ORAL TRADITION IN AFRICA : POETRY AS A MEANS OF PRESERVING CULTURAL HERITAGE AND ENGENDERING SOCIAL CHANGE AMONG THE YORUBA.

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ABSTRACT "A lot has been said about the slow death of the oral tradition aspect of indigenous communication. The steady incursion of foreign media content and values which were once alien to Africans but are now being assimilated and exhibited
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  ORAL TRADITION IN AFRICA: POETRY AS A MEANS OF PRESERVING CULTURAL HERITAGE AND ENGENDERING SOCIAL CHANGE AMONG THE YORUBA. FALADE, ADEOYE DENNIS SEPTEMBER, 2013  ABSTRACT A lot has been said about the slow death of the oral tradition aspect of indigenous communication. The steady incursion of foreign media content and values which were once alien to Africans but are now being assimilated and exhibited at an alarming rate, most especially among the youth, presents a problem as regards traditions and cultural values. The indigenous means of communication is an integral part of the lives of Africans and losing this will surely mean the loss of more than our ability to communicate traditionally, but also intrinsic aspects of our cultural history and heritage. Most indigenous knowledge is not written down but memorized and passed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth. The influence of foreign media and the competition it brings could mean that the attention of coming generations may be diverted and there might be no one to pass down historical information to. However, there are certain ways through which aspects of the African culture and history can  be passed down and preserved. One of these is through poetry. Although poetry is mostly used for entertainment, among the Yorubas,  Ewi (oral poetry)  –   and some other variations  –   is often used to inform, eulogise achievements, guide individuals through the murky waters of t he world‘s hazardous terrain,  celebrate the inexorable link between life and death, and to speak out against unacceptable behaviours and practices. This article is an attempt to examine how poetry has been, and can still be used to preserve the cultural heritage of the Yoruba  people. In addition, the power of poetry to challenge social ills and stimulate change in the society, and the various ways through which indigenous poetry has found its way into foreign media was examined. Key words:  poetry, oral communication, social change, cultural heritage, indigenous communication.  Introduction Prior to the widespread use of writing as a means of communication, the most common mode of communication in Africa was the spoken word. This form of communication is generally referred to by many scholars as oral tradition or oral communication. Oral tradition is a means through which a society‘s history, culture, religious beliefs, etc., are passed down from generation to generation. Wilson (2003), in an online article makes this clearer with the statement below: For the African people, oral tradition is linked to their way of life. Most African societies place great worth in oral tradition because it is a primary means of conveying culture. It is also a mode of transmitting feelings and attitudes. For centuries, African people depended upon oral tradition to teach the listeners important traditional values and morals pertaining to how to live. Oral tradition delivers explanations to the mysteries of the universe and the meaning of life on earth. This is due to t he fact that for centuries, most African societies didn‘t have an invented alphabet. African scholar, Mbiti, cited by Wilson, said that ―…Most African people did not invent an alphabet for reading or writing. Therefore, they could not keep written records of their history. Thus, oral communication was the established means of passing down information on norms, culture, tradition, religion, amongst others, from one generation to another. It was a bank for the preservation of their ancient experiences and beliefs. Much of the evidence that related to the past of the African people, therefore, could be found in oral traditions. This word-of-mouth driven mode of communication has served Africans, and by extension, humanity, for a long time. And the capacity to communicate with this unique mode, apart from reason, distinguishes humans from other living species. Olajubu (2003), further stresses the importance of ‗orality‘ by stating that w hile writing or written forms cannot exist without oral traditions, oral traditions can, and will always exist without writing. There was virtually no form of written communication in most parts of Africa in the past and people were still  made aware of their srcins, lineage, communal ethics, taboos, etc, with the oral communication. Inasmuch as the focus of this article is on what poetry has helped to achieve in Africa, in terms of the preservation of cultural heritage and engendering social change, this article will dwell more on the Yoruba people of South-Western Nigeria. This is because it would be limiting to write generally on the subject without adequate knowledge of how other cultures in Africa use poetry. Still, the Yorubas are a sizeable ethnic group in the continent. Text from a few poems will also be analysed to see how poems serve as a means of preserving Yoruba history and culture, as well as engendering social change. Definition of Terms Oral Communication This is basically communication via word of mouth. However, in the context of this article, oral communication in used to depict the verbal aspect of indigenous communication. This is in relation to the transmission of messages, ideas, morals, virtues, history from one generation to another via word of mouth. Poetry Poetry is a literary genre that defies precise definition. Many poets and scholars let their muse determine what poetry is, but for the purpose of this article, poetry is a product of human imagination based on observations of the society and experiences expressed in spoken form with (or without) the aid sound, rhythmic language choices, and meaning so as to evoke an emotional response. Yoruba Oral Tradition In the Yoruba culture  –   as with a lot of other African cultures, human experiences are usually cast into narratives, which are continuously performed in various social settings and rituals. Historical and social experiences are all recorded in oral tradition; therefore, oral traditions constitute the starting point of any investigation into Yoruba thought system (Olajubu, 2003). This can be seen in some Yoruba oral genres which include folktales, proverbs, ofo, ayajo  (incantations), ekun iyawo   (a bride‘s lamentation at marriage), the  Ifa  corpus, oriki  (lineage and individual praise recitations) and  Ijala   (hunters‘ chant ). Poetry is the main focus of this article and is an art form enjoyed amongst the Yoruba people, serving a wide range of   purposes which will be discussed later in this article. However,  Ijala isn‘t the only form of  poetry identified amongst the Yoruba people; other forms of poetry include ewi , which is one of the most popular, and esa   (masquerade‘s chants) (Adepegba, 2011) . Oral traditions among the Yoruba, assume that the spoken word embodies a power and active essence called oro  according to Abiodun, cited by Olajubu (2003). This makes the power and active essence in Yoruba oral tradition a vehicle for ideological control. As a result, words  become tools for entrenching ideologies either of oppression or liberation. Several genres of Yoruba oral literature have been composed and performed by the people for many years and have been utilized for social engineering and societal cohesion throughout history. Oral literature for the Yoruba is always of present relevance because it continues to wield considerable influence on Yoruba social structures till date (Olajubu, 2003). Other than this, there‘s a strong connection between this oral tradition and the spiritual consciousness or religious beliefs of the Yoruba people. For instance, some genres of Yoruba oral traditions like ofo , ayajo  and epe  (incantations), may be invoked to manipulate natural elements to the advantage of the individual so endowed. Despite the fact that most people had the ability to recount parts of their genealogy and local history, only a few oral artists had the skill and stamina required to chant lengthy oral literature. The oral artists enjoye d reverence as custodians of the people‘s ancient wisdom and cultural history. In addition to frequently entertaining their audiences and providing relaxation, they also teach important moral lessons. In Yoruba land, as a means of relaxation, the elderly gather the children around and regale them with various stories and songs, with a lesson usually embedded in them. This serves as a method of orientation for the young and instruction on the need to respect the dictates of their custom: as a result, a large body of moral instruction, of societal values and norms are preserved for future generations by the Yoruba. Apart from the use of these oral means to teach morals and preserve culture, they are also used to transmit technical knowledge from masters to apprentice; for instance, farmers, hunters, fishermen, traditional medicine men, etc. Evolution of Poetry in Africa According to Opara (2008), African poetry went through the following phases: pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial/post-independence. Poetry has always being an aspect of traditional African communication because the people thrived in the use of orality as a means
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