Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Importance of Orality

In Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies, Ashcroft states “post-colonial cultures have all, in various ways, been influenced by the interrelationship between orality and literacy” (165). Often times the importance of written language undermines the value of oral tradition, when in reality there are “complex interactions” (165) between the two forms of cultural preservation. Post-colonial studies have focused on the importance of oral culture and according to Ashcroft, “oral forms in African societies, for instance have a continuing and equal relationship with the written” (166-167).

The novel Things Fall Apart, written by Chinua Achebe, provides a direct example of the influence of oral culture in passing down knowledge from one generation to the next. Uchendu, an elder in Mbanta, knowing “more about the world” (133) passes down the importance of an individual’s motherland to his family. Achebe stresses the importance of the Igbo oral tradition by continually using proverbs throughout Things Fall Apart. However, the power of orality is only found in the spoken words of a male. Achebe writes that when Okonwo “was a child his mother had told him a story about [mosquitoes]. But it was as silly as all women’s stories” (75).

The oral language spoken by the female members of society is not of equal value to the words of male members of society. An individual must display masculine strength, and to take part in the stories of a mother would be to go against all preconceived notions of masculinity. Achebe writes “Nwoye knew that it was right to be masculine and to be violent, but somehow he still preferred the stories that his mother used to tell, and which she no doubt still told to her younger children” (53). An individual cannot be both masculine and a participant in female orality. Achebe highlights the conflict between womanhood and oral culture, and unlike the conflict between orality and literacy which Ashcroft discusses, there is not an interplay between females and influential oral traditions.

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