19 May 2008

a review of taban lo liyong's translation of p'bitek's seminal "song of lawino"

Well, a couple reviews truth be told.

I just had a review of The Defence of Lawino -- Taban lo Liyong's translation of Okot p'Bitek's Song of Lawino -- published in Research in African Literatures (vol 39 no 2 summer 2008: 156-8). If you read my review you'll see that I'm not a big fan.

A little more ambiguous is Simon Lewis's review published by the H-Net List for African Literature and Cinema. Referring to lo Liyong's translation as "illuminating" is, to me, a little like praising a book as important: it doesn't necessarily suggest that the book is worth reading.

My suggestion is to read p'Bitek's Song unless you're writing a seminar paper. Then read them both.

Faint praise indeed.


JSP said...

Hey there, I hail from Madison-Wisconsin but originally from Sudan. I read both literary works of Lyiong and O'pitek long time ago. I think the essence of their work much more to do composition of their tribal customs not western literature. I believe that's where the disconnect fail to grasp a huge audience. But try Wole Soyinka and you'll see what i mean. lol

Sami Younis

mark l lilleleht said...

Point well taken, Sami. But as I attempt to point out in my review, as poetry I think lo Liyong's translation fails (for the most part).

And if the translation of a poem isn't poetry, what's the point?

In this particular instance it seems more an exercise of lo Liyong's hubris than anything else; of lo Liyong believing himself to "know better" than p'Bitek.

While he was alive p'Bitek made clear that Song of Lawino was essentially a different poem than the Acholi Wer pa Lawino.

The real challenge of translation, and in this instance translating poetry, is to stay true to both poetry and the literary/cultural milieu out of which the original is born. This is something that p'Bitek did not wish to try, so he instead produced an English "version" (I can't remember off-hand p'Bitek's specific terminology).

But this is the task that lo Liyong has set for himself. And as I assert in the review, while I cannot begin to attest to his fidelity to the milieu, I can say that in my opinion in crafting poetry lo Liyong fails.

Lo Liyong's English translation is far inferior to p'Bitek's English-language creation.

JSP said...

Hey Mark, i agree with what you said. Am big critic of some Lo lyong's work myself. I think he should lead and direct poetry by example of his work, not emulating the works of others in his own epiphany. If he or any poet choose to do so, then they must maintain the original thought in the manuscript. I have also note that different clergy men often misinterpretate some of the verses in the Bible to their own peculier situations. This is very disturbing because we are losing objectivity whether in theological literature or poetic work of art. The same goes with translation of many literary works. Hey, I like your compliments here, will stop by again and again in the near future. keep up the good word and stay objective as always.