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- Orality, Literacy, and Colonialism in Southern Africa
In the community, this also means that elders remain the deposit of key information, increasing their status and power in the community. Ezra Chitando has made a compelling analysis to show how names function in Zimbabwe among the Shona people to communicate history, belief, and message to relatives and neighbours.
The same can also be observed among various African cultures, in which before the advent of literary culture, names served that function of providing socio-religious commentary Chitando ; Pongweni Besides this, religious tradition may be jealously guarded by ritual experts and disclosed only to an inner circle willing to undergo initiation after extensive training. Beyond their first initiation into their communities, Africans may continue on to further initiations into esoteric tradition, e. Religious traditions may even be concealed from other religious experts, as diviners izangoma in Zulu tradition and traditional healers izinyanga in Zulu tradition are, to some extent, in competition with each other.
While this preserves oral religious tradition, it also leads to multiple versions and variant performances. This unconscious process of selection means that the corpus of African religio-cultural tradition and performance is dynamic and stable at the same time, responding to the concerns of the present as well as the past Vansina Oral religion in Africa has both fixed and fluid elements, so that it is possible to challenge someone for performing a ritual incorrectly and yet leave space for creativity and adaptation to new situations.
The ability to read among Africans does not replace the oral character of their religious practice, since even those who can read continue to perform and re-perform the religious tradition in orally mediated rituals and to consult ritual experts, such as diviners and herbalists, whose knowledge is secret and jealously guarded from the uninitiated.
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In the earlier periods, a large number of AIC members were illiterate. They could not read but they could preach and quote scripture as if they had memorised it from written text. In many of the religions of Africa, material representations of various kinds play a role in conjunction with oral performance: both cueing and supporting it. Rhythm, drumming, singing, movement and dance on the part of the performer and the audience are also essential ingredients of most oral performances.
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They assist memory, maintain the link between the performer and the hearers and also provide opportunities for the unique contribution of the individual to the mediation of the tradition. In addition, this heightens religious experience and opens the way to experience of spirit and even to possession e. The importance of the ancestors in African religious consciousness makes praise poems and lists of ancestors highly significant, not just to honour the living and connect them with their past, but also to enable invocation of the ancestors in religious rituals.
The praise poem, at least in southern Africa, has been taken up extensively in African Initiated Churches—both in honouring God and in appropriating the and re-composing the Bible in oral perforrmance as in Isaiah Shembe. The tradition of composition in performance, characteristic of the praise poem see Opland , also continues in various ways in modern African oral religious tradition, bringing a vitality to African appropriations of Christian and Islamic tradition.
In the absence of a written legal corpus, orally mediated proverbs often serve as a body of legal case law, which derives from the cosmological and religious narratives and traditions of African cultures. Adroit use of proverbs is widely admired and practiced. Finally, the esoteric nature of some African religious performances and traditions limit transmission to oral performance by religious experts. Bibliography Bediako, Kwame. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
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Draper and John Miles Foley eds. Minneapolis: Fortress. Ellis, Stephen and Gerrie ter Haar. London: Hurst. Contemporary Nigerian Poetry and the Poetics of Orality. Bayreuth: Bayreuth University Press. Baltimore, MD. Finnegan, Ruth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Fuze, Magema M. Abantu Abamnyama: Lapa Bavela Ngakona. Pietermaritzburg: Private Publication. English translation in by H. Lugg, edited by A. Goody, Jack. The Interface between the Written and the Oral. Graf, David F. Gunner, Elizabeth.
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