This article discusses the traditional amd modern literary influences in Okot p'Bitek's poetry. It must be borne in mind, however, that the question of influences is very complicated because it is difficult to pin down an influence to a particular source. If those sources have become assimilated into an integral whole, it is difficult to sort them out—to know where the modern ends and the traditional begins, or where the Western ends and the African begins. Therefore, no attempt will be made to show that the modern and traditional influences are mutually exclusive. As with all aspects of life, there are bound to be overlaps, and this kind of overlap cannot be any more expected than in the work of a poet with the diverse kinds of experiences of p'Bitek.
A brief survey of his background is illumniating. Okot p'Bitek is an Acholi from Uganda. His father, Opii Jebedyo, was a teacher from the pa-Cua clan of the Patiko chiefdom and his mother, Lacwaa Cerina, came from the Palaro chiefdom. p'Bitek (1973: 21) has repeatedly testified to his early interest in oral literature and his mother's influence in forming that interest:
…my interest in African literature…[was] sparked by my mother's songs and the stories that my father performed around the evening fire.
The title, Song of Lawino, is derived from his mother's name and confirms that his mother, as a composer and singer, taught him many of the songs that he enjoyed throughout his life and used in many aspects of his varied career.