Oral tradition

A classification?

In spite of the more or less clear and coherent view that one may have on oral tradition, it is still seen as a kind of conglomerate of elements, in which some ordering through rigorous typological analysis would be advisable. This point of view pushed Aguessi (1984) to propose a typological ordering. This author distinguishes five groups:

  • Tales, proverbs, sayings, songs, parables, legends, family traditions and stories of families and peoples. They are elements that a popular culture maintains as a part of its daily life, using them as indispensable factors for their socialization.
  • Toponyms and anthroponyms linking the group's history to the places it occupies.
  • Craftwork, dances, musical instruments, customs, cooking, painting, theater, pottery, bas-reliefs ... Here is the provision of a certain social language.
  • Phytotherapy and psychophytotherapy, ie pharmacopoeia and healers.
  • Myths and cultural elements channeled through religious accounts and rites.

Laya (1972) analyzes oral tradition by its form, distinguishing prose, rhymed prose and sung prose. Such forms, at the same time, can be free (stories, epics...) or stereotyped (ritual songs, esoteric codes, epic poems...). At the same time, they can be historical (genealogies, chronicles, historical accounts...), epic, lyrical or pastoral poems; tales, fables and theater; religious texts... In addition, they can be analyzed according to the depth of knowledge (popular traditions, erudite traditions) or the depth and temporal extension of tradition (creation legends, family histories...).

Finally, Vansina (1961) analyzes the oral tradition from a double point of view (form and content) and organizes it into five categories: formulas, poetry, lists, narratives and commentaries.

However, Cauvin (1980) writes, for the African case, the following commentary:

Leaving aside some great genres represented everywhere, each ethnicity, each language has its own types of texts. It is, therefore, useless or even impossible to make an exhaustive or perfectly accurate description of such genres throughout Africa. Everyone is invited to study the one that exists within their own tradition.

Although such classifications may work as a guide inside the complex universe of spoken expressions, perhaps the African example may be considered, in general and for the Latin American case in particular.


Quoted bibliography
  1. Aguessi, H. (1984). "La tradition orale, modèle de culture". In La tradition orale, source de la littèrature contemporaine en Afrique. Dakar: Nouvelles Editions Africaines, pp. 44-54.
  2. Laya, D. (1972). La tradition orale. Problématique et méthodologie des sources de l´histoire africaine. Niamey: CRDTO.
  3. Vansina, J. (1961). De la tradition orale. Essai de méthode historique. Tervuren: Musée Royale de l´Afrique Centrale.