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Oral Traditions as Sources  

Stephen Belcher

The use of oral tradition is a distinctive and essential element in many fields of African studies. History must acknowledge it; literature sees it as the medium for much of the indigenous creative endeavor across African cultures; anthropology and its cousin disciplines rely upon oral information for their understanding of traditional societies. An appreciation of the value of the oral tradition as a source across disciplines involves two efforts: first, a survey of the reported oral tradition as available and documented in past periods, and second, a review of the principles and practices involved in the collection, analysis, and presentation of the oral tradition. The paucity of written records has been grounds for dismissal of the notion of African history—most notoriously in the case of Hegel, who in ignorance wrote off the home of the human species—and more recently a cause of pride among African intellectuals who have asserted the value of the oral tradition in the face of skepticism rooted in prejudice and too often in overt racism. An appreciation of the value of the oral tradition threads its path between extremes and occasional controversy. The era of the smartphone has made the documentation (and creation) of oral tradition almost too easy. Past generations made do in different ways. Their reports should not be dismissed, but studied; they are the available background to information collected in the modern era. Accurate collection and critical analysis are the essential tools for the understanding of oral tradition.


Ogot, Grace  

J. Roger Kurtz

Grace Emily Akinyi Ogot (1930–2015), a leading Kenyan writer and politician, was a pioneering figure whose professional accomplishments spanned the independence and postindependence eras in East Africa. Until her death at age eighty-four, Ogot was an acclaimed cultural leader within her Luo community, as well as in her nation of Kenya. While she also worked in the fields of nursing and journalism, Ogot is best remembered for her political success, her groundbreaking achievements as an author of short stories and novels, and being chronicler of Luo folk tales. In all areas of her work, Ogot developed a reputation as a prominent advocate for women’s concerns. As an author, Ogot belongs to the first generation of Kenyan writers. This group may be defined as those writers who were born and educated during the colonial period, but whose writing continued into the postcolonial era. She was the first Luo writer and the first Kenyan woman to win international acclaim for her creative writing. Other well-known Luo women writers from Kenya include Asenath Bole Odaga, Margaret Ogola, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. Ogot wrote both in English and in Dholuo, the language of the Luo people. She is best known for her works of realist fiction, her promotion of traditional myth and folklore, and her books for children. She began publishing short stories in East African journals in the 1960s. Her best-known works are her novel The Promised Land (1966) and her short story collection Land without Thunder (1968). These were the first creative works written by a woman to be published by the East African Publishing House, the region’s first locally owned and managed publishing firm. In national politics, Ogot represented her region as a member of parliament, and she served as an assistant minister in the national government. She served as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly in 1975 and to UNESCO in 1976. She was married to Bethwell Ogot, a leading Kenyan historian. Together, they represented one of Kenya’s most influential and publicly recognized couples due to their prominent national positions. Through her writing and political activities, especially as she used those activities to promote positive social change for women, Ogot will be remembered as someone whose life both reflected and influenced the social dynamics of 20th-century Kenya.


Women’s Literature in African History  

Anthonia C. Kalu

African literature refers to (a) African oral literature (also called Orature) and (b) written African literature from West, North, Central, East, and Southern Africa. African oral literature encompasses works from Africa’s ancient and classical narrative traditions and spans oral narratives, proverbs, drama, poetry, chants and songs, riddles, and so on. With the earliest known works located in ancient Egypt, written African literature includes inscriptions on pyramid walls, the short story, the novel, poetry, drama, autobiography, and so forth. Women’s literature in Africa refers to African literatures by and about women. While storytelling styles vary by region and experiences shaped by history and society, the themes are linked by complex worldviews rooted in a common evocation of human experiences that seem unique to the continent. The languages of African literature include Africa’s indigenous languages as well as the languages acquired by different African societies as a result of the continent’s encounters with the East and experiences of Western colonization.