What is significant about this revised, online edition is that it makes this ground-breaking, seminal work freely available to all who want to use it. This is particularly significant for the African scholar living in an increasingly technologized society on a continent where academics often remain on the periphery of a society consumed by emerging capitalism and political uncertainty. African academics, their universities and libraries are largely under-resourced and can often not afford to purchase hard copies of books. Making this book freely available therefore returns it back to its people on the ground, back to its original home, which underpins the fieldwork represented in the volume. It is now available for the next generation of researchers who will emerge through being influenced by this technologized version of the book.
—Russell H. Kaschula, Journal of African Cultural Studies, Volume 25/1, 2013, pp. 141-44
Ruth Finnegan has also published her latest book, Why Do We Quote? with Open Book Publishers.
Since publication this book has been viewed over 7000 times. This work has been accessed more in Africa than in any other continent. Last updated March 2013.
Title: Oral Literature in Africa
Author: Finnegan, Ruth
Series: Oral Literature Series
Publication date: September 2012
Dimensions: 6.14" x 9.21"
Illustrations: 38 black and white
Maps: 1 black and white
BIC Subject Codes: JHMC (Social and cultural anthropology), HBTD (Oral history), 1H (Africa)
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-906924-70-6
Hardback ISBN: 978-1-906924-71-3
PDF ISBN: 978-1-906924-72-0
Oral Literature in Africa, by Ruth Finnegan, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported Licence.
Forward by Mark Turin
Note on Sources and References
I • INTRODUCTION
1. The 'oral' nature of African unwritten literature
The significance of performance in actualization, transmission, and composition. Audience and occasion. Implications for the study of oral literature. Oral art as literature.
2. The perception of African oral literature
Nineteenth-century approaches and collections. Speculations and neglect in the twentieth century. Recent trends in African studies and the revival of interest in oral literature.
3. The social, linguistic, and literary background
Social and literary background. The linguistic basis — the example of Bantu. Some literary tools. Presentation of the material. The literary complexity of African cultures.
II • POETRY
4. Poetry and patronage
Variations in the poet's position. Court poets. Religious patronage. Free-lance and wandering poets. Part-time poets. A note on 'epic'.
Introductory: nature and distribution; composers and reciters; occasions. Southern Bantu praise poetry: form and style; occasions and delivery; traditional and contemporary significance.
6. Elegiac poetry
General and introductory. Akan funeral dirges: content and themes; structure, style, and delivery; occasions and functions; the dirge as literature.
7. Religious poetry
Introductory. Didactic and narrative religious poetry and the Islamic tradition; the Swahili tenzi. Hymns, prayers, and incantations: general survey; the Fante Methodist lyric. Mantic poetry: Sotho divining praises; odu Ifa (Yoruba).
8. Special purpose poetry — war, hunting, and work
Military poetry: Nguni; Akan. Hunting poetry: Yoruba ijala; Ambo hunters' songs. Work songs.
Occasions. Subject-matter. Form. Composition.
10. Topical and political songs
Topical and local poetry. Songs of political parties and movements: Mau Mau hymns; Guinea R.D.A. songs; Northern Rhodesian party songs.
11. Children's songs and rhymes
Lullabies and nursery rhymes. Children's games and verses; Southern Sudanese action songs.
III • PROSE
12. Prose narratives I. Problems and theories
Introductory. Evolutionist interpretations. Historical-geographical school. Classification and typologies. Structural-functional approach. Conclusion.
13. Prose narratives II. Content and form.
What is known to date: content and plot; main characters. Types of tales: animal stories; stories about people; 'myths'; ‘legends' and historical narratives. What demands further study: occasions; role of narrators; purpose and function; literary conventions; performance; originality and authorship. Conclusion.
The significance and concept of the proverb. Form and style. Content. Occasions and functions. Specific examples: Jabo; Zulu; Azande. Conclusion.
Riddles and related forms. Style and content. Occasions and uses. Conclusion.
16. Oratory, formal speaking, and other stylized forms
Oratory and rhetoric: Burundi; Limba. Prayers, curses, etc. Word play and verbal formulas. Names.
IV • SOME SPECIAL FORMS
17. Drum language and literature
Introductory — the principle of drum language. Examples of drum literature: announcements and calls; names; proverbs; poetry. Conclusion.
Introductory. Some minor examples: Bushman 'plays'; West African puppet shows. Mande comedies. West African masquerades: South-Eastern Nigeria; Kalabari. Conclusion.
Ruth Finnegan is Visiting Research Professor and Emeritus Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Open University where, as a founder member of the academic staff, she has spent much of her academic career. With a first degree in classical languages and literatures (Oxford’s Literae Humaniores) she moved into anthropology as a graduate and spent several years conducting fieldwork and teaching in Africa. Her publications have consistently been inspired by these overlapping literary, historical and anthropological backgrounds. Her particular interests are in the anthropology/sociology of artistic activity, communication, and performance; debates relating to literacy, 'orality' and multimodality; and amateur and other 'hidden' activities. She has published widely on aspects of communication and expression, especially oral performance, literacy, and music-making. She was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1996 and an Honorary Fellow of Somerville College Oxford in 1997; and was awarded an OBE for services to Social Sciences in 2000.
Publications, rooted in cultural anthropology but also drawing on a range of disciplinary traditions, include: Limba Stories and Story-Telling 1967, 1981; Oral Literature in Africa 1970; Modes of Thought (joint ed.), 1973; Oral Poetry, 1977 (2nd edn 1992); Information Technology: Social Issues (joint ed.), 1987; Literacy and Orality: Studies in the Technology of Communication,1988; The Hidden Musicians: Music-Making in an English Town 1989 (2nd edn 2007); Oral Traditions and the Verbal Arts 1992; South Pacific Oral Traditions (joint ed.),1995; Tales of the City: A Study of Narrative and Urban Life, 1998; Communicating: The Multiple Modes of Human Interconnection, 2002; Participating in the Knowledge Society: Researchers Beyond the University Walls (ed.), 2005; and The Oral and Beyond: Doing Things with Words in Africa, 2007. Her most recent book, Why Do We Quote? The Culture and History of Quotation, was published by Open Book Publishers in 2011.
Reviews of the original edition of Oral Literature in Africa:
"... a book certain to establish itself as a classic in the field of oral literature, distinguished alike for the range of its reference, the weight of its judgements and the quality of its discriminations. Future scholars are likely to find it not so much a gateway [...] as a vast web from which their innumerable lines of inquiry will radiate and to which they will ultimately return."
"This is a comprehensive, scholarly and one would think definitive study of the subject."
"Besides being a goldmine for scholars, [Oral Literature in Africa] is a delight for the general reader. Finnegan conveys the richness and joy of the African imagination. The people and animals and spirits of Africa live, laugh, weep and quarrel between the covers of her book."