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
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.
The Birth of Shaka, from Fireflames (1980)
His baby cry
was of a cub
tearing the neck
of the lioness
because he was fatherless.
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.
his muscles into
thongs as tough
as wattle bark
as sharp as
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.