Oral tradition

Orality and society

The validity of oral tradition can be due to its popular and egalitarian character, which does not require an education or previous formation for its expression. In fact, this system does not establish many differences or gaps: it is enough to manage a basic level of one's own language to enter into the universe of what is spoken, and share knowledge and experiences in public and private spheres.

Definitely, a high percentage of human knowledge and information moves through oral channels.

In traditional communities (peasant, rural, indigenous or minority ones), orality officiates as a substitute for writing. The details of everyday life, traditions and customs are preserved in this way, as well as a detailed account of minimal stories, tiny and countless tiles of a huge mosaic. Although slowly transformed and adapted to new realities, the stories perpetuate worldviews of centuries, legends that explain the origin of each natural element and the meaning of each magical symbol, cures for all kinds of evils of the body and soul, recipes that take advantage of the best of local products, and solutions to endless problems and daily chores. They also transmit songs, sayings and proverbs that reflect the spirit of the people, their wisdom, their idiosyncrasy and their way of understanding the world and acting in it.

When speaking of oral societies, it is not intended to establish that their daily life is marked by exchange through the spoken word, because all societies work in such a way. They are "oral" because of the fact that oral communication is inscribed in their deep being, their memory, their knowledge, their behaviors and their stories. Within such societies, oral tradition ensures its own reproduction in a double direction: vertical and horizontal. Vertical, in the past-present sense; horizontal, between the members of the group, equal to equal. The latter takes place thanks to the structuring that assumes all society, especially in its political dimension.

In urban societies, oral transmission keeps alive family and group memories that were never recorded, stories of immigration and emigration, particular points of view about great national events, traditions, games, stories and crafts that are only transmitted by word of mouth. Likewise, through this medium, ideas, alternative cultures, discourses opposed to the official one, dissident thoughts and the testimony –unique and unrepeatable– of the participants in historical socio-political processes are preserved and spread.

All these opinions and alternative narratives are those that complete and balance the "official" narrative explaining a people, a culture or a country, and allow the existence of plurality, of infinite perspectives and points of view, and an incredible and invaluable diversity, so often forgotten in favor of dominant cultures, ideologies and discourses that try –with more or less success– to homogenize reality.

Such oral testimonies are part of the human memory. And if the libraries and the archives are intended to be managers of that memory, they should include these fragile expressions, once and for all, among their collections.