The Importance of Oral Traditions in the Caribbean

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ESSAY: Assess the importance of oral tradition in the Caribbean for the development of its civilization from one generation to another. In the Caribbean, oral traditions are a common element in cultures throughout the region. This is due in part to the areas’ origin in colonialism and slavery, which brought to the region various ethnic groups, each with their own cultures and traditions. Many if not all of these groups were illiterate which necessitated the need for oral traditions as a vital means of passing on their culture and history to subsequent generations. Oral traditions are defined as recollections of the past, orally transmitted and recounted, that arise naturally within the dynamics of a culture. They have existed in the absence of written notes or other more sophisticated recording devices. In a culture that has a long period of unrecorded history; oral traditions have allowed Caribbean people to define who they are. The telling of stories, the playing of games and the singing of songs and poetry were all a means of passing on traditions and educating people about themselves. The African slaves that were brought to the region brought with them the oral traditions of their homeland. Griots were adept storytellers, teachers and historians. One such tale that has survived till today is the story of Ananci. Ananci stories were brought to the Caribbean by the people taken from West Africa and were handed down from parents to children. In the Caribbean, Ananci came to represent the Africans in their struggle with the plantation owners.

So powerful was the message of these stories, that some Caribbean scholars have even suggested that “Anancism” is a psychological trait of today’s Caribbean people. The sociologist Leonard Barrett wrote that “so intricately woven is Anancism in Jamaican life that his cunning has become part of the Jamaican personality stereotype”. Reggae and Calypso are two other forms of Caribbean oral traditions that have...
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