African Oral Tradition: Forms and Relevances to Modern African Fiction

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Critics and literary artists have argued that writing is not a precondition before having an interesting oral narrative. There were oral narratives before writing came to Africa. Chinweizu & co. insist that we have oral narrative in Africa before people like Amos Tutuola began to write. Oral tradition is as old as man himself.

The definition of African oral literature is both paradoxically complex and simple. The definition seems to depend on one who is doing the defining. A Eurocentric scholar would come up with the definition that take care of his own bias and prejudices while an authentic African scholar will feel free to define the subject with the consciousness of the fact that his culture has been misconceptualized and thus, erroneously misrepresented by the use of a pejorative concepts. ISidore Okpewho, for example, sets out to define African oral literature by pointing out that ‘the subject of our study is identified by various scholars’ In a literature of people, the audience must come from the social milieu of the writer .i.e. Africans must essentially be the audience for the African literature and that a writer must be a sharer of the experiences of his works. Omoyajowo (2004) there is no way an American or British can write an Africa novel that can reflect African sensibilities like Achebe’s or Ngugi’s works. It is totally impossible for one to understand the literature of a people without understanding the sociology and psychology of such people. To buttress this is Finnegan’s submission that:

‘The concept of an oral literature is one to most people brought up in a cultures which, like those of contemporary Europe, long stress on the idea of literacy and written tradition. In the popular view it seems to convey on the one hand, the idea of mystery, on the other that of crude and artistically undeveloped formulations. In fact, neither of these assumptions is generally valid.’

For example, colonialism in Africa led to what can be call the loss of identity. The colonial master succeeded in placing a knife of tread that bounds the African societies that resulted to ethnicity and nepotism ; a situation that made the white to propound the ideology that the white races are morally superior and that native populations are unable to govern themselves carefully and that native governments are all despotic, barbaric etc. Omoyajowo (2004) submits that as the colonized person attempts to emulate the foreign culture, his efforts are dismissed as mindless mimicry i.e. no mind of his own. The mimicry .i.e. no mind of his own, the mimicry in turn is used to claim that the black man has no authentic cultural values of his own. He is consequently tagged ‘a baboon’

The utility of the term oral narrative is based in its apparent mentality in designating a story or narrative that is spoken rather than written or read. The basic idea we cannot over look in the study of African oral literature is the fact that it is an unwritten tradition; it is thus passed down through the ages.

Bukenya and Nandwa as pointed out by Okpewho (1992: 4) to that effect that: ‘Oral literature may be defined as those utterances, whether spoken, recited or sung, whose composition and performance exhibit to an appreciable degree the artistic characteristics of accurate observation vivid imagination generally.’

Consequently, then, oral literature encompasses all areas of African existential experience- what we do, what we say, what we think, what we feel and what we are, generally. This is why Okpewho (1992) is right when he says that: “other aspects are: mode of cooking, architecture, medicine, and dressing making, religion, music, and dance...” These things touch upon culture, tradition, custom, and the life of the African people generally.

Whatever definition scholars (both non-African and African) give,...
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