About : What is Oral Literature?

Definitions and understandings of oral literature

Oral literature is a broad term which may include ritual texts, curative chants, epic poems, musical genres, folk tales, creation tales, songs, myths, spells, legends, proverbs, riddles, tongue-twisters, word games, recitations, life histories or historical narratives. Most simply, oral literature refers to any form of verbal art which is transmitted orally or delivered by word of mouth. Orature is a more recent and less widely used term which emphasises the oral character and nature of literary works.

In African Oral Literature for Schools, Jane Nandwa and Austin Bukenya define oral literature as "those utterances, whether spoken, recited or sung, whose composition and performance exhibit to an appreciable degree the artistic character of accurate observation, vivid imagination and ingenious expression" (1983: 1).

The Canadian Encyclopedia suggests that "the term oral literature is sometimes used interchangeably with folklore, but it usually has a broader focus. The expression is self-contradictory: literature, strictly speaking, is that which is written down; but the term is used here to emphasize the imaginative creativity and conventional structures that mark oral discourse too. Oral literature shares with written literature the use of heightened language in various genres (narrative, lyric, epic, etc), but it is set apart by being actualized only in performance and by the fact that the performer can (and sometimes is obliged to) improvise so that oral text constitutes an event."

According to the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia, "Oral literature corresponds in the sphere of the spoken (oral) word to literature as literature operates in the domain of the written word. It thus forms a generally more fundamental component of culture, but operates in many ways as one might expect literature to do. The Ugandan scholar Pio Zirimu introduced the term orature in an attempt to avoid an oxymoron, but oral literature remains more common both in academic and popular writing."