Category: Culture

A Model Of African Oral Art

As part of oral traditional art, the riddle keeps the past, borrows from the present and creates something new for the future. Always alive and up to date, it entertains and instructs. There is a large literary production of riddles in the African culture, though not as large as that of legends, myths and fables. Many writers consider riddles one of the oldest games of the world. Joseph Ki-Zerbo, the great Burkinabe historian, wrote: “Just like other traditional oral literature – proverbs, stories, etc. – riddles, too, were part of the socializing system, of learning and of informal education. (…) Today, a formal system has been added in the guise of the schools brought in by colonialism.” The riddles guide the new generations to compare and confront, oppose and differentiate among various items. They stimulate the learning of the language, the meaning of nuances and of phrasal verbs. They hand down norms about daily life, work, soil cultivation and animal husbandry. They strengthen the social bonds among the ones who spend good time retelling them, foster the spirit of emulation and promote a keener observation of the universe and of the reality in which we live. Riddles are often classified as “folklore” but, in fact, they present a specific vision of the world, of life and of social relations, especially during the initiation rites. Its function is to keep alive and to hand down the cultural heritage of the ethnic group. Riddles are a model of oral art.    Imaginative power Both telling and interpreting the riddles require a strong imaginative power. A riddle may have a multiple meaning and retell a page of history. A sample from the Oromo of Ethiopia: “Once upon a time, there was a chief called Obbo Mane. He realized that he was too old to continue to exercise power. He gathered the clan and offered a magnificent banquet. Then he posed a four-question riddle to the guests:  Ω What is death without mourning? Ω What is the use of shouting if nobody comes to help?  Ω Who is loved, even though has done no good? Ω Who is hated even though has done no wrong?” Nobody seemed able to answer. However Banti, one of his sons, came forward and said: “Is it not sleep akin to death? While sleeping, one is likened to being dead; yet no mourning is done. The cock crows (cries), but nobody rushes to its help. A baby is cherished and kissed, even though he has not yet helped anyone. Nobody loves and values the company of the old, even though he has done nothing wrong to anybody.” Obbo Mane then asked the clan to acclaim Banti as the new chief, for the intelligence he had shown in solving the riddles.”  Some are not so difficult or elaborated, but show the same imaginative power and require similar quick wits. Like those from the Galla, also from Ethiopia:  Ω My herd has only one eye: do not set it up in

Shopping Cart