Home BOOKS ANALYSIS A FREEDOM SONG   (BY Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye (Kenya) ~Growing Up with Poetry

A FREEDOM SONG   (BY Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye (Kenya) ~Growing Up with Poetry


A FREEDOM SONG   (BY Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye (Kenya) ~Growing Up with Poetry

Atieno washes dishes,

Atieno plucks the chicken,

Atieno gets up early,

Beds her sucks down in the kitchen,

Atieno eight years old

Atieno yo.


Since she’s my sister’s child

Atieno needs no pay

While she works my wife can sit

Sewing each sunny day,

With her earning I support

Atieno yo.


Atieno’s sly and jealous

Bad example to the kids

Since she minds them, like a school girl

Wants their dresses, shoes and beads.

Atieno ten years old,

Atieno yo.


Now my wife has gone to study

Atieno’s less free,

Don’t I feed her, school my own ones,

Pay the party, union fee

All for progress? Aren’t you grateful,

Atieno yo?


Visitors need much attention,

Specially when I work nights.

That girl stays too long at market

Who will teach her what is right?

Atieno rising fourteen,

Atieno yo.


Atieno’s had a baby

So we know that she is bad

Fifty-fifty it may live

To repeat the life she had,

Ending in post partum bleeding

Atieno yo.


Atieno’s soon replaced

Meat and sugar more than all

She ate in such a narrow life

Were lavished in her funeral

Atieno’s gone to glory

Atieno yo.



Marjorie was born in Britain in 1928 and travelled to Kenya to work as a missionary. She met and married Macgoye in 1960. This poem was written out of her experience in living among the Luo – a tribe of her husband.

She criticises negligence of nurturing children among African societies. Without proper guidance, the young girl Atieno becomes pregnant which leads to her death.


What is the poem about?

The poem is about a young girl called Atieno who is mistreated by her own uncle. She works without pay and ends in death due to post partum bleeding.

What is the kind of the poem?

It is a narrative poem (telling a story) but it is a special kind of narrative poem called “a ballad”

How many stanzas are there?

It has seven stanzas, each with six verses (lines) of unequal length and a refrain “Atieno yo

What is the tone of the poem?

The tone is sympathetic to the child.

Comment on the rhyming pattern.

Every second and forth lines end with rhyme,





Night/ right



Who is the persona? How do you know?

The persona in the poem is Atieno’s uncle. This is revealed in the second stanza where he comments; “since she’s my sister’s child/Atieno needs no pay.

How does Atieno change over the years?

Atieno changes in behaviour in respect to her age. While she is eight she is just working at home but as she grows fourteen, after puberty hits she stays long at the market perhaps with boys. This eventually leads her to get impregnated.

Comment on the literary and poetic devices


Every stanza ends with a refrain line “Atieno yo


Pay party union fee

Atieno needs no pay

Rhetorical question

Who will teach her what is right?

Aren’t you grateful Atieno yo?

Poetic licence.

This is the freedom of the poet to break/violate certain grammatical rules to achieve a poetic effect.

“Specially when I work night” the correct one could be especially when I work at night’.


“She minds them like a school girl”



The issue of child labour has become a burning issue that attracts the attention of most social activists. Many children are employed informally, in the streets, homes and some workplaces. We see them selling plastic bags, candies, washing cars, helping the military rebels etc.

Atieno in the poem is just one case in point. She represents this class. She is working as a house girl at the age of 8 and strangely enough without pay. At this age she should have been in STD 2. Yet she is employed in her uncle’s home.


Despite the growing awareness of the violation of human rights, the world is still facing the problem of exploitation and oppression.

The young girl in the poem is not only exploited but also oppressed by her own uncle. Although she works and does all the domestic chores she is not paid nor given any good care. The poetess suggests that she even desires to have the dresses, shoes and beads of her cousins since she is not given one. Here says the poetess.

Atieno’s sly and jealousy/Bad example to the kids/ Since she minds them like a school girl/Wants their dresses, shoes and dresses.

Again in the second stanza she shows how Atieno’s efforts are wasted without gain.

Since she is my sister’s child/Atieno needs no pay


This is another common problem among the teenagers today. Parents are now very busy than at any point in human history. As a result teens have been left without proper parental care. Many girls today have failed to reach their educational goals because when they get pregnancy, they are kicked out of schools altogether.

At the age of fourteen Atieno becomes pregnant. This is partly due to poor parental care. As the poetess says that her aunt has gone to study and uncle is busy with the work while poor Atieno has no one to teach her what is right.

Since she is still young to handle the delivery complications she dies of excessive post partum bleeding.


There is hypocrisy from family level to national level when you come to think of it. Most stepparents mistreat their stepchildren at home but in the outside they want everybody to believe that they are taking good care of them. If you hear the tone of Atieno’s uncle you will certainly discover some points of sympathy.

But the question is; who is mistreating the young Atieno? It’s her uncle. This is hypocrisy. On the funeral, we are told that meat and sugar more than all that Atieno had eaten in such a narrow life were lavished in her funeral. That translates into something like, “I loved the child” what a hypocrite!


While we are not told the reasons why Atieno is not living with her own biological parents, it is evident that most parents have left the responsibility of taking care of their children to the community like schools, churches or relatives. Because the parents are busy, they have no time to make regular follow-ups to check the kind of upbringing their children go through.

Parenting is the most important responsibility that parents are now avoiding. Atieno goes to work in her uncle’s home at the age of eight, and her parents are not making follow-ups. Atieno’s uncle is also portrayed as a bad parent since he mistreats his own niece.


As we have seen child labour, hypocrisy, exploitation, oppression, poor parental care and early pregnancies are all common phenomena in our country today. We see many children in the streets selling things like plastic bags, washing cars; helping the military rebels etc.

Many girls drop their studies due to early pregnancies. Every day we hear of violation and abuse of children rights and parents are very busy today to the point that they cannot spare time to be with their children and listen to their problems.



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