There is an African proverb, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground”. This means that old people are a source of knowledge. They hold a piece of African culture. In Africa, one of the main ways we keep a record of our rich culture is through oral tradition. But if we don’t write down oral tradition, it will be lost forever.
WHAT IS ORAL TRADITION?
Oral tradition is when history, stories, memories and traditions are spoken about and passed on from generation to generation. Oral traditions are part of the African way of life. They are how we share cultural heritage and beliefs. They show African attitudes and feelings. They are very important in keeping the past alive.
EXAMPLES OF ORAL TRADITION
The Griot: The Griot is a storyteller in West African culture. He keeps hold of facts and important events from the past. It is up to him to pass this knowledge on to future generations. The Griot’s job is to tell stories well. He memorises events, songs and dances. He performs them to an audience. The female storyteller is a Griotte. She traditionally sings at celebrations. She uses songs like the Saabi to talk about relationships between men and women.
Jaliya: Jaliya is a West African tradition when words and music are mixed together. The purpose is to speak about events. The Griots often use Jaliya to tell their stories. Local musical instruments are played.
African proverbs: Proverbs show wisdom and truth. They are used to deliver messages of inspiration, encouragement and advice. They show you a better way to live and a new way to see the world.
Fables and folktales: Fables and folktales use stories to teach a lesson. There is a strong message about the values and wisdom of a culture. Animals play an important role in fables and folktales.
Legends: Legends are stories about people who have done great things. They often talk about real people. They inspire the audience and make people proud of African achievements.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO US TODAY?
There is not much written history about Africa. Oral tradition is one of the few ways to find out about the life and culture of Africans in the past. It even tells us a lot about African culture and values nowadays. But this precious information will disappear if it is not written down.
SEND US YOUR ORAL TRADITIONS
Help us to preserve African oral traditions! Send us any stories, proverbs, folktales or legends that mean something to you.