African Oral and Written Traditions

Harold Scheub

in African Studies

ISBN: 9780199846733
Published online October 2012 | | DOI:
African Oral and Written Traditions

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  • African History
  • African Languages
  • African Music
  • African Philosophy
  • African Studies


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It is the task of the storyteller, in both the oral and written traditions of Africa, to forge the fantasy images of the past into masks of the realistic images of the present, enabling the performer to pitch the present to the past, to visualize the present within a context of and therefore in terms of the past. Flowing through this potent emotional grid is a variety of ideas that have the look of antiquity and ancestral sanction. Story occurs under the mesmerizing influence of performance, the body of the performer, the music of her voice, the complex relationship between her and her audience; it is a world unto itself, whole, with its own set of laws. That oral concept of performance finds its parallels in written traditions. Unlike images are juxtaposed, and then the storyteller reveals, to the delight and instruction of the members of the audience, the linkages between them that render them homologous. In this way, the past and the present are blended: ideas are thereby generated, forming our conception of the present. Performance gives the images their context and assures the audience a ritual experience that bridges past and present, and shapes contemporary life. It was the situation one thousand years ago; so it shall be one thousand years hence. Storytellers are the repositories of the memories of the people. The oral traditions of African societies were thriving for centuries before the introduction of literary traditions. These latter, though often influenced by Europe and Asia, nevertheless occur within the context of the oral traditions.

Article.  7066 words. 

Subjects: African History ; African Languages ; African Music ; African Philosophy ; African Studies

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