11 Major Features of African Oral Literature/Composition

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Oral literature/composition has been the oral nature of the language and verbal creative work that hinged on performance and audience participation.

In Africa, oral literature/composition is not only for entertainment but also for commenting on contemporary social and political events. It can be a significant agent that is capable of directing, provoking, preventing, recasting, and overturning social and cultural reality, e.g. praise poetry.

1. Oral literature/composition reflects societal image.

Oral literature/composition is natural and it is a total reflection of the societal image and patterns of life. It is also an aesthetic concept involving improvisation, recreation, total performance output, practices, behaviors, and mannerisms.

The definition of literature/composition is both paradoxically complex and simple. The definition seems to depend on the one who is doing the definition.

A Eurocentric scholar would come up with the definition that takes 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 pejorative concepts such as “folktale”, “folklores”, “folk-narratives” and so forth. (Gabriel 1999).

2. Oral literature/composition is an unwritten tradition.

One undeniable feature of oral literature/composition however is the fact that it is an unwritten tradition. It is handed down through the ages from one generation to the other through word of mouth. This is why it is referred to as being oral.

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It should be emphasized that the realness of oral literature/composition does not in any way make it less literary than the written text as in fact; the oral stage is the foundation for the written. Besides, it is important to note that oral literature/composition is not a signal of permittivity.

3. Oral literature/composition comments on contemporary events.

African oral art, like other forms of popular culture, is not merely a form of entertainment but also a medium of comment on contemporary social and political events.

Through different oral forms, children and adults alike are made to realize the consequences of deviation from societal norms and values.

4. Oral literature/composition is a way of life.

In African traditional societies, oral art forms can be seen as a complete way of life. There is hardly a sphere in the life of Africans without a corresponding oral art form.

Traditional African society is built, regulated, and governed by these oral art forms. African oral literature/composition is a verbal creative work, which hinges on the performance and participation of the audience.

5. Oral literature/composition is a verbal rendition.

As a result, the mainstay of oral literature/composition in Africa is the oral nature of the language. It is an oral rendition with verbal variability. The performer is always at liberty and must be varied in the scope of the check to improve.

6. Oral literature/composition entertains performance.

Also, another main feature of oral literature is performance. All three categories – drama, prose, and poetry – are performed in Africa. In other words, all these forms have dramatic elements accompanying them; such elements include demonstration, gesticulation, and dance.

The interplay between transition and existence is the significance of the oral performance. The beauty of the voice, facial expression, the response of the audience, and so on form an integral part of oral art.

The visual resources of the actual performance include audience, costume, dress, and dramatic body movement, i.e. music and dance situation.

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The involvement of the audience in the actual performance cannot be overemphasized. For instance, the Ijala chant, which is a form of entertainment among the hunters in Yorubaland is audience participation based.

The audience sometimes aids the performer to remember certain things. Members with experience in the audience can beg to disgrace and there is usually the erasure of the stage and space between the performer and the audience.

7. Oral literature/composition ensures spontaneity and improvisation.

The practice of creating, of making and creating, in the moment and response to the stimulus of one’s immediate environment.

For instance, the oral poet composes and delivers or performs his song simultaneously. He performs in the given moment and allows situations of the time and place to reflect in his songs, he is not just a memorizer.

8. Oral literature/composition teaches morals.

Oral literature/composition is used mainly for didactic purposes. It is used to teach moral education. It is the tool for which informal and traditional values and virtues are transmitted to a succeeding generation.

Oral literature/composition in folktales, for example, embodies moral lessons that teach, interact and correct to clean a generation for a long time.

9. Oral literature/composition is used to entertain people.

A good number of the stories told to children have accompanying songs, which entertain the younger folks. Moreover, special occasions such as marriage ceremonies, and the coronation of a chief, to mention a few, witness the unlimited performance of different oral art forms that entertain the audience.

10. Certain literature/composition propounds judgment.

Some oral art forms are used to propound judgment. For instance, Laye in his autobiographical novel: “The African Child” told tales regularly exemplifying sanctioned ways for individual behavior.

Oral literature/composition, in folktales, for example, uses spirits; monsters, and dangerous animals to enable the younger ones to draw a line between the good and the bad.

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11. Oral literature/composition preserves and celebrates African culture.

Besides, it preserves and celebrates African culture. Through various folktales, there is usually the dominant presence of certain culture or orientation. Oral literature/composition serves as a means of justifying a folk’s belief in a certain issue or reason for a certain practice.

The habit of respect for elders can also be traced to oral literature/composition. It is the inculcation of these habits in the young one that facilitates the greeting of elders with the appropriate words.

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