My Husband’s Tongue is Bitter by OKOT P’BITEK

My clansmen, I cry
Listen to my voice:
The insults of my man
The insults of my man
Are painful beyond bearing.


My husband abuses me together with my parents:
He says terrible things about my mother
And I am so ashamed!


He abuses me in English
And he is so arrogant.


My husband pours scorn
On Black People,
He behaves like a hen
That eats its own eggs
A hen that should be imprisoned
Under a basket.


His eyes grow large
Deep black eyes
Ocol’s eyes resemble those of the Nile Perch!
He becomes fierce
Like a lioness with cubs,
He begins to behave like a mad hyena.


He says Black People are primitive
And their ways are utterly harmful,
Their dances are mortal sins
They are ignorant, poor and diseased!


Ocol says he is a modern man,
A progressive and civilized man.
He says he has read extensively and widely
And he can no longer live with a thing like me
Who cannot distinguish between good and bad,
He says I am just a village woman,
I am of the old type,
And no longer attractive.
Ocol is no longer in love with the old type.
He is in love with a modern girl;
The name of the beautiful one
Is Clementine.


Brother, when you see Clementine!
The beautiful one aspires
To look like a white woman;
Her lips are red-hot
Like glowing charcoal,
She resembles the wild cat
That has dipped its mouth in blood,
Her mouth is like raw yaws
It looks like an open ulcer,
Like the mouth of a fiend!
Tina dusts powder on her face
And it looks so pale;
She resembles the wizard
Getting ready for the midnight dance;


And she believes
That this is beautiful
Because it resembles the face of a white woman!
Her body resembles
The ugly coat of the hyena;
Her neck and arms
Have real human skins!
She looks as if she has been struck
By lightning;
Or burnt like the kongoni
In a fire hunt.


I am not unfair to my husband,
I do not complain
Because he wants another woman
Whether she is young or aged!
Who has ever prevented men
From wanting woman?


The competition for a man’s love
Is fought at the cooking place
When he returns from the field
Or from the hunt.
You win him with a hot bath
And sour porridge.
The wife who brings her meal first
Whose food is good to eat,
Whose dish is hot
Whose face is bright
And whose heart is clean
And whose are not dark
Like the shadows:


The wife who jokes freely
Who eats in the open
Not in the bed room,
One who is not dull
Like stale beer,
Such is the woman who becomes
The head-dress keeper.


I do not block my husband’s path
From his new wife.
If he likes, let him build for her
An iron roofed house on the hill!
I do not complain,
My grass thatched house is enough for me.


I am not angry
With the woman with whom
I share my husband,
I do not fear to compete with her.


Listen Ocol, my old friend,
The ways of your ancestors
Are good,
Their customs are solid
And not hollow
They are not thin, not easily breakable
They cannot be blown away.
By the wind
Because their roots reach deep into the soil.


I do not understand
The way of foreigners
But I do not despise their customs.
Why should you despise yours?
Listen, my husband,
You are the son of the Chief.
The pumpkin in the old homestead
Must not be uprooted!


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