Characteristics And Challenges Facing Oral Literature
Characteristics Of Oral Literature
The concept of an oral literature is an unfamiliar one to most people brought up in cultures which, like those of contemporary Europe, lay stress on the idea of literacy and written tradition.
Nevertheless, there are certain definite characteristics of this form of art which arise from its oral nature, and it is important at the outset to point to the implications of these.
They need to be understood before we can appreciate the status and qualities of many of these African literary forms;
1. Oral literature is based on the actual performance.
Oral literature is by definition dependent on a performer who formulates it in words on a specific occasion—there is no other way in which it can be realized as a literary product.
This point is obvious if we consider literary forms designed to be delivered to an audience even in more familiar literate cultures. If we take forms like a play/drama, we understand that they become effective if presented on stage than read as a book.
2. Oral literature is transmitted through words of mouth.
The term ‘oral’ by itself means spoken rather than written. So Oral Literature uses the words of mouth (spoken form) as its medium of presenting the message to the audience. The audience receive the message by listening and watching.
3. In oral literature the artist and the audience have a face to face contact.
Since the artist meets with his public face to face he can take advantage of this to enhance the impact as well as be influenced by. Sometimes he chooses to involve his listeners directly, as in story-telling situations
Where it is common for the narrator to open with a phrase which arouses his audience’s attention; he also often expects them to participate actively in the narration and, in particular, to join in the choruses of songs which he introduces into the narrative.
4. Oral literature is contextual.
It improvises the local environment and the time in which it is presented. The narrator telling a story around Lake zone may say “the hippo disappeared into the lake” but the same story may use the clause “the hippo disappeared into the sea” if told in Dar-es-Salaam.
Even within the same culture there may be many set styles of performance designed to suit the different literary genres recognized in the culture. Indeed, these genres are sometimes primarily distinguished from each other in terms of their media of performance rather than their content or purpose.
5. Oral literature is born, grows, lives and dies.
Due to the development of science and technology, oral literature is affected dramatically in its lifespan. While it is true that oral literature is older than its written counterpart, it faces tremendous threats from the rapid development of science and technology in its growth, spread and survival.
As most oral literature works are being preserved in other forms than human memory, they begin to lose their oral flavour. Today we have works stored in CDs, DVDs, Tapes, Computers, memory cards, books, etc. so oral literature has lost its oral quality and some works are now extinct.
6. Oral literature is performed in special venues like theatres.
This can be a building or an outdoor area where plays and similar types of entertainment are performed. These are used for live performances by live actors to a live audience.
This is one of the things that are at risk of extinction since there are hardly any theatres in most contemporary societies today. People sit at home and watch TV dramas, movies and films than going to the theatres for live performances.
Challenges Facing Oral Literature
Oral literature has encountered many challenges in the course of its development from time immemorial. Most of the forms of oral literature are either extinct or in different stages towards extinction.
Oral literature has been affected in the areas of preservation (which was predominantly dependent upon human memory), presentation (predominantly through words of mouth), and growth (spread).
On one side, the biggest challenge has been the death of the artists (elders) who had preserved these works in their memory. Their deaths lead inevitably to the death of the literary works they had preserved altogether.
On the other side, the artist may forget or change some important aspects of the story to the point that as the story is told from time to time across generations it loses its original quality.
In order to combat the problem and due to the development of science and technology, there have been some deliberate attempts to preserve oral literature using modern methods including; written form (books), tapes, DVDs, CDs, Computers, etc.
We are going to look at how the development of science and technology has had tremendous effects on these aspects and how oral literature has changed dramatically
The Impacts of Science and Technology on Oral Literature
1. It becomes expensive if preserved/stored in modern storage devices.
Oral literature is known to be transmitted freely from one generation to another. It involves less or no cost to get oral literature works. However, the attempt to preserve oral literature works from extinction has made it expensive and costly.
If it is preserved in modern devices like CDs, DVDs, Tapes, Memory cards, Computers, books etc.; one will have to buy them to be able to listen and watch these works.
2. There is no face-to-face interaction between the artist and the audience.
Since oral literature is preserved in modern devices it has lost its liveliness since the artist and the audience do not interact face to face. So, the artist cannot involve the audience in clapping, singing, dancing, or doing other actions they would do if they had a direct contact.
3. There is delay of feedback.
It is very hard for the artist to get the feedback from the audience when oral literature is preserved and presented through modern devices. The artist may be living in another country or even continent where the audience can hardly give them the feedback. So, the artist cannot assess immediately is their works are successful or not.
4. There is no specific setting.
Literary works stored in other forms than human memory do not need a specific setting. One doesn’t need to go to the theatre to watch a drama stored in a DVD, or VCD. One can watch it at home, in the bus, in the classroom, or anywhere through the computer or smartphone.
5. It changes the medium of presentation.
There is absence of performance (sound effects and actions) if stored in writings. It is difficult to call the work of art stored in written form as oral literature. Oral literature loses some of its qualities when stored in other forms than human memory since literary works preserved in writings will no longer be called “oral” but “written”. So the medium of presentation is no longer performance but reading.
6. Due to copyright issues it no longer belongs to the society.
It becomes the property of the artist. Any literary work preserved in form of a CD, DVD, book, VCD, and other forms than human memory, belong to the artist who preserved them. Other people are not free to use the works without permission from the artist. So instead of being a product of the society it becomes a product of the author.
7. It does not involve all members of the community.
If oral literature is preserved in other forms it begins to discriminate some members of the society who are illiterate. If stored in written form for instance, only those who can read will be able to know what is written there. Those with hearing impairment cannot enjoy the works stored in audio devices.
8. Vulnerability of storage devices.
Some devices like CDs, DVDs, computers; TVs, etc. are susceptible to damage. The modern devices are vulnerable, delicate and susceptible to damage. If the device is damaged or lost the work stored in it is also damaged or lost completely. These devices need a careful handling unless otherwise all the works will be lost.
9. It becomes rigid to change.
It doesn’t change easily because one cannot change or edit something printed in a book or written on CD, DVD, or VCD. The drama recorded in India will be played the same way across the world without considering the culture of other peoples (races). Even when there is a content that is morally unacceptable in another culture one cannot change it.
10. Lack of motivation in oral literature.
The modern devices have made people lose interest in old forms of oral literature. It is hard today to find young children gathered around the evening fire, listening to the stories from grandpas or grandmas.
They rather like sitting at the sitting room watching video films and movies than going to the theatre to watch live performances. Because of that many works are lost and forgotten.
The liveliness of oral literature depended on the extent to which it was passed from one generation to another. Since it is no longer passed in the same manner, the works are lost when the elders who had preserved these works die.