Time to Translate Uganda’s Popular Books

If there’s any man who has contributed to Ugandan literature and to the appreciation of our indigenous languages more than any, it is Okot p’Bitek. Though long gone, his epic poem, Song of Lawino remains the finest and most known piece of literature to be hatched out of Uganda.  First published in 1966, this lengthy poem has been taught in schools and universities in and outside Uganda and continues to intrigue and excite literary analysts, thanks to its resonance and the sheer beauty with which p’Bitek constructed it. It really was a trailblazer that earned Ugandan authors credibility on the global stage especially in the 1960s, an era that was rightly labelled the golden age of Ugandan literature.

Why the Need for Book Translations

What many however don’t know is that p’Bitek actually wrote his lengthy poem in his native language, Acholi, before translating it himself into English. He released the English version before releasing the Acholi version three days later. Although the latter version didn’t command literally acclaim like its English counterpart, it was p’Bitek’s desire and dream that his book become accessible in as many languages as possible. p’Bitek’s wish has since been granted since Song of Lawino has been translated into more than 30 languages including; German, French, Spanish, and Indonesian, among others. And just as recently as two years ago, Song of Lawino was as well translated into Luganda as Omulanga gwa Lawino by Prof. Abasi Kiyimba of Makerere University.

Imagine then how nice it would be to translate all our popular books of fiction and non-fiction into our local languages. That would be a sure way of inculcating a reading culture into Ugandans since they would now have no excuse of the Queen’s language being more complicated. If books like Tropical Fish by Doreen Bangaina and Kintu by Jennifer Makumbi which are currently the most popular Ugandan fictional works were translated into local languages too, they would be sure to provide the spark for Ugandan writers to use local languages as their languages of expression just like famous writers like Ngugi wa Thiongo now writes in his indigenous language, Kikuyu.

Some of other language translations include:

Kinyarwanda translations

Kirundi translations

Oromo translations

Yoruba translations

Somali translations

Tigrinya translations

Language is culture and the best way we can appreciate and evolve along with cultures is to express ourselves through our mother tongues. As Ngugi wa Thiongo said, “Language has a dual character: it is both a means of communication and a carrier of culture.”