Humanist Voices
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Humanist Voices


Image Credit: Isakwisa Amanyisye Lucas Mwakalonge.

By Isakwisa Amanyisye Lucas Mwakalonge


Okot p’Bitek a Ugandan born in 1931 in Gulu northern Uganda, a Poet and writer from a Christian background. He was educated at Gulu high school, kings college Budo, government teachers training college Mbarara, and then got his degrees from Oxford, Bristol, and Abergstwyth. He taught English and religious studies at sir Samuel Barker’s school near Gulu, Universities of Nairobi, Ife, Iowa, Makerere, Texas, then became a Professor of creative writing at the University of Makerere. He once was banned to enter Uganda from a trip abroad because the ruling class urged his writings were criticizing them. He died in 1982. Geographically Uganda is in east Africa, a former British colony and attained flag independence in 1962.

The center of this essay is based in three books authored by Okot p ‘Bitek, which are: song of Lawino and Ocol, African religions in western scholarship, and Africa’s Cultural Revolution. When examining these books among other things, it is established that within are some elements of freethinking philosophy in the mind of the writer. These can be perceived through the mood of the comments specified by Okot p ‘ Bitek when he argues that in recent years Christian faith is demolishing, and a number of people who joins churches is deteriorating, also there is a collapse of Christian morality in the western world, he also regards Christianity as an outmoded religion, and to prove such claims there are some historical facts which points out that by the time Christianity was being brought to Africa from Europe, in Europe itself Christian faith was collapsing leaving Europens shifting to something else in replacement. This is one among other facts that Okot P’ Bitek use to establish Christianity as an out-of-date faith and therefore it does not match with the modern-day world and time that demands scientific, technological and rational approach in explaining numerous concepts as well as problems burdening human being which need appropriate and consistent solutions. The writer mentions a number of reasons for the collapse of Christianity in Europe, a handful being: growth of humanism, people demands reformations within Christianity, growth of philosophies from peoples like Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russel, Ludwig Feubach, teachings of secularism in universities, contradictions within Christianity itself, together with scientific as well as technological advancements whereby many questions which did trouble mankind at least have been tackled and perceived in a scientific manner through technological perspective rather than religious irrationalities, these are some of the reasons which make people lose trust in Christianity and Abrahamic religions in general.

While in Song of Lawino and Ocol, he uses character Lawino who possibly represents a non-believer within African tradition to question character Ocol who represents Christianity. Hence Ocol fails to answer numerous questions from Lawino, similar to how Christianity fails to answer countless questions today in which science and technology together with philosophy through critical thinking has affirmatively responded to many questions which religions people have failed to answer. The Poem titled From the mouth of which River ? (Song of Lawino and song of Ocol, 84 poem number 9) Is a good reference. In this poem, Lawino complains that Christian preachers are to be tolerated because after their sermons, they do not like rational questions. What is expected is just accepting and believing blindly whereas questioning and rational reasoning is a characteristic of a freethinker. This is what the writer is doing through character Lawino to question religion. Astonishingly, the padre and nuns dislike questions saying that those who ask so many questions are stubborn ones, hence too much questions could not be tolerated. Perhaps the meaning of this is that a church or religions with gods dislike and discourages inquisitive minds, while in vise versa freethinking does encourage inquisitive minds, questioning, rational reasoning, researches and any scientific or technological approaches in searching for truth. In the church, a good child is the one who don’t ask questions, the one who accepts everything. This is the characteristics of sky god religions. Lawino rises a question that From the mouth of which river? Where Christian god got clay to molds the stars, earth, moon, sky, land? In genuine, the writer through character Lawino is trying to express that the origin of the earth, world, and universe is not a result of creation by somebody or supernatural being existing somewhere. The writer tries to show that even sky god religions themselves don’t have sensible answers to prove facts of their claims. By asking these questions through Lawino, it does indicate that something must be done to re- discover the origin of earth, the universe and other things. This indicates that the writer is a freethinker who is courageous to challenging religion claims. Fortunately, science through technology responds positively to such questions. For example with the big bang theory, while the origin of man is expounded by Charles Darwin in evolution theory, not eden or molding from the clay soil as stated in genesis 1 of the holy bible.

Moreover, the writer tries to demonstrate that if believers do not agree that god was not created, that he just existed from time immemorial, then why is it difficulty to accept that the universe, planets, earth, and life just evolved by itself naturally without being controlled by a certain supernatural power? However the legacy left behind by the writer is that he attempts to illustrate that critical thinking is the best way of seeking true knowledge and the writer is against cannibalism of ideas, to him freedom of expression of ideas is a priority.


It can be concluded that Okot P, Bitek was a freethinker, and this is proved by his own words where he says…” I am not a religions person — neither pagan nor Christian. I do not believe in gods or spirits- holy or evil. I do not believe that souls or ghosts exist. I do not believe in supernatural forces. I do not hold as cardinal Newman did that theology or the knowledge of God constitutes the core of all learning” (Africa’s Cultural Revolution, 85 ). Furthermore, he praises the governments and the universities of Makerere and Nairobi for being run as secular universities similar to universities of London, Cambridge and Oxford. He believes that Christianity is a confusion to Africans since it does not represent African personality. Elsewhere (in “African religions in western scholarships”, 99 -100) he analysed that while it might be argued (as others like priest-scholar John Mbiti have) that Africans are “notoriously religious” — believing in certain “powers”, he (Okot P’Bitek) clarified that in fact most of them did not hold beliefs in any deity similar in conception to the christian God, and thus we could refer to traditional Africans as being “Atheistic” in their outlook.

Finally, it is hereby asked that the new breed of African freethinkers emerging should have a special day in a year calender circle, to be named “Okot p’ Bitek day”, to honor andcelebrate his monumental contributions for promoting free thought through his books in East Africa.


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Image Credit: Isakwisa Amanyisye Lucas Mwakalonge.



Official Secular-Humanist publication by Humanist Voices

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Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen supports science and human rights. Website: