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Monday, December 7, 2009

Where the tap of funnies does not run dry

Title: Footprints of the Outsider
Author: Julius Ocwinyo
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza

Footprints of the Outsider is a vivid depiction of the life and times of the people of Teboke, and how their lives are impacted when two Indians arrive and set up a ginnery in their land. In setting out to write this novel, Julius Ocwinyo told me he “just wanted to capture the history of Teboke; a place that I’m very fond of because a lot of my history is there.”

Teboke in Apac District is where the now acclaimed Ugandan author was born and had his education until he joined Kyambogo to study English and French. Perhaps it’s in being a part of the area in which the book is set that it is written fervently. I found it more hilarious than his first novel Fate of the Banished, which is on the literature syllabus. Even the author himself confesses to have enjoyed writing Footprints of the Outsider more than the former. The humour is a result of six years of toiling. That is what it took to finish the book.
From the hippos that sulk to a drunken man who touched his anus and mistook it for a mere scar and a priest who “relished using his fist to make people see the volcanic power of the Catholic God,” the tap of funnies does not run dry. But underneath all the humour and mirthfulness of the locals lie the despair and frustration that a life of struggle and overexploitation brings.

The author tackles the absurdity of the cleft between people of different colour, race, religion and political affiliations.

His cynicism toward religion and politics is also evident. The political clash between Abudu Olwit and veteran politician Mike Adoli-Awal is reminiscent of the showdown between the protagonists of Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People.
Also, it appears the chilling subject of child sacrifice in Uganda is not a new phenomenon after all. Writes Ocwinyo on page 5: “It was whispered that when the construction of the ginnery had been completed, the Indians had commissioned Ikangi to abduct any young boy with a bulging navel so that his neck could be slit and his blood splashed on the ginnery machines. This blood-libation, they said, would ensure that the machines ran without trouble.”

The blurb gets it when it says Ocwinyo “captures the spirit of a place and a vital era of Uganda’s history, even as he seeks to unravel the various ways in which political developments impinge upon the lives of ordinary people.” The 165-page novel, published by Fountain Publishers, is available in leading bookshops.

--Sunday Monitor, November 8th, 2009