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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.

Article

Mia Couto  

Irene Marques

Mia Couto (b. 1955) is a contemporary Mozambican writer and biologist. Writing in Portuguese, Couto is the most prolific writer from Mozambique, and his works have been translated into more than thirty languages. He is the author of over thirty books, including, poetry, short stories, chronicles, creative essays, novels, and children’s and young adult books. His works have won several national and international prizes and have been adapted to film, theater, and television. His topics cover Mozambican culture and religion, ontologies and epistemologies, orality, Portuguese colonialism, anticolonial resistance, wars of liberation, personal and collective identity, postcolonial nation building, civil war, memory, trauma, violence and amnesia, neoliberal international agendas of development, cultural syncretism, African “authenticity,” corruption, women’s oppression and agency, and gender fluidity. He is considered a highly innovative writer, known for inventing a plethora of neologisms; his literary creations show an intrinsic link between orality, poetry, and an evolving and dynamic language that draws heavily from the multiple cultural and linguistic realities of Mozambique. This creative linguistic manipulation is primarily present in his earlier work. However, Couto’s script is far from being a mere play on aesthetics—it is a literature fundamentally preoccupied with political, cultural, historical, and pragmatic matters, reflecting important aspects of Mozambique’s past and present historical and sociopolitical contexts.