First published in 1999, The Alien Woman was Lawrence Ocen’s first novel. It is a tale that takes us through rural and town life and lays out the conflicting ideas between the two- notably the views on education, inter marriages and witchcraft.
Bungatira, a district in northern Uganda is basically rural- its people practice witchcraft, they are against education and believe that cattle and land are the only sources of wealth are. Moreso, they are firmly polygamous.
The plot centers on the family of Bicencio Olugo, his wife Cerina and their two sons Fred Opito and James Obina. By Bungatira’s standards, Olugo is a poor man- he has only one wife, no large heads of cattle and limited land. His only pride is his job as a local administrator. Despite his lack of wealth he decides to send his children to school in the hope that they would lift his family out of poverty- an idea ridiculed by villagers especially Ogang for whom education is “too long a way of acquiring money”!!! Ogang is wealthy but refuses to educate his children; he is anti social and practices witchcraft.
Despite their humble background, Opito and Obina both study hard and do well at school. Though they look alike, their ideas of the future are very different. Opito doesn’t participate in cultural activities and hopes to marry an educated woman even if she is from another tribe. This worries his parents. Obina still believes in cultural norms, so he is set to marry from his own people.
When Opito joins the School of Technology, he finds the woman of his dreams, Gladys. But she is rejected by his people and sent away in embarrassment. She decides to end the relationship. Opito is heartbroken. Ogang, who all along is jealous of his progress, sends him a spirit, an alien which resembles Gladys. It keeps him company in the night.
Out of desperation he marries a village girl, but the spirit still comes. When he is finally set free, and his wife hopes for a normal marriage, Opito rejects her in fear that she might be another alien since she is moody and never laughs!
Obina joins Makerere University where he meets Margaret Nagawa, a daughter of a prominent businessman in Kampala. Margaret, a real beauty has strong feelings for Obina, but he can’t reciprocate them because she is from a different tribe. He tells her:
“For us a boy who marries a Muntu has sold his people…………………………..”
Margaret suggests they avoid the village once they are married, but he says:
“If a wife deserts society, it means she regards the society with contempt. A young man who does that brings ridicule and disgrace to his people.”
Even though Obina admits that Margaret is a beautiful girl, he observes that:
“beauty …………..is accorded the lowest point in the choice of a spouse………………………those…………..end up choosing wizards, stingy misers and harlots. These are qualities sugar coated by beauty.”
Despite the many possible obstacles, Margaret is determined to marry the man of her choice, Obina. That is how she decides to follow him to the village. The events that follow show her determination- she is treated with lots of indifference and given lots of hard work in the hope that she can go back to her people. But she stays, and endures all-even a burn from her rival- Obina’s betrothed. With time her noble and unique conduct wins over Olupo and his family and they end up agreeing to the marriage between Obina and Margret, the alien woman.
One has to ask though. Had Gladys persisted, would she have won the hearts of Opito’s parents, the way Margret did?
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