THE NATURE AND FUNCTION OF ORAL LITERATURE

Oral literature is the repository of the critical knowledge, philosophy, and wisdom for non-literate societies. This literature through narrative, poetry, song, dance, myths and fables, and texts for religious rituals provides a portrait of the meaning of life as experienced by the society at its particular time and place with its unique existential challenges. It encapsulates the traditional knowledge, beliefs and values about the environment and the nature of the society itself. It arises in response to the universal aesthetic impulse to provide narratives that explains the nature of life and describes human responses to challenges. This literature portrays how one is to live a moral life and explains the nature of one’s relationships to divinity. It thus retains the society’s knowledge to be passed on to succeeding generations. It contains the history of the society and its experiences. In various forms this oral literature portrays the society’s belief systems that makes sense of life. It provides a guide to human behavior and how to live one’s life. With the arrival of literacy, the core of this literature and its art rapidly disappears.

 

It is also the repository of artistic expression in a society. Its beauty resonates across cultural frontiers . As such this literature is a response to the universal human instinct to find balance, harmony, and beauty in the world and the need to understand pain, suffering, and evil. It explains the causes of human suffering, justifies them, and suggests ways of mediation and the healing of suffering. Oral literature also functions to fulfill the need for religious belief and spiritual fulfillment necessary for human existence. This universal human realm, peopled by spiritual beings and their personalities, is revealed through stories, tales, songs, myths, legends, prayers, and ritual texts. Such literature recounts the work of the gods, explains how the world and human existence came about, and reveals the nature of human frailty. Oral literature serves to communicate ideas, emotions, beliefs and appreciation of life. This literature defines, interprets, and elaborates on the society’s vision of reality and the dangers in the world. It deals with the human adventure and achievements against odds. Through the texts of the society’s rituals and ceremonies the ecological elements that are critical to the society’s livelihood are portrayed and their functions sanctified.

 

Oral literature is also a form of entertainment and fosters feelings of solidarity with others who have had similar experiences. In sum, oral literature may encompass many genres of linguistic expression and may perform many different functions for the society.

 

 

 

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