Okot Nyormoi

Lapwony Loka

When someone dies, we feel sad and grieve for the life lost. This was the case with the passing of Lapwony Mzee Isaiah Lazaro Loka who was born on January 15, 1939. He passed on April 15, 2021 at his home near St. Mary’s Hospital, Lacor, Gulu District, Uganda. We mourn his passing because he was a husband, a father, uncle, grandpa, a friend, and a teacher to many. 

While it is natural to mourn the loss of a person, we are also cognizant of the reality that death is inevitable. Mourn as hard as we can, we can never stop it or reverse its deed. Therefore, we look for something good in the life of the deceased, something from which, we the living, can celebrate and derive useful life lessons. Lapwony, Mzee Loka led an exemplary life which is woefully missing in today’s Uganda and in many other parts of the world.

To begin with, Lapwony in the Acholi language in northern Uganda means teacher. So, Mzee Loka was a teacher by profession. He was also commonly addressed as Ladit or Mzee. The former is an Acholi word, and the latter is a Swahili word, both of which are titles of respect bestowed upon an elder or a superior. Lapwony Loka did not inherit all these titles. He earned them. For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to him as Lapwony Loka.

Lapwony Loka came from a humble background by today’s standards. However, by yester years' standards, his family was not dirt poor. His father, Lazaro Otena, had sizable animal wealth including cattle, goats, sheep, and chicken. He was able to educate almost all of his sons. Unfortunately, daughters in those days were not sent to school.  One of the sons served in the colonial King’s Africa Rifle during World War II, another served as a policeman on the East African Railways, another was in the East African Telecommunication. 

Nyapea CollegeLapwony Loka began his education at Pagak Primary, in the then Lamogi Division, Kilak County, Acholi District, 1949-1953. After completing his primary 6, he attended St. Joseph’s Junior Secondary School, Gulu, Acholi District in 1954-1957. From Junior Secondary he went to St. Aloysius College, Nyapea, West Nile, 1958-1961. From Nyapea, he proceeded to St. Mary’s College, Kisubi, for his Advanced Certificate of Education in 1962-1963. Then he joined Makerere University in 1964, earning a B.A. degree in Education three years later. Because of him, I had the privilege to visit and a university campus for the first time in my life. I got bit by the university bug.

Those who knew him describe Lapwony Loka this way: “He was a brilliant, studious, careful, quiet, humble, and an obedient student. These are qualities which parents would like their children to have, or employers to see in their employee”.

As a student, Lapwony Loka was not all about academic studies. He also enjoyed participating in sports. He was a sprinter, running the 100-meter dash and relays.

Culturally, he enjoyed playing traditional drums for Acholi dances such as the royal dance (Bwola), funeral dance (Lyell), courtship dance (Laraka Raka), women dance (Dingi Dingi) and war dance (Otole). He probably learned to drum from his elder brother who was an excellent drummer. Not surprisingly, their father was not only a skilled drum maker but was also a drummer himself. They had a set of drums at their home. I still remember as a child going to watch them drum, and how the deep sound of the mother drum would cause my heart to beat rapidly. To this day, I still don’t know whether it was the sound vibration triggered by the mother drum or anxiety which caused my heart to race.

Upon graduation from the University, Lapwony Loka returned to teach Biology and Chemistry at his alma matter, St. Aloysius College, Nyapea. He later became the Deputy Headmaster of the school. Probably due to the political turbulence towards the end of the fascist regime of Idi Amin, he relocated near his ancestral home to teach at the prestigious girl’s senior secondary school, Sacred Heart, Gulu, in 1980. While at Sacred Heart, he taught in many of the integrated secondary schools around Gulu which included Lacor Seminary, St. Joseph College Layebi, Gulu High School, Gulu Senior Secondary School, Sir Samuel Baker School, Bishop Negri College, and St. Mary's College SSS. When he retired, he continued to teach on contract.

In addition to teaching, Lapwony Loka was not only an examiner, but he was also the overall in-charge of marking examinations in Nairobi, Kenya, for the whole of East African Certificates of Education. As a senior secondary school teacher, he was well known not just in northern Uganda, but also among examiners from other parts of Uganda as well as East Africa.

Lapwony Loka’s education may not seem impressive to those from different backgrounds, but considering his humble beginning, it is impressive. He grew up in the clan of Parabongo Pajengo, about 12 miles north of Gulu. He was not only the first in his family to earn a University degree but was also the first to earn an Honor’s degree in Science Education in the whole of Lamogi Division. Furthermore, he was the first to teach at a senior secondary school and become a Deputy Headmaster at a major secondary school in northern Uganda.

Lapwony Loka’s success served as a great role model which strongly motivated younger people, including me, to follow in his footsteps. As a result, the Parabongo Pajengo clan is now proud to have many professional men and women with qualifications in various fields including Medicine, Law, Science, Economics, Photography, Engineering, Information Technology, etc. I still remember how I was awed by his explanation of the life cycle of the butterfly or how bats use echo location when they fly. He got me hooked on science.

Oftentimes, people profess certain religious beliefs in theory but do not live it. Lapwony Loka had a belief and lived it. If there is a good Catholic, Lapwony Loka was one. He not only went to all Catholic Schools, but he also got married on Easter in 1970 to Agatha Akello who loved him and cared for him through good and bad times till his last day. Throughout his career, he was based in Catholic schools and brought up his children in the same Church. As a professional, Lapwony Loka was known to be kind, generous, compassionate, gentle, honest, and down to earth. He was also a man of great courage. Even in the face of death, he continued to pray and hope for his full recovery. Obviously, his character was shaped by a strong home upbringing as well as his religious conviction. 

It must have been in recognition of his high integrity, humility, morality, respect, empathy, truthfulness, and a keen sense of fairness which led him to be appointed as the Deputy Headmaster of his alma matter as well as the overall in-charge of secondary school examination coordinator . Though, one may not agree with his religious belief, one cannot help but acknowledge and respect him for living according to his faith-something which is rare these days. The big lesson here is not to necessarily to encourage anyone to embrace Lawony Loka's faith, but rather to live faithfully by whatever socially acceptable principles one chooses so long as they are not harmful to other creatures inhabiting this earth.

Although, he has left us, Lapwony Loka has left an indelible legacy. He was blessed with children who are now professionals in various fields. At the risk of being partial, Loka Video Library and Disco System, well known in northern Uganda, are produced by a company founded by Lapwony Loka’s children. Apart from his children, he has also left many persons whom he had taught directly or mentored. They are now serving in different professions in and outside Uganda. 

Though he is gone, Lapwony Loka’s departure can best be described by an apt African proverb which says, Ancestors never die until there is no one left to call their names. Therefore, his name will continue to live on.

In recognition of decades of service and dedication to the cause of education, the Right Reverend Vicar and Rector of Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Lacor, Monsignor Odong, is soliciting suggestions of how best we can celebrate and honor the late Mzee Lapwony Isaiah Lazaro Loka. So, please spread the word to his former students, colleagues, and friends. Suggestions can be submitted directly to the Headmaster of Sacred Heart Secondary School or to the Rt. Rev. Monsignor Odong of Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Lacor.

My sincere gratitude to goes to everyone who provided the necessary information for this article (Editor).