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Oral Traditions in History The Essential Unrecorded History.

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Presentation on theme: "Oral Traditions in History The Essential Unrecorded History."— Presentation transcript:

1 Oral Traditions in History The Essential Unrecorded History

2 Oral tradition vs. Oral history Oral traditions take a number of forms: -news, gossip, verbal arts of poems/songs, dreams, epics Oral history: taking down and recording verbal recollections based on set questions is one part of a record that can be used to write history These provide for the invention or perpetuation of “tradition”

3 Oral Traditions What is a tradition? What is the invention of the tradition –eg? History must serve the present day needs: What sorts of needs? Who is served? Patriarchy, ethnic identity How does oral tradition work: 2 examples 1.Memory palace and kin 2.Heroic tales

4 Oral Traditions Many societies do not, or did not have developed literacy or literature. Does not mean they have no history: history is not just about the written record. Oral traditions can be corroborated and verified –they can also be used to correct and amend written records –see Jan Vansina. The Oral Tradition as History (Madison WI, 1985)

5 Oral societies and Traditions Many societies have finely-tuned and very accurate means of conveying history in oral form. Vansina notes a good historian, grounded in the local linguistic and cultural context can achieve a very high level of reliability with oral traditions History is driven by the questions we ask of it, and the needs we have. Our society would obsess about cars, vs. pastoral society and cattle. Know and ask the right questions to find accurate answers. History is about messages people want to convey and the reconstruction of a past to serve the present –so what people remember often has much meaning.

6 The use of oral traditions in history The tradition: -Must tell a message set in time -Must intend to communicate about the past and its meaning for the present -Historian must consider the context of the oral performance-where is it being told, when, why, for whom. -Must note patrons and performers; oppositional tensions

7 Oral Traditions: Examples Construction of historical consciousness shared by many: myth, prophecy and memory: Story of Nongqause and the Xhosa Cattle killing: People remembered the past in and idealized way. She drew upon this –led to calamity in context of broader crises. The episode is remembered as oral tradition and warning Praise poets: Leadership, history and public performance Dates and historical context for non-literate society Myths can have strands of historical truths that incorporate new, seemingly unrelated material over time: Eg Kuba people of Zaire: Foundation myth of first family can explain geographic origins, development of iron technology, expansion of trade to the coast. Twi –Ghanaian poems

8 Pabuji: The Rajasthani Epic: William Dalrymple’s “Homer in India” In Rajasthan, India, oral epic poets (shamans and bards), the Bhopas and Bhopis (female) perform lengthy, detailed and accurate oral recitations of the story of a heroic semi- divine warrior, Pabuji. The Phad-a beautifully painted scroll depicting major parts of the story of the hero Pabuji –he saves the cattle of a princess/godess. It serves a sort of mobile temple, and brings the allows the spirit of god Pabuji to be invoked. Tradition of recitations carried on down generations by Bhopas and audiences “To earn our bread. Performing for Pabuji

9 India and oral Epics Epic tale of Dev Narayan –hero, a cattle herder who avenges father’s death in a great caste war and becomes a god- Epic tale told at the temple to the god Dev Narayan is reinforced by cattle and horse society. The Dev Narayan Festival provides for trade of livestock and an understanding of who the Gujar people (of this region) are Helps preserve their caste identity in a context of thousands of castes and sub-castes. The perpetuation of illiteracy means the preservation of bhopas who can recite oral epic.

10 Indian oral epics Bhopas –caste of artisans, can recite hours of epic poems over many days -Follow formulas of memory grounded in non- literate society. Sharp memories –no competition for visual or reading attention Reinforced by religious, social and economic meaning: cattle economy, heroic gods who protect cattle, Festivals: public performance and ritual associated with socializing and economic exchange


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