Oral Traditions in Amadi’s The Concubine

Analyzing Oral Traditions in Amadi’s The Concubine– DRAFT

Chapter One


Oral traditions are messages or testimony transmitted orally from one generation to another. The messages or testimony are verbally transmitted in speech or song and may take the form, for example, of folktales, sayings, ballads, songs, or chants. In this way, it is possible for a society to transmit oral history, oral literature, oral law, and other knowledge across generations without a writing system. For the purposes of some disciplines, a narrower definition of oral tradition may be appropriate. Sociologists might also emphasize a requirement that the material is held in common by a group of people, over several generations, and might distinguish oral tradition from testimony or oral history. In a general sense, “oral tradition” refers to the transmission of cultural material through vocal utterance, and was long held to be a key descriptor of folklore (a criterion no longer rigidly held by all folklorists).

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As an academic discipline, it refers both to a set of objects of study and a method by which they are studied. The method may be called variously “oral traditional theory,” the theory of oral-formulaic composition and the “Parry-Lord theory” (after two of its founders) The study of oral tradition is distinct from the academic discipline of oral history which is the recording of personal memories and histories of those who experienced historical eras or events. It is also distinct from the study of orality, which can be defined as thought and its verbal expression in societies where the technologies of literacy (especially writing and print) are unfamiliar to most of the population.

In the modern context, oral tradition is an important stylistic device in literature. It adds value to the literary works and makes the same more appealing. In the African context, this is employed in passing on vital cultural information that can only be effectively passed on through word of mouth. In this regard, it is worth acknowledging that in some instances, editing such information has compromised the quality of the same by modifying the content of the text. This is because the editors lack basic vital information regarding the respective culture of the community’s oral traditions. Most importantly, the oral traditions in the African context are fundamental n preserving the values and virtues that are held by a specific community. Notably, these are compromised whenever the messages contained in the same are edited and therefore altered by modern writers in this field of specification.

Background of the Study

In African societies, oral tradition is the method in which history, stories, folktales, and religious beliefs are passed on from generation to generation. Webster’s dictionary defines “oral” as “spoken rather than written,” and it defines the word “tradition” as, “transmittal of elements of a culture from one generation to another especially by oral communication.”For African people, oral tradition is linked to their way of life. Most African societies place great worth in oral tradition because it is a primary means of conveying culture. It is also a mode of transmitting feelings, and attitudes. For centuries, African people depended upon oral tradition to teach the listener’s important traditional values and morals pertaining to how to live. Oral tradition delivers explanations to the mysteries of the universe and the meaning of life on earth. In African religion, it is the guiding principle in which to make sense of the world. Oral tradition is non-written history, it is spoken word only.

Historically, most African societies did not have an invented alphabet. African scholar and writer, John S. Mbiti assert that most African people did not invent an alphabet for the art of reading and writing. Therefore they could not keep written records of their history. Instead, they passed on information from one generation to another, by word of mouth. The human voice is the key element in Oral tradition. Africans have been primarily vocal people throughout their history. Language is regarded as a powerful force. Although there are many ethnic languages that coexist in Africa, (researchers say there may be as many as 1000), African stories and folklore were communicated across different regions. Oral tradition relies on the human voice to communicate varied messages. According to Dr. Vincent Muli Wa Kituku, the voice was the vehicle in which knowledge was passed on from one generation to another. Voice unified a family, clan, or community. Enforcement of customs depended on voice. When a person died…his or her voice was no longer to be heard, it was as if a whole library had been destroyed. Voice is important. Another integral part of Oral tradition is the integrating of music. Music plays an important role in African societies.

According to Mbiti, “Africans are very fond of music. Therefore music, dance, and singing are found in every community.” Music also transmits knowledge and values, and it is a way of celebrating important community and personal events. Combined with oral tradition and dance, a visual art form is created for the message being communicated. The most important musical instrument of Africa is the drum. It has been said that no one knows how the drum came into being or how the first drum looked or sounded. Drums accompany different forms of communication, including storytelling, singing, and dancing. Drums are made in different sizes and shapes for different purposes. Mbiti explains that in Africa, one also finds many kinds of musical instruments, the commonest being the drum. There are drums of many shapes, sizes, and purposes. Some drums are used only in connection with kings and chiefs: the royal drums are often considered sacred and may not be played commonly or by anybody. There are war drums, talking drums, ceremonial drums, and so on. Although the drum is the primary musical instrument and it is used to send and receive messages, it is also essential in the preservation of Oral tradition. In African religion, the drum is considered sacred. It is used to send and receive spiritual messages. Because the drum is sacred, the drummer must be skilled as an oral communicator, and skilled at the art of drumming. Precise rhythms are connected with religious ceremony and ritual as well as entertainment.

In his study, Olupona declares that for an African, the drum is sacred. It is created by god-like humans, and the drummer is a speaker and communicator of the sacred fixed text…the drummer can be compared to a poet. Just as the poet uses his voice to entertain people, so the drummer uses the drum to entertain. The drummer, therefore, must not be regarded as a technician alone; he is an artist in his own right. Even if the texts are fixed and unchanging, he still has to learn the words and acquire the special art of drumming. If he is not a good artist, the message cannot be reproduced fully. In addition, on the issue of the language of the drum being fixed, it was observed that while there may be some sets of phrases, proverbs, and wise sayings that form the drummer’s repertoire, the drummer is free to improvise in-between in order to make his message fit the particular occasion. The drummer was considered very important because it was his choice of words and the way he composed his songs that would relay the right message to those listening. The drum he would use was considered almost sacred. The phrase “talking drums” aptly describes this method of communication. Dance was also an integral part of the African life, a way of communicating and performing ceremonial rituals.

Africans value Oral tradition more than any other culture. No person is more valued within a tribal group than the Griot (pronounced gree’oh). Griots have been said to be living archives, the links to the past. They assumed storytelling and were artists in themselves as they had to make the stories interesting and colorful to relay the message and also to keep the interest of the people who were listening to them. The myths and legends would relate how the world began and the meaning of life on earth. Some of the folktales which were told were meant to teach a lesson to those listening to deter them from making mistakes or behaving in a selfish or mean way as some of the characters in these stories did.

Folksongs were expressive and included animals or some aspect of the African natural heritage in their content. This can be seen in the Zulu song ‘Where is the rain?’ The song is about a giraffe and an elephant that go for a walk and wonder when it will rain. They describe in detail the dry land just waiting to be watered and then they hear the thunder and they look up at the sky “And heard the black eagle give forth his cry, the rain has come, the rivers will flow; the dry season is over; now the green grass will grow!” This one song gives details of the entire African scenario at that point in time and is both descriptive and informative.

Proverbs and riddles were also used to teach those listening about the good and bad qualities in human beings and how to judge a good character. A West African proverb goes like this “A large eye does not mean keen vision” which cautions a person not to be too trusting of another and not to take things at face value. Another one says “If you run after two hares you will catch neither.” This obviously teaches the listener not to be greedy and to be content with what you have no matter how little. Oral traditions were, therefore, a rich part of African history and to this day some of these folktales and stories have been preserved proving that oral literature can be passed on across the generations as effectively as the written word can.

Problem Definition

Oral traditions are an inherent aspect of African literature. They are a reflection of cultural values and virtues that were revered by traditional communities. Amadi’s text explores various themes but still succeeds in infusing a wide range of oral traditions in the same. The main themes include: making love with the most beautiful girl in your surrounding that ascertains that whenever there is a girl in your community that seems to more beautiful than the other girls in that place, be careful with that person, you don’t know what is making that person like that, most especially when person is hard to be dealt with, hard to agree to the love of people and the power of the sea-king: as it is been said, behind everything, there is a certain kind of power, so too was it in the book “Concubine”. Ihuoma who happens to be the concubine had a sea-king behind her that would kill any man who follows her.

Another theme that is inherent in his text pertains to the belief in supernatural powers. In our African culture, we believe in supernatural powers. We believe that nothing can happen on its own unless there is some kind of power that is responsible for it. Reasons for some of the minor conflicts we have in our societies today is also another theme that has been explored explicitly by Amadi. In this respect, he ascertains that there are so many reasons why we have many minor conflicts in our world of today. Some of those reasons would be the land problem, the fight over nature and the fight over woman/man amongst others. Effective mainstream of oral traditions in these themes makes it typical of an African piece of literature. Analysis of this seeks to clarify the underlying motives of the writer in employing this. This is critical for effective understanding of the purpose of the study

Justification of the Study

African literature has increasingly been alienated from literary circles. Scanty information regarding its rhetorical and critical analysis currently exists. This is attributable to modernization, globalization and the subsequent introduction of western ideas in the society. African scholars have dismally failed in their responsibility of enhancing their culture. If this trend is allowed to continue, it would probably culminate in a complete erosion of the culture. The exposure of Africans to Western languages prompted them to begin writing in those tongues. In 1911, Joseph Ephraim Casely-Hayford (also known as Ekra-Agiman) of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) published what is probably the first African novel written in English, Ethiopia Unbound: Studies in Race Emancipation. Although the work moves between fiction and political advocacy, its publication and positive reviews in the Western press mark a watershed moment in African literature.

It is also worth citing that the employment of English as a language led to the erosion of the quality of the oral traditions as translations led to misinterpretation of the content. During this period, it is also notable that African plays began to emerge. Herbert Isaac Ernest Dhlomo of South Africa published the first English-language African play, The Girl Who Killed to Save: Nongqawuse the Liberator in 1935. In 1962, Ngugi wa Thiong’o of Kenya wrote the first East African drama, The Black Hermit, a cautionary tale about “tribalism” (racism between African tribes). African literature in the late colonial period (between the end of World War I and independence) increasingly showed themes of liberation, independence, and (among Africans in French-controlled territories) negritude. One of the leaders of the negritude movement, the poet and eventual President of Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor, published the first anthology of French-language poetry written by Africans in 1948, Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française (Anthology of the New Black and Malagasy Poetry in the French Language), featuring a preface by the French existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre. Nor was the African literary clerisy of this time relatively divorced from the issues that it tackled.

Many, indeed, suffered deeply and directly: censured for casting aside his artistic responsibilities in order to participate actively in warfare, Christopher Okigbo was killed in battle for Biafra against the Nigerian movement of the 1960s’ civil war; Mongane Wally Serote was detained under South Africa’s Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967 between 1969 and 1970, and subsequently released without ever having stood trial; in London in 1970, his countryman Arthur Norje committed suicide; Malawi’s Jack Mapanje was incarcerated with neither charge nor trial because of an off-hand remark at a university pub; and, in 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa died by the gallows of the Nigerian junta. At this juncture, it is worth acknowledging that the implications of the western ideals to African literature are wide and varied. The Concubine is one of the literary works that is likely to suffer negative implications of westernization. Its analysis does not only promote African culture, but it also contributes to the body of knowledge in this regard.

Conceptual Framework

The introduction of western ideals in the African context had diverse impacts on the literature of the same. The employment of the English language as indicated earlier compromises the credibility of the ultimate production as editing entails making alterations and modifications. Incidences of omission are common and this is likely to leave out vital information. The implications of omissions would in the long run compromise the ideals that are upheld by the society. At this juncture, it is worth acknowledging that oral traditions often have rich cultural knowledge, values, and virtues that are upheld by the society. It is a sustainable way of teaching society about acceptable moral ideas. In this respect, therefore, comprising the quality of the content of the oral traditions negatively affects the value system of the population.

Notably, this has already been identified in society as the western ideals are increasingly being assumed. Practicing traditional values is currently considered primitive and outdated by the population. Social research shows that this has greatly affected the youth. If left to persist, this can have far-reaching implications because of the fact that the future of the society is entirely depended on the wellbeing of the youth. Thus if the youth fail to assume sustainable values, the value system of the society is likely to be compromised. Further, this implies that the values are unlikely to be passed on to other generations that come after this. In this regard, the implications are certainly diverse and adverse.

Analysis of the oral traditions n the existing literature is important because it informs the society about the traditions of society. It reminds them of the roots of its value system and encourages them to appreciate them. It also clarifies the attributes between modern and traditional ideals and underscores the importance of assuming the latter. Most importantly, it restores the identity of the population as it encourages a positive perception of the traditional ideas. The inherent appreciation of the conventional values and virtues also encourages the population to pass on the same to future populations. In this consideration, it can be argued that the analysis of the oral traditions in The Concubine is a sustainable approach to conserving the African value system and curbing the current erosion that it threatening its very survival.

In the long run, the interventions made by the analysis of the same also prevent the assumption of negative western ideals by the current society. Modern studies ascertain that the African value system has greatly been affected by the introduction of western ideals. This undermines its functioning as it threatens social harmony. Conflicts within generations threaten the sustainable functioning of society and make it difficult for the same to function in an executive manner. Of great reference is its ability to culminate in severe implications such as wars and crime. Notably, these undermine the holistic wellbeing of the society especially if they are in extreme degrees. An explicit analysis of these ideals is therefore of paramount importance.

Objectives of the Study

Major Objective

  • To provide an explicit analysis of the oral traditions in Amadi’s The Concubine

Minor Objectives

  • To analyze the different oral traditions employed in African literature
  • To evaluate the importance of the oral traditions in African literature
  • To identify the implications of westernization to African literature and ideals
  • To provide an explicit analysis of oral traditions in Amadi’s The ConcubiCHAPTER TWO



Oral traditions may be in prose or verse. The prose is often mythological or historical and can include tales of the trickster character. Storytellers in Africa sometimes use call-and-response techniques to tell their stories. Poetry, often sung, includes narrative epic, occupational verse, ritual verse, praise poems to rulers and other prominent people. Praise singers, bards sometimes known as griots tell their stories with music. Also recited, often sung, are: love songs, work songs, children’s songs, along with epigrams, proverbs, and riddles.

Oral Traditions in West African Literature including Amadi’s The Concubine

Traditional literature from a West African perspective is a genre that deals specifically with stories that were passed down through oral storytelling from generation to generation. In most instances, it comprised of songs, stories, poems and riddles from anonymous sources. There are many forms of traditional literature (myths, fables, epics, ballads, legends, folk rhymes, folktales) and many of the categories do overlap.

Folktales are a major form of traditional literature found in West Africa. These stories have some elements in common and come in several different forms. Some types of folktales are fairy tales, noodlehead tales, cumulative tales, pourquoi tales, and animal stories. Folktales are considered part of the larger category of folklore that includes everything from nursery rhymes and fables to home remedies and proverbs. Distinguished from folktales are: myths, legends, tall tales and epics. These are also stories from a culture’s oral tradition but are not generally considered folktales. These stories emanate from a culture’s historical events, religion, and tradition.

Fairytales are the best known type of folktale, and one of the most popular. Fairy tales, sometimes called “magic stories,” are filled with dreamlike possibility. They feature transformations, magical interventions, enchanted forces, and, of course, magic. In most instances, they always have a “happily ever after” ending, where good is rewarded and evil is punished. Characteristics include having tale of some length, with a succession of episodes and motifs, setting does not have a definite location or time and they includes magic and/or magical characters and marvelous adventures. Folktales feature common people, such as peasants, and commonplace events. Characters are usually flat, representing human frailty. They have tight plot structures, filled with conflict. There is often a cycle of three in folktales. Elements of magic or magical characters may be incorporated, but logic rules so the supernatural must be plausible and within context.

Noodlehead story is also common and it entails a silly or dim-witted person who nevertheless often wins out in the end. The main character in a noodlehead tale makes the same mistake over and over until the resolution of the story. Humor is an aspect of this type of tale, resulting from the absurdity of the situation and the foolishness of the characters. These stories are often nonsensical and meant for fun. Pourquoi (por-kwa) means “why” in French. Pourquoi tales explain observable facts and phenomenon for which early people lacked scientific knowledge to explain, such as why the sun falls from the sky, why beavers have flat tails, and how tigers got their stripes. The explanation is not scientifically true and while this type of folktale is often serious, it has hilarious aspects integrated into the telling. Pourquoi tales are often found in mythology.

Further, Beast tales feature animal characters with human characteristics. They walk like humans, they talk like humans, and they exhibit all of the other follies that befall humans. The tone of a beast tale can either be serious or funny. Morals in beast tales are more subtle, as opposed to fables, which baldly state the moral at the end of the story. While the animals in a beast tale interact with humans, it is the animals that are the principle characters, with the humans taking a back seat.

Trickster tales are humorous stories in which the hero, either in human or animal form, outwits a more powerful opponent through the use of trickery. Anansi the spider is a trickster figure in African folklore; Iktomi, which means spider, comes from the United States Plains Indians and is generally in human form; Coyote is a trickster figure from southwestern Native American folklore; and Raven is a trickster figure from the Pacific Northwest in the United States. Cumulative tales on the other hand constitute simple stories with repetitive phrases. There is not much plot involved, but the rhythm structure of these tales is very appealing to children. Events follow each other logically in a pattern of cadence and repetition, sequentially repeating actions, characters, or speeches until a climax is reached.

Fables are also a form of oral traditions and they entail short stories, in verse or prose, with an explicit moral ending. Didactic in tone, the objective of a fable is to teach a lesson, or at the very least guide the reader’s behavior. Their main characteristics include: characters are animals, or occasionally inanimate objects, which behave like human beings, characters are flat, and stand for one human trait, the plot is very brief, with one incident and the story teaches a lesson, which may or may not be expressed in a proverb or maxim. Also, Jokes are probably the most common form of folklore prevalent in our society today; almost everyone hears jokes and then repeats them to other people. Jokes or jests are very short humorous stories, usually with only one incident.

Another common form of oral traditions typical of West African literature are Mother Goose Rhymes. These are always derived from many sources, passed down in folklore fashion; some were penned by famous authors, and disseminated by publishers, generally without author attribution. Among the favorite rhymes are “Jack Be Nimble” and “Little Jack Horner.” Superstitions are traditional beliefs which are learned orally from other people. Although some superstitions do have a scientific basis, the superstition usually arose long before the reason for it was discovered scientifically.

They can have to do with almost any topic, but they often deal with the causes of good or bad luck, or how to insure or predict events. (Examples: a black cat crossing one’s path is bad luck; finding a four-leaf clover is lucky; an itching nose means someone is coming to visit; showering a bridal couple with rice will bring them many children).

Proverbs on the other hand are moral sayings; they are “the most highly condensed commentary on human folly or wisdom. They are very short, often only one sentence or line; proverbs have two parts, a cause or condition and a result: an apple a day / keeps the doctor away; you can lead a horse to water / but you cannot make him drink; a penny saved / is a penny earned.

Creation stories (or myths) are narrative projections of a culture’s origins, an attempt for a collective group to define its past and probe the deeper meaning of their existence. Creation myths describe how the universe, the earth, life, and humanity came into being. With complex symbolism, a myth is to a culture is what a dream is to an individual. A culture’s creation myth, or cosmogony, describes the how order came from chaos. The creation myth descends from a culture’s desire to define the creation and bring order to the universe.

Legends are oral traditions based in history and embellish the acts of a real person. The facts and adventures of the person are exaggerated, making the individual notorious or his or her deeds legendary. Finn MacCoul and Robin Hood are legendary figures. Legends are associated with a particular place or person and are told as if they were historical fact. Legends, like myths, are stories told as though they were true. A mythology is a related body of stories which make up the official beliefs or explanations of a religious system. They are common in African oral traditions and they attempt to explain the beginning of the world, natural phenomena, the relationships between the gods and humans, and the origins of civilization. Myths, like legends, are stories told as though they were true.

Then, Tall tales are stories intended to dupe the listener, and are particularly associated with the United States frontier, although other cultures have stories that fit the format. American tall tales possess the very essence of the American spirit, complete with outrageous feats and daring heroes. Stories of famous tall tale heroes, such as Paul Bunyan and Mike Fink, were originally passed along through the oral tradition of storytelling. It is about a character who is larger and stronger than life, who embodies an area of our country and an occupation common to that region (Paul Bunyan, a logger from the Midwest; Pecos Bill, a cowboy from the Southwest; Cap’n Stormalong, a New England sea captain; Mike Fink, a Mississippi keelboatman; John Henry, a black railroad worker from the South).

Finally genealogy is one part of oral tradition whose authenticity is less open to dispute. Africa has a great tradition of people who have expertise in learning and remembering the ancestry of local people. Many of them claim to know about genealogies for many hundred years, and many can actually recite much of it. In some countries they are called GRIOTS’, and are considered very authentic and professional. Alex Haley, an American writer, in his book, The saga of an American family’, described his meeting with a griot in 1966, who could recite the entire story of his ancestral village of Juffure’ for the last two centuries up to the point his ancestor was enslaved. This is how Haley described his experience, “The old griot had talked for nearly two hours up to then . . . ‘the oldest of these four sons, Kunta, went away from his village and he was never seen again’ . . . I sat as if I were carved of stone. My blood seemed to have congealed. This man whose lifetime had been in this back-country African village had no way in the world to know that he had just echoed what I had heard all through my boyhood years on my grandma’s front porch in Henning, Tennessee.

Importance of Oral Traditions in Amadi’s The Concubine

Oral traditions are an important aspect of the African culture. Currently, there is a dearth of written history about Africa, leading to a lot of vacuum about its pre-colonial past. While archaeological excavations tell us that Africa was the first place on this planet to be inhabited by humans, it tells us almost nothing about the life and society of those earlier ancestors. Places like Egypt have a written narration of the times, but thereafter, there is a vacuum. It is in this perspective that the oral traditions of Africa need to be studied and re-discovered.

Oral tradition passes on the information and wisdom of human experience from generation to generation.  In this sense, they can be considered the original and persistent technology that gave us human culture in the first place by allowing us to build on our experience over the generations. Oral tradition is the original form of education, in which both social values and environmental knowledge are transmitted. Stories were so important in traditional African culture that children “paid” for them by doing tasks designed by their elders to challenge them into personal growth. One such task might consist of bringing back a stick from a distant and foreboding place at night; the distance this stick was placed from the child’s home village would increase with the confidence and personal development of the child.

These people said of their stories “These will bring you to a place where you can take care of yourself,” and also, “These will tell you how to get along with one another.”

Oral traditions contained both psychological and environmental instructions for living the good life.  In her research, Thelma, a social scientist remarks that she tried unsuccessfully for months to obtain material on dressing of elk skins, only to realize that one day she was getting this information in the midst of a story. Among the Dogon (a people of Africa), their mythology contains detailed astronomical material that predicts the dates of appearance and re-appearance of stars from distant galaxies, which appearances they celebrate in ceremony. As early Euroamerican explorers noted, geological and even archaeological information was found in traditional oral literatures of this region.

African communities created and used oral traditions as a community-strengthening process, expressing and reweaving their sense of group cohesion. This was true of both the process of passing oral traditions on and the content of such forms. The process for transmitting them was always an inter-personal one as we have seen–and usually, as well, quite an occasion for entertainment. An audience to a story was not only given the content of the story to muse over, to take away with them until “it came time for them to use it,” they also had the shared experience of listening to that story.

The shared knowledge of the content of oral traditions strengthens community solidarity in many ways. There are certain stories, practices, sayings, jokes, in common strengthen a family’s sense of themselves as a family. It was for this reason that a number of traditional peoples throughout the Africa (who were without our concept of material property) held that their stories were their real “property.” Among certain native peoples of the West Africa, only persons who belonged to particular families could tell the stories owned by those families. Spirit songs owned by particular individuals had subtle “markers” that indicated “where they were from” and should not be sung unless the singer had so carefully practiced a song that its hearers could recognize these subtle markers and thus tell where the song “was from.”

Further, oral traditions function as a kind of education for listening and a lesson in concentration for those who hear it. In societies where oral traditional predominates over written tradition, and a “word has power,” as Momaday puts it in one of our readings, there is usually some very careful process of “education for listening” (and especially, for listening to differences, to voices “other” than one’s own). Traditional storytelling sessions were often exceedingly long. Among the West Africans, they might go on for four night’s running. And all the while, children were expected to pay full attention to the proceedings. If they did not, they might be responsible for the loss of a story from their people’s tradition. It was also stressed that the story was a “gift” that should not be treated lightly, but should be attended to with all one’s powers of concentration. After all, in stories were the very tools of survival.

Further, the very act of listening to stories, with their ability to totally engross the listener, is itself an experience in concentration, in listening to another with one’s whole being. Being engrossed in a story is an experience of attention and focus, which in turn readily transfers to other learning experiences. A teacher of first graders told me that her students did better at the math lesson that followed a particularly engrossing storytelling session than they had ever done before, as their total engrossment in the storytelling had “spilled over” into their other work.

Oral traditions served to develop a flexibility of thinking and a critical consciousness about events and choices of action. Because the information transmitted in these is transmitted as a “fact” or a single “answer,” but is open to listener interpretation, it helps develop initiative and creative problem-solving skills in those to whom it is transmitted. Oral traditions are full of surprises, of spontaneous turns of event; further, their symbolism is both “open” and exceedingly complex. By educating our children with folkloristic stories for instance, they are taught the value of alternatives. They are taught that there are many ways to approach a problem, and that a situation has many dimensions, some of them more apparent than others–and some of them, apparent only after additional experience in living.

In this respect, psychological studies point out that whereas a child who learns by set formulas may feel “stranded” and helpless as historical and social situations change (which, of course, they always do), children who have been educated by oral traditions feel empowered by the sense of their traditional wisdom as a tool for their own use, to interpret and use as they see fit. Time and again, members of societies where oral tradition predominates have expressed to anthropologists their conviction that it is an affront to a child’s integrity to educate him or her with “orders” or a “one right way” of doing things. To educate a child in this way rather than with stories is also considered not to be pragmatic.

Oral traditions, and especially folklore as mythology, provided the audience with a sense of their place in the social and natural worlds, a sense of the meaning of their lives and actions. The quality of “journey” to which Paula Gunn Allen refers in describing myth is, in a very real sense, a journey of human spirit. In this way, mythology functions as a kind of spirit quest, as a guide in the audience’s search for themselves and their human possibilities in our individual journeys through life.

A related concept Allen mentions is the idea of oral literature as “integrative” in function. Through oral literature, nature and culture, action and thought, and the audience and “others” are put in dialogue with one another. Mythology shows the audience a good deal about their meaning and power in this world by showing them their place. That place, in turn, can only be conceived in terms of its own setting within the web of life, in terms of our relationship to the life around us. Further, oral traditions serve to entertain: It is just plain fun. It shows the audience the delight that exists in the challenge of human living, and the wonder and mystery of their own possibilities in meeting that challenge. This last function of folklore may be in some ways its most important: for it is a function without which all the others would certainly be less effective.

Analysis of these functions is important as it informs the audience about their value and underscores why Amadi employs them in his literature. It is important that the precious value of these oral traditions are realized and due importance given to them before they get irreversibly lost in the wake of globalized world of Television, internet, video games and the generations X, Y and Z.

Implications of Westernization to African literature and ideals

Introduction of western ideals has had various implications on the African literature. The African writer in the late 20th and early 21st centuries is caught between a natural instinct to give full, unfettered expression to the African experience on the one hand, and a post-colonial paternalism inherent in the dominant cultural will that seeks to affirm its own verities and remove any deviance. Thus African writers have many obstacles and distractions which they must overcome before they can truly come into their own. There are economic and cultural threats as well as the many allures of popular Western culture that combine to force a choice of theme and subject matter upon the writer. These obstacles and distractions have always presented challenges to writers and thinkers of every epoch. African writers of the 21st century face the same challenges as confronted 18th century European intellectuals of the Enlightenment Age.

Like their European values of 300 years ago, African ideals and values ingrained in oral traditions today are faced with an all powerful, all pervading cultural and political force paternalistically dictating the scope and content of their conception. They must either accept those paternalistic precepts or, with difficulty, resist and overcome them. The endurance of neo-colonial paternalism has engendered in Africa an over-reliance on western forms. Neo-colonials are found in all walks of life, but their greatest impact is felt in the intellectual life and especially oral literature cycles where they have been threatened the very existence of the same. Relative Writers believe that there is a tried and true way for doing any and everything and, consequently, they fail to seek or encourage innovation from within. They always look without for acknowledged expertise and solutions.

Currently, African oral traditions contend with this neo-colonial formalism and its attendant rules and regulations as well as their official and unofficial enforcers – system agents, standing sentry at every point, playfully demanding a token for the passage. And not every paternalistic censor or enforcer is as indulgent as my father. It is by far a harder job to resist the paternalistic will of the establishment to direct the course of the writer’s creativity – that acute ability to represent even the most obscure facts in unique and succinct ways. Still, it remains the duty of the writer to try. Not to do so may result in loss of focus and a substantial loss in creativity. Given these circumstances, I believe the job of the African writer cannot be done any other but the hard way.

The African writer’s circumstances are unique. Though his chief task remains the same as for all writers in every era and place – to inform and educate the audience and through that process help society to reach a higher level of consciousness and civilization – the African traditional writer must strive to do this under the watchful gaze of the neo-colonial establishment. This is not a very comfortable position to be in at this moment in history. To pursue the general goal of writing for African liberation and uplift, he has necessarily to be self-reliant ready to eschew what may stand between him and his goal. Self-reliance calls for self-confidence because without the later, unavoidable conflict with the neo-colonial establishment whose perceived interests may be threatened may prove overwhelming.




An understanding of the methodology is important in developing a study whose findings are acceptable to existing social systems. It is important that the research be designed in a manner that is appreciative of the role played by accuracy in ensuring that the findings of a research are acceptable. A presentation of the methodology that will be used in the study is the main goal of this chapter.

Research Design

It cannot be disputed that African oral traditions have faced various threats that stem from the introduction of western ideals in the society. This can be attributed to the degree of influence that the western countries have on the continent. Africans can also be blamed for failing to protect their culture by preferring western ideals to their own. The implications of this on the value system and the holistic wellbeing of African literature have been significant. They have not only affected important values, but they have also made the population to lose its identity. Most importantly, they have threatened the welfare of future generations whose executive functioning depends on the functioning of present populations.

Use of quantitative research design was mainly due to the nature of the research objectives. Consideration on the research questions showed that they required a descriptive and inferential approach to analysis. Owing to the controversies that surround the literature circles, a research approach that quantifies the research findings and results was likely to be more effective in developing a concise conclusion; one that borrows and infers from other studies. The use of quantitative research was therefore in line with the nature of the problem and was mainly employed due to its relevance to the research questions. Notably, these were important factors in ensuring that the research methodology was of high levels of accuracy and is relevant to the attainment of research goals.

Research Method

An understanding of the research approach is important in determining the levels of accuracy that can be attained in any given research (Russell 2005). It is of critical importance that the research methodology employed by any research be reflective of its objectives. This is the main factor that was considered in seeking a survey approach. Use of an approach where primary data is got from the respondents is important in ensuring that the research questions are framed in a manner that is specific to the research problem being dealt with and plays an important role in ensuring high levels of specificity to the issue under discussion.

Erosion of important African ideals as an operational factor affects both present and future populations and can be approached from numerous view points. It is apparent that the definition of the research approach is determined by the nature of the research which makes it necessary for the researcher to engage in designing the nature of response. Use of statistical data collection and analysis tools will also play a role in ensuring that the approach is carried out smoothly.

Research Approach

A number of linguistic and sociological related courses in this university offer a topic or a unit on the importance of oral traditions. This fact was got from a review of these courses in this University. The nature of the research questions requires knowledge about the dynamics of African literature and the implications of the same to the populations. This understanding formed the basis of the approach that was employed in this research. Numerous friends and colleagues taking the above courses helped in completion of the questionnaires.

They summoned their fellow students and their instructors who helped them complete the questionnaires in an effective manner. Implication of the intrinsic changes as a key issue is one of the most important considerations in designing the curriculum of the identified relative courses. Use of a survey that employed simply designed questionnaires was considered a feasible approach to determining the perception that they had on the study at hand. The results found from the survey were merged and contrasted with those from the literature review to develop an overall picture of oral traditions with respect to Amadi’s The Concubine

Questionnaire Design

The questionnaire was the main tool used in data analysis and therefore its design played an important role in determining the response rate. It is apparent that the nature of the questionnaire plays an important role and it was imperative to ensure that its content and requirements were understood by respondents. The following are some of the key considerations that were employed in designing the questionnaire:

  1. Readability: Though the target population is made up of professionals (students and academicians) who have knowledge on the technical language used in linguistics and oral literature, the language that was used in the study was appreciative of the possibility that most may not have this ability. Simple language construction helped ensure readability of the questions.
  2. Time: A learning institution is defined by high levels of activity thus students and lecturers have little time to spare. Only pertinent issues were included in the questionnaire and its length was restricted to at most two pages. This reduced the input that was required of respondents and therefore played a role in providing a suitable condition for high response rates.
  3. Structure: A questionnaire as a literary piece is affected by its internal structure mainly the length of the sentences and the level of interconnection between various areas of the questionnaire. Interdependence between the parts of the questionnaires was kept low just as the length of the sentences. The structure was an important variable in determining the levels of understanding that respondents would attain in discerning the content of the questionnaire and was therefore an important variable in ensuring informed consent and accuracy of data collected.
  4. Privacy: Privacy is an important factor in determining the level of openness with which a respondent will engage in a research. This factor greatly affects the levels of accuracy that can be attained and was sought by the questionnaire design. Questions relating to personal information are omitted from the questionnaires. This ensured that the subjects freely express their viewpoints.
  5. Closed and open Questions: Both open and closed questions were used in the research to ensure pre-set issues were addressed while providing flexibility required for gain of insight on areas in this given study (Trochim & William 2001).

Population Samples

The target population in this research was identified as the students and teaching staff in the faculties of Linguistics and Sociology. Their knowledge and understanding of African oral traditions and literature was important in ensuring that data collected was accurate and based on informed synthesis of the variable involved. Moreover, practical implementation of the required recommendations borrows heavily from theory that the target population was conversant with.

Owing to an extensive internship program that this University offers and the practical experience that its lecturers have, the target population was well versed with the theoretical and practical aspects of the study at hand. All respondents that answered all questions were included in the sampling frame and used in analysis. The inclusion of all respondents in the sampling frame was out of need to improve on the levels of representation of the data and to capture the varied views and thus develop a picture that was representative of what professionals in linguistic and sociological studies view as issues involved in the research question.

Data Collection

Data collection is an integral step in any research that plays a role in determining the levels of accuracy that would be attained. It is imperative that data collection in any study be carried out in a manner that is appreciative of the role it plays in ensuring findings are of high levels of accuracy. The data was collected from students and professionals who are studying or working in the faculties of sociology and Linguistics in this university.

Data Analysis

Analysis of the data assumed a quantitative and qualitative approach and involved other descriptive and inferential analysis. Data was summarized according to the variables presented in the research questions. It is worth noting that under the research approach, it was assumed that the observations made in the sample were reflective of the overall literature community. Use of the tables and graphs that summarized and represented the data visually aided in the development of a clear picture with regard to the inherent dynamics in the field of oral literature. The findings were inferred for the overall population within the defined experimental frame.


There were a number of independent as well as depended variable that were investigated by the study. The oral traditions in Amadi’s The Concubine was the depended variable that this research was concerned with. It should be acknowledged that independent variables like the oral traditions in West African literature, the functions of the same in the society and the implications of westernizations on the same affect the dependent variable in many ways.

Questionnaire Development and Testing

Development of the questionnaire was done guided by the objectives of the study developed in chapter one.  Taking into consideration that the sampling population involved the student and staff in the faculties of sociology and linguistics in the university, the researcher designed the questions to be self administered by the respondents. The questionnaire as indicated in appendix1 has seven questions which were very simplistic to understand.

Besides, the questions were structured to further aid the respondents to in understanding and completing them with minimal ambiguity.  Also, the questionnaire did not contain the name of the respondents to enhance openness in their completion.  The questionnaires were then delivered to the students and staff in respective faculties through email.  A sampling of the study population was done from the contacts of the students and staff in the faculty.  By using the on-line system, it was possible to reach more respondents to enhance the validity of the results.

Ethical Considerations

Oral traditions is a sensitive cultural issue that is affected by a large number of factors that affect the values and perception that are developed of the study and its findings. This is one of the factors that played an important role in designing the questionnaire and seeking consent from the tutor. The integrity of the findings was highly dependent on consent form respondents and conformance of the research design to ethical requirements.

By seeking consent from the required authority, taking steps to design a simple and easy to understand questionnaire, informing the respondents on the aim of the research and their right to choose not to engage in the research, guaranteeing the respondent of their anonymity and providing the respondents enough time to respond to the questions, the research design ensured that it is in line with both the legal requirements and social norms. These are important values in determining the integrity of the research and therefore how applicable it is to the challenges that the society is faced with.





Presentation of results plays an important role in ensuring that they are easily understood and is an avenue through which research findings can aid in developing a deeper understanding of a problem.  Analysis and discussion on the other hand play important roles in ensuring that the research addresses the study questions.  This chapter presents the result, analysis and discussions with the sole aim of ensuring that the objectives and the questions that the study seeks are addressed.


Seventy questionnaires were presented to the collection points of which 61 questionnaires were taken by the respondents. From the 61 questionnaires that were got only 47 were returned to the collection points.  Of the 47 filled questionnaires that were returned 7 were poorly filled and the rest were forwarded for analysis (Illustration 1).  The response rate considering the number of questionnaires that were administered and those that were returned is slightly higher than 73.7%.


Variable Number of Responses  
Oral traditions in African Literature 6  

Oral traditions in west African literature


Importance of oral traditions in African context


Implications of westernization to African oral literature


Oral traditions in Amadi’s The Concubine


Table 1: Number of Responses

It is quite clear from Table 1 that the importance of oral traditions in African context is the most important aspect that respondents consider to be vital in traditional as well as modern Africa. This is followed by the implications of westernization on oral literature.  Oral tradition in Amadi’s The Concubine received the third highest response and was closely followed by oral traditions in West African literature.  On the lower side, oral traditions in African literature had the least response of the research questions.

The aspect on whether oral traditions are important in the African context to interesting findings regarding the perceptions that the respondents.  35 of the respondents were of the view that the aspect had significant on the future functioning of the society.  This is representative of 87.5% of the respondents while only 12.5% of the respondents were of the view that it did not significantly affect present and future societal functioning.  The ratings of the perceptions that respondents have on the implications of westernization on oral literature is presented in Table (2):

Rating Total Number of Respondents
5 18
4 16
3 13
2 12
1 6

Table 2: Perception of Statement


The main issues that the research set forth to address are the oral traditions in Amadi’s The Concubine. It also addressed oral traditions in Western Africa, the importance of the oral traditions in enhancing the values of the society and the negative implications of westernization on oral traditions. It is evident that an analysis of the results is required to be able to address issues that have been highlighted as being central to the research.  The use of averages as an analysis method is employed in research in developing a clear picture of the observations.  This multiple mechanism is mainly aimed at ensuring accuracy and reducing chance of erroneous entry by ensuring that random errors are randomized thus the research is minimally influenced by external forces.  It is important to note that though no formal approach to sampling is employed by the research, analysis employs a basic sampling approach where the respondents involved are representative of the general perception that professionals in linguistics have of threats that oral traditions face.


Figure 1: Illustration 1: Questionnaires

There is a considerable difference between the questionnaires taken and those that are returned though response rate is slightly above 53.7%.  Owing to the nature of the issues that the research seeks to address and the approach that has been taken it is unlikely that the over 60 respondents involved in the research will not be aware of the importance and relative dynamics in oral traditions. Moreover, the fact that they are academicians and young professionals qualifies use of data collected by their participation in the study.


It is apparent from the literature review that an understanding of the dynamics of oral traditions in the African context and especially in Amadi’s The Concubine has raised various concerns within the literary cycles.  The analysis of the results indicates that the population understands and appreciates that oral traditions are important and the implications of westernization to this are far reaching. The rating indicates that the population perceives the importance of oral traditions as well as the implications of westernization to the same to be far more serious than other aspects. Perhaps this can be explained by the degree of influence that the western countries and the reluctance of the African countries to take practical measures with respect to securing and enhancing their identity through oral traditions. This finding is a restatement of findings that have been made by previous researchers that ascertain that the African value system is at stake as it is being eroded by the intrusive western ideals.

The response of the population indicates that it acknowledges the massive effect of the western to African oral literature and understands that interventions need to be undertaken in a timely manner in order to save future populations of perceived moral erosion. Additionally, they seem to acknowledge that morality is at the centre stage of social productivity and therefore resolving relative concerns would be instrumental in alleviating secondary effects that are likely to stem from them.

The literature review has explained clearly that the role of oral traditions is important and intricately connected to the value system of the society. Low appreciation of African oral literature indicates that the population is not well informed about multifaceted and inherent attributes that characterize this. Ideally, if the respondents were well versed with this conception, one would expect uniform spread and low variance across the observations. This is not the case for the polarity of the results leads to a high variance that is reflective of lack of awareness or appreciation of the implications of African oral literature and traditions as a whole.




It is apparent from the previous chapter that the study and existing research and theories have developed findings that are relevant to theoretical and practical implementation of African oral traditions in light of Amadi’s The Concubine.  A summary of the research in distinct, its implications to both practice and theory and recommendation for further studies are presented in this chapter.


From the review, it can be ascertained that oral traditions within the African context were of paramount importance. They played critical roles in enhancing harmonic existence and enhancing the value system in the society. Their role in educating the population can also not be overstated. Of great reference was their ability to entertain the populations and address any incidences f boredom that could trigger immorality especially amongst the youth. The introduction of western ideals and their preference by the youth and other segments of the population have greatly undermined the role of oral traditions. This is because the population considers the western values to be more valuable and trendy and more in line with modernization principles than their traditional attributes. In some instances, they have been compelled to assume the western ideals by the rules set by the respective countries.

As it has come out from the study, this has greatly affected the African writers who are charged with the responsibility of propagating the African oral tradition. Analysis of Amadi’s The Concubine indicates that Africa has rich information in this respect. Such analysis needs to be encouraged because it seeks to inform the population and remind them of their roots. This prevents incidences of loss of identity that are currently being experienced. In other words, it conserves the African ideals and makes it possible for future generations to be well informed about their true identity. The following recommendations offer useful insights regarding how the trend can be curbed and reversed in order to preserve the oral traditions that are fundamental for effective functioning of the society.


Besides regular analysis of literary works, oral traditions can be preserved in various ways. To being with, the population should be encouraged to speak their mother language. People from one’s community will not only respect such individuals but they would have a chance of getting a high-paying job because of diverse language skills. Another benefit of being able to speak one’s mother language is that when you go to linguistically diverse populations, nobody will be able to eavesdrop on a private conversation.

Another way is to invest in traditional food. In this respect, studies content that it’s never too late to whip up some recipes from your mother’s cookbook. Bringing your native food home reminds you about where you came from and helps you appreciate those old memories. If you can’t find any ethnic recipes in your family’s cookbook or the Internet, going to a local ethnic restaurant occasionally is the next best option. It’s doesn’t have your mother’s love in it, but it is still culture and oral it triggers remembrance and appreciation of oral traditions.

It is also imperative to learn about one’s religion. Religion is the most vital key factor in any culture. It brings one inner peace. Going to a mosque, synagogue, church, or temple is a great way to keep one’s traditions, culture, and spirit alive. Read your holy book. Try to understand it by buying books with footnotes in them. See how your culture relates to your religion. You will find that they both have a few things in common. Finally, attending traditional festivals helps one see more of tradition. It also helps one make new friends. If a person lives in a foreign country, having a gathering with one’s ethnic community is a fabulous idea.

Other equally important ways entail undertaking anthropological studies or linguistic studies in one’s culture at higher education, preserving the culture through art and crafts and avoiding constant editing of traditional information.



Charry, Eric S. (2000). Mande Music: Traditional and Modern Music of the Maninka and Mandinka of Western Africa. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology. Includes audio CD. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hale, Thomas A. (1998). Griots and Griottes: Masters of Words and Music. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press

Hoffman, Barbara G. (2001). Griots at War: Conflict, Conciliation, and Caste in Mande. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press

Suso, Foday Musa, Philip Glass, Pharoah Sanders, Matthew Kopka, Iris Brooks. (1996). Jali Kunda: Griots of West Africa and Beyond. Ellipsis Arts.

Wright, Donald R. (1981). “Uprooting Kunte Kinte: on the perils of relying on encyclopedic informants.” History in Africa, vol. VIII.



Questionnaire: Analyzing Amadi’s The Concubine


Section 1: African Literature

  • List the types of African oral traditions.







  • List the oral traditions presented by Amadi’s The Concubine







Section 2: Importance of Literature

3) Do you think the oral traditions are important? (Tick one)

Yes           No

If yes, briefly explain.


Section 3: Impacts of Westernization on oral Traditions

4) How does western ideals affect oral traditions?


5) What intervention measures are currently in place to counter the effects?


Do you think these are effective? (Tick One)

Yes             No

6) If they are not effective, what do you think should be done to improve the same?











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