The Use of Animal Figures in Oral Narratives

Topics: Africa, Animal Pages: 6 (2592 words) Published: May 4, 2013
The Use of Animal Figures in Oral Narratives

Animals can be personified in a way that will convey messages to others through the use of stories or narratives. During one’s childhood, parents share stories that include animals to teach us different lessons. The Tortoise and the Hare is a common and popular story that most children often hear. The main plot of the story is centered on a race between the Tortoise and the Hare. Once the race begins, the Hare pulls far ahead of the Tortoise. He becomes so far ahead of the Tortoise that he stops to take a nap during the race. At the end of the story, the Hare wakes up to realize that he has lost to the Tortoise. The Hare does not give his all during the race because he knows that he is much faster than the Tortoise. The message within the story teaches children about certain beliefs called morals. This particular narrative teaches us that we should not to be lazy or become complacent in all things. There will always be someone trying to get to the same place at the same time, while there is only room for one. Many, if not all of us, have been exposed to this type of storytelling where animals take on human capabilities. African, oral traditions also use the animal to display human characteristics and capabilities. The use of animals in this light is called anthropomorphism. To analyze the type of literature that personifies animals, we will draw from narratives that demonstrate this method and consider its purpose. Oral narration is used within many cultures. Oral narration is defined as a spoken account of connected events or story. It is a tradition deeply embedded within the African culture. Before the colonial period, oral narration was Africa’s educational system. The children learned through a repeat of a theme, song or the important part of a plot (Kalu). In the African culture, there is a person who is held accountable for telling the stories. This person is called a griot, who is a keeper of traditions of the community or tribe and thus seen as a cultural leader. He is a professional, not because he went to school and received a degree. He is a professional because he is the member of a family who is mandated to keep the people and their history alive in the present and in memory (Kalu). A griot was not just any person who wanted to tell stories. A griot had to tell the stories with the same vigor and historical accuracy as the griot preceding him (lecture). Oral narration is used within different literary styles such as song, chants, poetry, and proverbs. They are used to entertain, inform, and teach not just children but the entire community. Oral narration answers question about an ever changing world by exploring the universe, life and death, kindness, courage, love and honesty. Narratives that explore the universe are called etiological narratives. Here is an example of a narrative explaining the events that happen within the universe coming from South Africa. This tale explains how the hippopotamus received its short tail. It serves as an answer to what is unknown about the world around them. This tale involves a Hare, Elephant, and Hippopotamus interacting with each other to teach a universal lesson to those that hear it. The Hare took a long rope to the Elephant and was going to prove that he was stronger than the Elephant. The Hare told the Elephant to stand at one end of the rope by the river. The Hare then took the other end of the rope and gave it to the Hippo and challenged the Hippo to the same task. The Hare went to the center of the rope and pulled twice. Both the Hippo and the Elephant both pulled on the rope, not knowing the Hare was not at the other end. Hippo was surprised to find himself pulling with all his might. So the Hippo went to the other end and found that it was not the Hare but the Elephant at the end of the rope. The Hippo and the Elephant found out that the Hare tricked them both. The Elephant was furious and was not going to be...

Bibliography: Burke, Carolyn and Copenhaver, Joby. Animals as People in Children’s LiteraTure, Language Arts, Vol. 81. No.3, Jan 2004.
Finnegan, Ruth. Oral LiteraTure in Africa, World Oral LiteraTure Series: Volume 1, United Kingdom copyright 2012
Vansina, Jan. Once Upon a Time: Oral Traditions as History in Africa. Daedalus. Vol. 100 No. 2, Spring, 1971
Vanisna, J and Leydesdorff S et al. Oral Tradition: A Study in historical methodology. Transaction publishers, New Brunswick Copyright 2009
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