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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Kerry's Wednesday Challenge ~ The Oral Tradition

Greetings to all, or perhaps I should say Sanibona, which means "I see you all" in IsiZulu.  As many who have visited Skylover over the last week will have noticed, I have undertaken a series of poems based on themes suggested by my homeland of South Africa.  With this in mind, I have decided to focus on the Oral Tradition for my challenge this month.


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Oral tradition and oral lore is cultural material and tradition transmitted orally from one generation to another. The messages or testimony are verbally transmitted in speech or song and may take the form, for example, of folktales, sayings, ballads, songs, or chants. (Wiki)


It is a world-wide phenomenon in early cultures from the Middle East to the Americas, Scandinavia to Australia and every place in between. In African societies, oral tradition is the method in which history, stories, folktales and religious beliefs are passed on from generation to generation. Webster's dictionary defines "oral" as, "spoken rather than written," and it defines the word "tradition" as, "transmittal of elements of a culture from one generation to another especially by oral communication." Oral tradition delivers explanations to the mysteries of the universe and the meaning of life on earth. In African religion, it is the guiding principle in which to make sense of the world. Language is regarded as a powerful force. The human voice is the key element in Oral tradition. 

Pendant Mask Iyoba, 16 century, Nigeria

The Creation Story, an extract
(Traditional Nigerian)

At the beginning there was a huge drop of milk.
Then Doondari came and he created the stone.
Then the stone created iron;
And iron created fire;
And fire created water;
And water created air.
Then Doondari descended the second time
And he took the five elements
And he shaped them into man.
But man was proud.

Many modern African poets draw from these roots to write performance poetry, which relies on the cadences of voice and interaction with audience, to enhance the experience of the written word.
Sounds of a Cowhide Drum was one of the first books of poems by a black South African poet to be written in English.  Oswald Mtshali brought the oral tradition to life in his poetry, using it to protest against the oppression of his people.

Oswald Mtshali


The Birth of Shaka, from Fireflames (1980)

His baby cry
was of a cub
tearing the neck
of the lioness
because he was fatherless.

The gods
boiled his blood
in a clay pot of passion
to course in his veins.

His heart was shaped into an ox shield
to foil every foe.

Ancestors forged
his muscles into
thongs as tough
as wattle bark
and nerves
as sharp as
syringa thorns.

His eyes were lanterns
that shone from the dark valleys of Zululand
to see white swallows
coming across the sea.
His cry to two assassin brothers:

"Lo! you can kill me
but you'll never rule this land!


My challenge today does not ask you to write to an African theme. Rather, I would like you to investigate the Oral Tradition of the land that you call home: draw your motifs, themes, stories from the rich mythology of its indigenous peoples. Weave a tale of creation, tricksters, magical entities or heroes or use it in a modern context, to emphasize social commentary of the plight of those people today.  The idea of spoken word should be present in the style.  Imagine it is a poem to be told to an audience seated close to the knee of the storyteller, gathered in firelight to learn of the past or the present day.

Sources for this challenge include Wikipedia, and a paper written by Sharon Wilson.

18 comments:

Kerry O'Connor said...

Forgive me kind of jumping the queue here. As I have mentioned in the chatroll, I'll be away for the next two days and wanted to leave something to offer for my challenge. I'll be back to read and comment on Thursday evening. I hope those who attempt this style enjoy delving into the age-old tales, and writing them afresh, from their own unique perspectives.

Daydreamertoo said...

Very interesting challenge Kerry, will be back to see what I can come up with. Enjoy your time away.

Fireblossom said...

I'm glad it's up early! I need some time to get something started. I have been looking forward to your next prompt, because I find that I am always able to write really well for yours.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Fantastically intriguing prompt, Kerry. Ideas are churning. Hope I can pull it off. I LOVE your African series. You should gather them into a book. Seriously.

shawnacy said...

this comes so timely. i've been thinking a black hole around the ideas of socio-cultural roots and modern nobility, and the apparent impossibility of a truly human feminine voice/character...
it'll take me while, but i'll rise to this one.
great thoughts, kerry, as always.

hedgewitch said...

What an excellent prompt, Kerry. I appreciate a little extra time on it as I seldom write well without some time for my poems to 'age' in the vat of rewrites. This goes right into the wheelhouse of myth, too, which makes it even better for me. Thanks.

Daydreamertoo said...

I couldn't think of any oral traditional stories, yours and Sherry's were perfect for the prompt Kerry. But, I did my best to come up with a folklore tale that was told first before it became written so I guess it fits the prompt. Hope so anyway. :)

Ella said...

Kerry, this is so insightful and magical! I love this idea~
I am doing the A to Z blogging challenge and going to share this on letter F for folklore~ I am off to gather info and see what inspires.
Yes, I will post mine on Friday :D

Thank your for such a thought provoking challenge~

Marian said...

this one's got me a bit overwhelmed; not sure i can do it mid-week. but you never know!

hedgewitch said...

This one kicked my rear seven ways from Sunday, but it's up. Yeesh. Sorry its so long, all--if I'd had more time I maybe could have cut it down better, but my brain gave out. Will be around to read tomorrow.

Kerry O'Connor said...

Thanks to all who gave this a try and wonderful to know that some will take the idea with them and come back to it later.

Daydreamertoo - unfortunately your link does not take one to a poetry page, perhaps you could link up again.

Grace said...

I am not sure if this fits the challenge but it made me take a look and dig deep into my cultural background.

Thanks for the prompt ~

Fireblossom said...

Sorry mine is so late!

Margaret said...

I'd love to try this, but will have to come back to it later this next week. Very intriguing, I must say.

W.k. kortas said...

It's not what Kerry had in mind--it's only tangenitally related to the challenge in question--but to quote the legendary Kel Mitchell "Aww, here it goes!"

Kerry O'Connor said...

I thought it perfect for what I had in mind, wkk.

Mary Ann Potter said...

Loved this prompt! I already had the first stanza of this poem, and the prompt helped me finish the work. Thanks! 8-)

Sharp Little Pencil said...

Kerry, thank you for this. I write a lot of poetry about my Irish roots and American "shanty" relatives, but suddenly, I heard Grandma Blanche Laughlin's voice and was moved to write prose! This told itself to me via her spirit... Bless you! Amy
http://sharplittlepencil.com/2012/04/10/my-irish-roots-long-ago-and-far-away-prose/