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Ideology and Oral Traditions: Listening to the Voices ‘From Below’

Ideology and Oral Traditions: Listening to the Voices ‘From Below’ <jats:p>From the time of the translation into English of Jan Vansina's <jats:italic>Oral Tradition</jats:italic> in 1965, the use of oral traditions as historical sources has become an increasingly technical exercise. Historians of the non-literate societies of Africa in particular have been alterted to, among others, such things as “floating gaps” and “hour-glass effects” in traditions, elongated and collapsed genealogies, the peculiarities and fallibility of human memory, the overlaying of oral traditions with successive ruling group histories, and the functioning of oral traditions as cultural charters.</jats:p><jats:p>Some scholars consider this ‘reification of method’ to have wrought a tool increasingly honed for historical analysis, able to lay bare within oral tradition historical facts, consistent within themselves and with other oral traditions. Others argue that the elaborateness of the methodology reflects the inherently unreliable nature of oral traditions as historical sources. They suggest that, at best, oral traditions are able to provide reliable data only about the interests of a particular group at the particular moment when they were recorded.</jats:p><jats:p>This paper addresses the debate over the status of oral traditions as historical sources, with particular reference to the use of traditions in the illumination of the precolonial past. Drawing on some of the insights of the new social historians concerning ideology and first-hand oral testimony, it examines the relationship between ideology and oral traditions in non-literate societies. The argument developed here is that, far from simply representing the interests of a particular group, oral traditions often reflect ideological struggles between the rulers and ruled in a society.</jats:p> http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png History in Africa CrossRef

Ideology and Oral Traditions: Listening to the Voices ‘From Below’

History in Africa , Volume 14: 67-86 – Jan 1, 1987

Ideology and Oral Traditions: Listening to the Voices ‘From Below’


Abstract

<jats:p>From the time of the translation into English of Jan Vansina's <jats:italic>Oral Tradition</jats:italic> in 1965, the use of oral traditions as historical sources has become an increasingly technical exercise. Historians of the non-literate societies of Africa in particular have been alterted to, among others, such things as “floating gaps” and “hour-glass effects” in traditions, elongated and collapsed genealogies, the peculiarities and fallibility of human memory, the overlaying of oral traditions with successive ruling group histories, and the functioning of oral traditions as cultural charters.</jats:p><jats:p>Some scholars consider this ‘reification of method’ to have wrought a tool increasingly honed for historical analysis, able to lay bare within oral tradition historical facts, consistent within themselves and with other oral traditions. Others argue that the elaborateness of the methodology reflects the inherently unreliable nature of oral traditions as historical sources. They suggest that, at best, oral traditions are able to provide reliable data only about the interests of a particular group at the particular moment when they were recorded.</jats:p><jats:p>This paper addresses the debate over the status of oral traditions as historical sources, with particular reference to the use of traditions in the illumination of the precolonial past. Drawing on some of the insights of the new social historians concerning ideology and first-hand oral testimony, it examines the relationship between ideology and oral traditions in non-literate societies. The argument developed here is that, far from simply representing the interests of a particular group, oral traditions often reflect ideological struggles between the rulers and ruled in a society.</jats:p>

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Publisher
CrossRef
ISSN
0361-5413
DOI
10.2307/3171833
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

<jats:p>From the time of the translation into English of Jan Vansina's <jats:italic>Oral Tradition</jats:italic> in 1965, the use of oral traditions as historical sources has become an increasingly technical exercise. Historians of the non-literate societies of Africa in particular have been alterted to, among others, such things as “floating gaps” and “hour-glass effects” in traditions, elongated and collapsed genealogies, the peculiarities and fallibility of human memory, the overlaying of oral traditions with successive ruling group histories, and the functioning of oral traditions as cultural charters.</jats:p><jats:p>Some scholars consider this ‘reification of method’ to have wrought a tool increasingly honed for historical analysis, able to lay bare within oral tradition historical facts, consistent within themselves and with other oral traditions. Others argue that the elaborateness of the methodology reflects the inherently unreliable nature of oral traditions as historical sources. They suggest that, at best, oral traditions are able to provide reliable data only about the interests of a particular group at the particular moment when they were recorded.</jats:p><jats:p>This paper addresses the debate over the status of oral traditions as historical sources, with particular reference to the use of traditions in the illumination of the precolonial past. Drawing on some of the insights of the new social historians concerning ideology and first-hand oral testimony, it examines the relationship between ideology and oral traditions in non-literate societies. The argument developed here is that, far from simply representing the interests of a particular group, oral traditions often reflect ideological struggles between the rulers and ruled in a society.</jats:p>

Journal

History in AfricaCrossRef

Published: Jan 1, 1987

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