[The JRB exclusive] ‘No Speaking Vernacular! (Woloolo)’, a poem by Kagayi Ngobi

The JRB presents ‘No Speaking Vernacular! (Woloolo)’ by Ugandan poet Kagayi Ngobi in its complete form. Read about Ngobi and the genesis of the poem in James Murua’s interview with Ngobi here.

No Speaking Vernacular! (Woloolo)
by Kagayi Ngobi





Aha! It’s you Dambya

Today I have caught you!
Today you are not escaping me!
Dambya, I have heard you
Today I have heard you
With my own ears
You have said GWE

Get out get out
Get out of dorm
Come outside here
You let him pass
Come, come, come
Every day, every single day,
They report to me
That you use vernacular
And every time I ask you
You deny, you say they lie,
And you can deny, Dambya-
You are so good at denying
But today I have caught you
With my own ears!

I have heard you
Speaking vernacular
Today no denying!
Today no?

But Dambya, why? Why
Do you always speak vernacular
And you deny?
Dambya why are you so local?
What do you not know?
The school rules and regulations?

Who allowed you
To speak your mother tongue?
Dambya, if you cannot talk English
How will you learn?
If you cannot talk English
How will you pass?
If you cannot talk English
How will you communicate?
If you cannot talk English
Where will you get a job
In the future?

The reason your parents
Brought you to this school
Is so that we transplant
The village out of you
And make you civilized

You have to speak English
All the time, all the?

Excuse me! Yes, you!
Run to the staff room
You know where I sit?
Check under my desk there
You will see my stick
You know it, not so?
Bring it to me
Hurry I don’t have time

Dambya, the reason
I am going to give you
15 strokes of that cane
Is not because I am a bad person
No, it is because I want to remove
That village out of you
That is why your parents
Brought you to this school

Lie down, ah, ah
Sorry for what?
Dambya if I do not cane you
You will not understand
Dambya no bargaining
No, no
Sorry for what?
Ah! Ah!

Dambya lie down
Sorry for what?
Dambya no, no
No negotiating

Today I caught you
With my own?

Lie down.

Dambya, you know
The school rules not so?
No speaking vernacular
Full stop.

Aha! This is the stick
I was talking about
As flexible as I like it!
Dambya you know
What it is up next, not so?
‘Sugar Special Time’

Hehehe! Go down
You touch there
I don’t count.



Good morning school

The teacher on duty
Has already talked about it
The Speech Prefect
Has also talked about it
Last week I also touched on it
But once again, I shall emphasize it:
The issue of vernacular
Being used in this school
Should be put to bed
Once and for all, full stop.

Vernacular speaking
In this school
Should stop.

It is a problem now
Becoming a disease!

Local languages
Belong in your village homes
Not among the civilized here

In this school we only allow you
To speak foreign languages
Local languages are forbidden
Local languages are?
The school rules are clear!
All of you must know
This is not a local school.

Now yesterday I caught this boy,
Where is he? Where is Dambya?
Come now in front here
For the whole school to see
The village in you; where is he?
Aha! This one. You boy
You are very stubborn, kneel down!

School, you all know this boy,
Look at him

This boy is very stubborn
Every day they report to me this Dambya
That he uses vernacular
But when he is caught, ho!
He becomes a problem;
He threatens prefects
That him he cannot be touched
Because him he is big

But yesterday was the day
I was doing inspection
I saw Dambya seated there in his dorm
One slipper blue, another one red
Am I lying?
I heard him tell his friend GWE

I heard him with my own ears

So this week—the sisal sack
And bone necklace
Belong to Dambya of S.5
‘The Early Man of the Week’
You are to wear them today
From morning up to end of class
To serve the example to others
Like you out there who think
This school is for the uncivilized and local
We are a first class school
And we speak English
We speak?

Now you stand up—
Get that thing and wear it now
Also put on that necklace
Today you are going
To stand outside my office
Until school ends
To demonstrate to the other Dambyas
Out there who may be tempted
To think we are not serious
On this language issue
We are very serious

Today you will not eat break or lunch
You will only wait for evening porridge
And you will be the last to be served

School I hope this serves
As a warning to all of you

As the administration
We are committed
To being a first class school
That is good in English
That is good in?

From today onwards,
No Speaking Vernacular in this School.
Repeat after me:
No Speaking Vernacular in this School
(No Speaking Vernacular in this School)
Tell your neighbour
No speaking vernacular in our School
(No speaking vernacular in our School)

Alright, have a great week.



Good morning teachers

Thank you teacher-on-duty
For those remarks
I am glad dorm inspection
Was done in no time

I also want to thank
All those teachers who marked
And handed in all their results
That is the spirit
We must be showing
Because this year our theme
Is Team No Sleep

I do not expect
Any teacher to sleep
Until this school beams
As the modem of
Modernity on this village

Dear teachers, we must not sleep
Our ears must not sleep—
To bring modernity
To this school permanently
We must fight this growing disease
Of vernacular speaking conclusively
And we must fight it together
We must fight it?

But, but, teachers
I am not at ease
It has come to my attention
Some of you do not cooperate
At giving the sisal sack
And bone necklace
To vernacular speakers in your class;
It is a shame some of you also
Communicate in vernacular
With students imagine!

Dear teachers
Unless you want to know
Why a dog has no horns,
Why are some of you
Stupid to that level?

How can a teacher and a student
Have the same brain?

This language issue
Is going to get some people
In this room fired if they think
This is a joking subject

For example this boy Dambya
Who I caught myself (MYSELF!)
I caught him saying GWE

But to get him I had to get out
All my tactics; I tiptoed like this
Like this, like this,
Up to behind his dormitory
I was there for thirty minutes
Waiting to catch him
But finally I did. I did!

How come none of you
Managed to capture him before?
I suspect some of you teachers
Have been covering him
Because he is a common culprit

Now I will use him
For the whole school to know
How a head filled with local languages
(Like one rotten tomato)
Should never contaminate
The heads of our students

I don’t want that.
I don’t want local languages
To infest my school like Nairobi flies

I am going to call
Dambya’s parents
To come and we end
This issue: either he leaves
His local languages home
Or he leaves this school
Once and for all full stop.

As I conclude teachers
Our target this year
Is to score very highly
In the national exams
And what does that mean?

No spreading vernacular because
Exams are set in English

That is my message
For this particular week
Those of you sleeping, wake up
Please teachers remember
To call Dambya to stand
In your class as an example
Of what this school should not be
Whenever possible.

Have a great week.



Good morning class

Ready for literature?

Do I have to repeat
What the headmaster repeated
After what I repeated here last week?

You heard the headmaster again—
On assembly
No more vernacular speaking
So from today onwards
If I hear any vernacular

You will face the music
Of that boy Dambya

So make my work easy
By speaking only English
And in this literature class it even
Makes my work easily easier

The good thing is
English is an international language
It can make you travel
But local languages
They take you where?
To your villages
Is that where you want to end up?

You see the books we teach
In what language are they?
In what language is the national anthem?
In what language is the national motto?
In what language is the national constitution?

So make my work easy
By speaking only English
And in this literature class it even
Makes my work easily easier

Where did we stop last time?
Where did we stop?
Where did we stop last time?
All of you open your books
And put your novels on top of your desks
You, you do not have the novel?
You, you left it in dorm?
Yours, a friend borrowed it?
All of you go and lie down there

Now you ki-girl, you also
Do not have the novel?
Do not waste my time
Just go in front there
And lie flat, your forehead
On the floor, and stay there

What kind students are you
Who come to my literature class
Without the novel?
Can you go to the garden
Without your hoe?

Class, I say this all the time
If you want to pass this subject
What do you do?

Carry your book to
Copy your notes to
Sharpen your tongue to
Pronounce your pronouns and
Sing your syntax as
The heart palpitates to
The pace of the plot thru
The pentameter and
Just like that,
You are civilized!

You, who likes Ateso, look at you
Can you make such rhyme
Without reading book?
Can you even make that
In your mother tongue?
Is there even literature
In your mother tongue?

Literature is literature
Only in English

You people without books
What do we do for you?
I don’t want empty tins in my class

Without books
You are empty tins

Go to the D.O.S.
Tell him to choose for you
For another subject
I don’t want you in mine
I am paid to teach students
Not empty tins

Now this ki-girl crying
Without books
How can you study literature?
Literature is in books
And if you don’t have books
You don’t belong to this class!





Kumbe you are Dambya’s uncle?

You said his parents live far?
And even now now
They are not in the country?

That is okay
Come to my office

We wanted to only talk to his father
Because this issue at hand
Is very serious

But, Daudi, since I know you
For old times’ sake
I shall speak to you

This Dambya you see was caught
Speaking vernacular
By no one else except myself

I caught him this time
With my own ears

It is a very serious issue
It means Dambya shall not
Pass his exams
It will be bad for the school
And we do not want that here

Daudi, we have already
Decided Dambya deserves
An exemplary punishment
A suspension of three weeks
To serve as a reminder
To him and the others
Who speak vernacular

It is irregular

Daudi, this son of yours
Is very stubborn
He even teases my prefects
But this time

I caught him with my own ears
Daudi this issue is very serious

He said GWE
In the dormitory
And I was there

Take him home
And let him he speak
All the local languages he wants
When he returns I want to see him
Immunized from vernacular
Ready to speak only English

No, Daudi, no, please do not plead
Do not kneel,
God, this is disgusting
Daudi the decision is final
Daudi it cannot be changed

He threatens my prefects!

Take Dambya with you
Dambya you must learn
To respect our regulations
I want my school
To be a first class school

Now, if you excuse me
Daudi take your son with you
And bring him back after three weeks

I hope he learns
His lesson this time

English is the language
Of the civilized.



Excuse me, give me ko your pen

Eh eh you, that is vernacular

Sha! We are not in class
Those things stop at the school ends

Education is also practiced after school

Sha! School is school
Dorm is dorm
Market is market
And a garden is a garden
Take your lugezigezi
Back to your headmaster!

Eh eh, you; Mr. Full Stop says
He has ears all over the place
What if he hears you talking now?

Akole ki? You fear fear a lot you also

Without English
You will fail your exams

Look here
Even teachers are teachers
Because they failed the exams
Of lifestyle and lifetime

Teachers are failures?

Eeeh! Teachers are failures
Who take their failures
Out on us by being mean
Because they see us
As the dreams they will never be

Me I fear being beaten like Dambya

Imagine being there
And all you think of is
How to use pain
Umbu to bring success
Kyoka carrying around a cane
As if military police!

But without English
There is no job for you

Mpa ku pen naawe
I want to beat this ffene
But I cannot reach it.

You, you don’t fear
Being beaten like Damdya?

Dambya kyali wange
Oyo Mr. Full Stop talina magezi
Education is not about what you teach
But what I observe
And I observe this ffene is ripe
Bring the pen

We will keep some for Dambya?

Of course man we have to!
Mwana boyi ali mu kawunyemu
This school is fake
It needs to give me a break

It has also reached my neck

Get your neck out of the way
I am bringing down the ffene

I hear they are calling Dambya’s zei’s
Kale for just one word

Kwata pen yo
You have homework to do
No so?
Nanti you fear
Being beaten like Dambya
Not so?
Get your pen
With the masanda
Let it stick to your hands
All the time
To make Mr. Full Stop happy.

I hate that man
Dambya did nothing wrong

Dambya did nothing. Full Stop.



Early man! Early man!


Early man! Early man!

Early man Dambya!

Dambya welcome back!

Story ki Dambya? Mwana what’s up?

Man you missed the kadanke

And the interact func

Man you missed the Rugger game

Man how was home?

Hi, Dambya

Hiiii Dambya

This Dambya is back

You Dambya, come here
So you are back?

Early man Dambya!

Today is Friday
I hope you have all
All your class notes by Monday
If you don’t you will know
Why a dog has no horns

Dambya, you stubborn boy!
Come here. Carry these books
To the staffroom

Hahahaha! So you are back Dambya?


Lie down I cane you

How was home?

Did you speak enough vernacular

In your Lusoga?

I hope you learnt your lesson

You looked good in the sack

And that necklace too!

I wish we catch you another time!
Alright you go to class
The bell for the next lesson already went


Chief Vernacular speaker!
Zinjathropus poster!

Enter class Dambya, but keep
Your local languages outside!
Do not spread them in here DO YOU HEAR?

(Excuse, is that the one
Mr. Full Stop called Stupid Boy?)
-He is the one-

That one he will fail exams
He will be a failure in life
That one he will fail exams
He hates English

What’s up Dambya?

The village boy!
Hahahaha! The village boy!

Dambya what’s wrong?
Come on man stop being angry
We are only joking

Man, stop catching feelings
Man me I’m your buddy
Dambya, this is a small issue

Just be cool
Ignore everyone
I know this school is fake man

But you will make it through.


© Kagayi Ngobi

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