Oral traditions in African poetry

Essay by wemimoUniversity, Bachelor'sC, November 2014

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OCTOBER 14TH 2014.

Many ancient scholars believed Africa had no history prior to colonialism because there was no documented evidence. Professor A.P. Newton, who was a distinguished British historian in the early 20th century, believed that there was no African history because most of the African society was illiterate before the European intrusion. 'History', he said, 'only begins when men take to writing.' He, as well as others who had the same opinion, failed to realize that African communities existed long before colonialism and so had their own history, even though it had not been put into writing at the time. Oral traditions have played and continue to play important roles in the history of Africa as well as its present. Songs, folklores, superstitions, etc. are just some of the things that have been passed from generation to generation orally.

We see the evidence of some of these superstitions in J.P. Clark's Abiku as well as Wole Soyinka's Abiku.

Both poems are based on traditional superstitions and it is evident from the title, Abiku, which is a word from the Yoruba language of Nigeria that is used to describe a child that dies and is reborn, usually multiple times. It is believed that such children are not of the human world, but rather belong to the spirit world and so they keep going back and forth from one world to the other unless the child's family is able to make the child stay in the human world, using traditional methods most times. These beliefs and actions are results of oral traditions and, even with the rise of western education in Yoruba communities and Nigeria in general, continue to be upheld by some people. Clark...