend yours.

Since you attended my funeral, I’ll also attend yours.
I’ll arrive just before the coffin
Enters the church
And join the line of weepers.
Weepers not mourners.
Weeping is the physical evidence for facebook
That people actually cared about you.
Mourning is the spiritual evidence
That people actually cared about you.

I’ll stand with the weepers
Dab my eyelids and sniffle
Make sure I greet the right people.
Your great aunt
The one who hugs me so hard
That she flattens my breasts
I’ll hug your grandmother
He one whose weave gets caught in my earrings.
I’ll hug your uncle
The one whose hands rest on my bum
Like he’s kneading dough.
Since you attended my funeral,
I’ll also attend yours.
I’ll place a wreath on your coffin
Pluck out the petals and leave the thorns.
I’ll deliver a speech
About how close we were as friends
And in the collection box
I’ll leave a copy of my HIV results
And a photo of that passionate night.

Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva

From my unpublished collection.  This poem inspired a sexually poetic response from Mudusu Abbey, who won himself a copy of A Thousand Voices Rising, an anthology of Contemporary African Poetry, a Babishai Niwe poetry publication.

After I spoke was Julius Ocwinyo, whose novel Fate of The Banished has been taught widely in schools and universities of East Africa to critical. He selected an excerpt which described Father Dila in a most unforgettable manner and with Julius’ precision and high sense of observation, the disparities between the church and reality and connection between religion and hypocrisy, came our very strongly. It is no wonder the students requested him to account for his own feeling towards religion. Julius, coming from a background of hard-working parents, who, even though never went far in formal education, instilled in him the most virtuous skills which he lives by today.
Julius Ocwinyo

Jane Okot p’Bitek Langoya came next with very fascinating story about how Sr. Cephas, the headmistress of Mt. Saint Mary’s College Namagunga informed her that in no uncertain terms was she to return to the school for A level unless she studied literature. This was a reflection of her high intelligence and extremely gifted way with words. Growing up with Okot p’Bitek as her father, the inventor of poetry in song, with libraries reaching the ceiling, leading family performances with her siblings before her father’s best friend, Uncle David Rubadiri, are some of  the highlights of Jane’s presentation. About the reading culture, Jane says she was inspired by a home setting that nurtured reading from a young age. Her father Okot p’Bitek, lived an empathetic man, able to associate with people from all walks of life.  Her first publication of poetry, Song of Farewell, published by Fountain Publishers, emulated her father’s style even though that was not its original intention. She read an abstract and this was followed by an emotional letter she wrote to her father after he had passed. It was difficult for the rest of us to imagine Okot p’Bitek any other way.

Jane Langoya p'Bitek

Professor Gakwandi, who graduated from Makerere University in 1968, left us in awe of our history and changing spaces and paces. His early childhood was in his home area in South Western Uganda, close to Kisoro, from where he derived his novel, Kosiya-Kifefe. Interestingly, because of its historical accuracy and significance, it drew important things about past and current politicians. East Africa shared one currency, the East African Railways and Harbour were effective and efficient and trade was booming. Kosiya  Kifefe was widely taught in schools as well. Professor Gakwandi, when asked if he was a novelist, emphasized that a novelist must show commitment to the art and he could not readily call himself one, like Julius Ocwinyo.

Professor Gakwandi

The students were very engaging, asking about the writing processes, children’s literature, literature outside Kampala and it was a most pleasant way to spend the day. With much gratitude to Dr. Kahyana. Dr. Kiguli and the entire department, we would not hesitate to return.

 By Beverley Nambozo Nsengiyunva