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Abstract

This paper, analyses the impact digital technology has had on oral narratives. It argues that modern technology has presented the world with film as one of the variations through which oral narratives can be accessed. The paper is based on the hypothesis that the digital technology has modified the oral narratives by providing the complexity of visual modes which has transformed Africa's indigenous folktales into contemporary technology-based stories which can be accessed via the screen. It interrogates both how the modern technology has reshaped conveyance of oral narratives bringing new possibilities in to the genre and the impact this repackaging has had on the genre and its function to the people who produces it. The question guiding the methodology is "What is the impact of the digital technology on the African oral narratives." INTRODUCTION The impact of modern technology on oral narratives has been a central question for a considerable period. As a whole, it points to a shift of attention from the traditional griots to books and currently to the screen. Though digitalization has brought with it innovations and new possibilities, it has not been without challenges some of which is attributed to a form of cultural loss. Digitalization has modified the oral narrative in terms of narrative techniques, medium, performance, narrators and venue. An example of this is Tinga Tinga Tales, a collection of etiological folk tales in form of a film, in which the screen has replaced the traditional griots and has become for the Kenyan audience, and for the larger Africa, the venue for transmission of etiological narratives with the performances acquiring alternative dramatic techniques and the stories being blended in extra-diegetic elements such as soundtrack and music, color, lighting set up and voice-over, which provide cause and effect relations, creating suspense, surprise, fear, pleasure, and anxiety among others. The filmic presentations of the narratives employ dialogue, making the narratives detailed and more appealing. Setting, such as landscape, among others, is integrated into the actions, functioning as signs to convey extra information, making the filmic narratives closer to what is treated as 'reality'.
THE FUTURE OF THE ORAL NARRATIVE: A DILEMMA
Lencer Achieng’ Ndede
Department of Literature
University of Nairobi
lencerochieng@yahoo.com
Abstract
This paper, analyses the impact digital technology has had on oral narratives. It argues that modern technology has
presented the world with film as one of the variations through which oral narratives can be accessed. The paper is
based on the hypothesis that the digital technology has modified the oral narratives by providing the complexity of
visual modes which has transformed Africa’s indigenous folktales into contemporary technology-based stories
which can be accessed via the screen. It interrogates both how the modern technology has reshaped conveyance of
oral narratives bringing new possibilities in to the genre and the impact this repackaging has had on the genre and its
function to the people who produces it. The question guiding the methodology is “What is the impact of the digital
technology on the African oral narratives.”
Key Words: Digital technology, Oral Narratives, Oral Genres
INTRODUCTION
The impact of modern technology on oral narratives has been a central question for a considerable period. As a
whole, it points to a shift of attention from the traditional griots to books and currently to the screen. Though
digitalization has brought with it innovations and new possibilities, it has not been without challenges some of
which is attributed to a form of cultural loss. Digitalization has modified the oral narrative in terms of narrative
techniques, medium, performance, narrators and venue. An example of this is Tinga Tinga Tales, a collection of
etiological folk tales in form of a film, in which the screen has replaced the traditional griots and has become for the
Kenyan audience, and for the larger Africa, the venue for transmission of etiological narratives with the
performances acquiring alternative dramatic techniques and the stories being blended in extra-diegetic elements such
as soundtrack and music, color, lighting set up and voice-over, which provide cause and effect relations, creating
suspense, surprise, fear, pleasure, and anxiety among others. The filmic presentations of the narratives employ
dialogue, making the narratives detailed and more appealing. Setting, such as landscape, among others, is integrated
into the actions, functioning as signs to convey extra information, making the filmic narratives closer to what is
treated as 'reality'.
Digital technology describes a broad range of multimedia technologies relevant for gathering, processing, storing,
retrieving and transmitting information via electronic signals in form of voice conversations, still images, motion
pictures and multimedia presentations. It is transforming the 21st century communication and oral literature is not
left behind. The oral narrative has been transformed from its traditional face-to-face, fixed location and audience-
centered nature, to a digital process making it relevant to even today’s audience. Leon de Kock (2012) agrees with
this when he argues that “digital communications revolution has changed the face of literary studies completely and
that the world of the screen has become so commonplace that we sometimes forget to what extent it has begun to
supersede and swallow up its predecessor technology for universal human communication –the Gutenberg text”.
(Leon de Kock 2012)
The interaction between verbal arts and the digital technology has brought new dimensions to the oral genres. The
shift in the media from oral narratives to the screen comes with extra communicative functions which fill gaps that
neither the previously traditional narration nor conventional writing can. The screen can signify signs such as tastes,
smell, images, gestures, touch, textures, emotions and feelings such as pain, sorrow, smiles, laughs, among others
which seem beyond words but which can be digitally reproduced by the digital recording of sounds and of both still
and moving images. It opens up a fantastical world; a world where tortoises can fly to heaven, birds can lend
feathers, and animals can converse, creating and engaging the audience in fantasy.
Digitally recorded and filmic representations of oral narratives are increasingly taking over the print and orally
narrated tales in Kenya and the world over. Today most people shun the orally narrated narratives for the audio-
visual form, brought to being by the digital technology. Digitalization having more impact on oral narratives than
already experienced is a fear too big to be ignored since the human race have resorted to ‘interacting’ with the
screen more, which has widely interfered with the main reason why oral narratives were ever told. The social role of
oral narratives thus diminishes with the replacements of the elders by a machine. This paper examines the impact the
digital technology has had on the oral narrative, its function in the community, its audience and the future of the
genre.
METHODOLOGY
The study included film watching, library research, interviews and observations. The library research entailed a
review of secondary texts, articles, internet materials and journals within the scope of this study. The data collected
was analyzed in terms of the role played by the digital techniques in transforming the oral narrative from a
traditionally narrated stories to screen based narratives and the impact this transformation has had on the audience
and on the genre.
Books, journals and internet sources were consulted for information about the definition of oral narratives,
characteristics, functions in the community and the current place of the narrative with the intrusion of the digital
technology. Data on the impact of the digital technology on the genre was obtained through critically watching the
narrative to establish the new possibilities that technology has brought to the genre in terms of performance,
reliability, and accessibility, among others. Sample respondents were interviewed to establish the impact of
digitalization of the narratives on the audience.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSIONS
Modern technology has presented variations, through which literature can be accessed, film being one of them,
reshaping conveyance of literature as well as bringing new possibilities to the oral narratives. The interaction
between the African oral literatures and the digital media has provided the complexity of visual modes which has
transformed Africa’s indigenous folktales into contemporary technology-based stories.
In ancient Africa the griots recorded the customs, traditions, and history of the people and were generally
considered counselors to the king. The griots were "speaking documents" who transmitted the oral traditions from
generation to generation orally. Perry Nodelman and Mavis Reimer (2003) writing about oral narratives stated that,
"People who couldn't read remembered them and told them to other people, who remembered them and told them
again" (p. 303). It is this oral transmission that sustained Africa’s cultural heritage for centuries before the invention
of print and now the digital media. Unlike in traditional African societies where folktales were told by griots in the
villages, town squares, market places, and in some cases family courtyards around the evening fire, in the modern
society, the screen has replaced the griots and has become the venue for transmission of folk tales from across
Africa. With the passage of time, and invention of the digital media, many of these oral folktales have begun
appearing in film with the screen taking the place of the traditional griots. Audience can now access the narrative
experience at any time of the day and in the comfort of their homes.
Oral Tales in Modern African Societies
Digitalization has not only reshaped conveyance of narratives but has also brought new possibilities to the genre.
The interaction between the oral narratives and technology has resulted into the performances acquiring new
dramatic modes with the folktales employing dialogue as well as other cinematic techniques. The filmic version
such as Tinga Tinga Tales is detailed and more appealing. In the tales, physical setting, such as landscape and
physical features, are integrated into the narrations. These go a long way to convey extra information making it
closer to 'reality' than the narrated version in which the audience gets the entire story from the narrator’s perspective
imprisoning the audience to getting only what the narrator knows.
These digitally recorded tales have become a fundamental tool not only for entertaining children and recording
literatures for future generations but also for academicians who study oral genres. With the recorded folktales, one
can play and replay the original version without feeling that some details are lost in the apparent ‘retelling’ of the
story. When a recorded material is re-played, one can take in subtle details which the mind might not have registered
during the first telling of the story. The original version can be repeated infinitely without feeling that it is not the
same performance as the first one unlike in the pre-digital era where the only way to get details from a performance
was to ask for a repeat performance, which implies that the narrator had to be available. The availability of a
narrator however, would still not give a ‘repeat’ since every live performance is totally new and different from the
previous performance implying that once a narrative is told it is gone and as such, scholars carrying out a study on
the same text cannot get details that they missed out in the first telling of the story even if the performer were
available.
Filmic representations include pictorial descriptions which make descriptions clear and captivate the audience by
showing the beauty of the landscape. While it is true that language is an effective way to communicate ideas,
communicating using images has its own advantages. Oral narratives in film form engage the characters themselves
to complement the narrator and actualize the events in the narratives enabling the tales to delve deep into various
characters’ minds hence allowing the audience to understand the characters’ motivations through their actions as
well as facial expressions. In the episode ‘Why the hyena limbs’ from Tinga Tinga Tales, for example, When the
hyena plans to bite the other animal’s bottoms, the audience is able to accompany hyena’s thoughts through an
interior monologue, and still see the expressions on hyenas face as well as see the other animals. This creates a
dramatic irony, tension, as well as inviting the audience to imagine, fantasize and speculate about the expressions on
the other animal’s faces without shifting attention between characters. A narrator on the other hand can only
describe the emotions of one animal character at a time and shift attention each time when he/she wants to describe
another. Shifting attention from one character to another can hamper the development and progress of a story. The
complexities of films enable the narratives to show several characters, alongside the focus character all in one go. As
such, the scenes are given variations in tone and voice following different characters thoughts and actions, making
the actions more interesting and closer to reality. The characters appearing live in the story enable the audience to
get characters’ thoughts and feelings directly, not merely in paraphrase or summary from a narrator, but issuing from
the characters themselves.
A narration stands the risk of tiring the audience because of the same voice and point of view dominating the
narrative as well as lack of variation in style, voice, and personality. A film on the other hand is able to balance
monologue, dialogue, plenty of actions and the narrative voice, which helps move the story forward more easily. In
the episode ‘why hyena has short hind legs’ from Tinga Tinga Tales for example, the audience is treated to
variations; the animal characters converse in dialogue, the hyena’s thoughts are given to the audience in a
monologue, the red monkey gives the narrative from a third person perspective and the characters actualize and
dramatize the events, all which go a long way to balance the story. An orally narrated story on the other hand would
be constructed as a whole of a single consciousness absorbing other voices. The film version of the narratives thus
come out as polyphonic and multi-voiced; a whole formed by the interaction of several consciousness none of
which entirely becomes the object of the other leaving no room for non-participating third person in the narratives.
The variations in character’s voices make character descriptions and distinction accurate and precise. Horace noted
that “the speeches of the characters should be distinct and should individualize the characters so that there is a great
and glaring difference between them”.
In life generally, every person speaks differently making it difficult for just one voice of a narrator, to clearly,
honestly and objectively describe and distinguish different characters. By engaging the characters themselves in the
tales to dramatize the events, the audience gets a convincing feel of the characters; since what they do, think and feel
is given to the audience first hand and from their own persons. It thus gives an insight to different stand points by
different animal characters. The tales engage characters who are authoritative and independent each given a voice
and a space to dramatize his/her own actions.
Folktales contain elements of fantasy making their plots complex. Though they are set in a familiar world; they
have stock characters, conventional plots, and traditional motifs, creating a fantastic world with unusual events. The
fantasy settings, characters, and plots tend to be much more complex than normal stories. Films, more so
animations, possess the ability to convey stories with complex plots and elements of fantasy. They can control the
chronology of a story, moving backward to present back-story or forward in time to inform the reader of future
outcomes as well as convey impossibilities such as animals talking and flying as though they were possible. They
have the ability to jump from one subjective viewpoint to the next and from one character to the next, giving the
same story to the audience in different narrative episodes.
Images make communication easier, better and hassle free. In the episode ‘Why the tortoise has a cracked shell’
from the film Tinga Tinga Tales Watching tortoise fly, for example, makes the magic closer to reality and unlocks
the power of imagination, Dr. Lynell Burmark, Ph.D. Associate at the Thornburg Center for Professional
Development wrote that:
"...unless our words, concepts, ideas are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail
through the brain, and go out the other ear. Words are processed by our short-term memory
where we can only retain about 7 bits of information (plus or minus 2). Images, on the other hand,
go directly into long-term memory where they are indelibly etched."
His argument implies that images other than making communication easy, makes the information received to be
retained longer. The Visual communication can portray experiences in terms of taste, look and feel triggering
emotional response since they involve the use of colors, sounds, images, music, objects, shapes, and more, to say the
right thing accurately to the audience. Images imply that which words would not express making what is seen to
have an aura of 'truth'.
Oral narratives are often told from the protagonist’s point of view and as such the protagonist must view the scenes
and choose to talk about them for those scenes to be relayed to the audience by the narrator. Since the protagonist
does not notice every detail in every space he/she walks into, some details are left out in the process of narrating a
story. The audience is thus given a limited story devoid of details, only seeing what the protagonist sees, making it
difficult to get details of scenes where the character in focus is not present. Digitalization enables the audience to see
every single bit of the setting regardless of whether the protagonist is there or not.
It is natural that different people live their lives from different point of views. Telling another person’s point of view
is not as precise as that character himself being present and telling his own narrative. No matter how much detail the
narrator tries to go in to, and how immediate and intimate he/she tries to make the details of the story, the audience
would still feel cheated out of some details as opposed to when they witnesses the actions from the characters
firsthand. Besides, a narrator would not easily sound exactly like the character he/she is trying to portray. Films
curb this limitation by allowing each character to be present to give his/her own point of view. With each character
giving their own narratives, told directly by them, from their viewpoint, spoken with a unique, distinctive voice and
an attitude of their own, the audience lives and breathe with the characters as they make their journeys, discoveries
decisions and transformations, making the story more credible and believable than when reported by a narrator.
James Scott Bell says,
“There must be something about the voice of a narrator that makes him/her worth listening to; a
worldview, a slant, something more than just plain rendition of the facts.”
To attract and sustain the attention of the audience, a narrator needs to have a unique voice and personality.
Narrative voice is more than language and sound; it is how the narrator delivers the story to the audience’s ear.
Narrators are like guides to the story, when they are unstable and inconsistent, audiences get lost in the story's
emotional landscape. In a narrative, written or oral, an incompetent storyteller can sound disconnected, disembodied,
and like a floating consciousness removed from the events being described and hence misleading the audience's
consciousness. On the other hand, a narrator may get too sucked into the character and fail to separate the character's
feelings from the narrator’s feelings. As such, an audience may end up absorbing the emotions of the narrator and
not the character being portrayed.
Diversifying Africa’s Cultural Heritage in a Digital Age
The success of the interactions between oral literatures and the digital media has brought to the genre not only
innovations in style and content in new contexts but also creation of new audiences. Other than teaching as they
entertain children, these digitalized folktales solidify regional cooperation in the realm of culture, through exchanges
of narratives stored digitally and distributed widely to a larger audience. The digitalized narratives such as Tinga
Tinga Tales with ‘why’ tales from all over Africa unlike the traditional griots are readily available to the consuming
audience from different parts of the world. This creates borderless communities and connects the general populace
thereby entrenching the spirit of the community among the people. Due to the digital repackaging, the African
folktales, which may have seemed specific to different ethnic groups within the continent, appear to be relevant to
all people across the world and not specific to Africa anymore. Thus digital tools offer opportunities to share African
oral literatures locally and internationally, diversifying the rich African cultural stories.
Films and other media technologies such as digital video recording, websites, mobile phones, and you-tube have
revolutionized the production of oral literature in Africa providing an opportunity for a wide selection of narratives
from different parts of Africa to be readily available to the consuming audience. Tinga Tinga Tales, for example,
disseminates tales gathered not only from one community but from all over Africa. This way, information grows in
variety and audiences are not limited to stories from one’s environment only, but can access narrations from several
parts of Africa. Further still, one is able to access the narrative experience at any time of day without having to wait
until such a time that a narrator is available like in the olden days when people relied on griots for narratives.
African literatures are historically oral, digital technology thus is quite an achievement enabling the rich culture to
be stored digitally and distributed widely and for easier access via local and national TV networks. Digital
technology has presented a contemporary platform for repackaging and propagating Africa’s folktales in form of
films, providing a space to even an audience who has not attained sufficient level of literacy to enable them access
written narratives. This is because watching a television does not require schooling, special skills or advancement in
age. Digitalized narratives can be accessed by even children as young as two years, who can benefit from the
images, motion pictures and the colorful paintings of the cartoon animal characters as they don’t have to develop
any special skill to be able to follow a story told through images. Other than communicating effectively to young
children who cannot read, images make it possible to transcend language barriers and communicate with people of
different countries, languages and cultures making filmic presentations of narratives accessible across borders.
Digitalized spaces and culture
As much as digitalization of African oral literatures has brought new possibilities to the oral genres, it, on the other
hand, has eroded some aspects of the African culture. Leon de Kock (2012) wondering about the negative impact of
technology on literary cultural value notes:
“ How and where should critics – especially scholars of South African writing be channeling their
energies in a digital age in which the conditions of cultural production have shifted profoundly not only in
content but also in the very media of representation? Does the migration from depth-charged literary books
to the surface surfeit of screens involve more than just a change in technology, but also an altered scale of
literary-cultural value?”
The process of digitalizing the oral genres affects what is documented. By affecting what is recorded, the genres
face new challenges opening questions of definition and interpretation. Digitalized oral narratives posit a
redefinition of oral narratives as an important part of Africa's struggle to move with technology and not be left
behind. It presents an African modernity that is flexible and responsive in meeting the needs of an audience who is
firmly grounded in a community and has a vision for a future that is moving with technology while also posing a
threat on the African traditional cultural values by eroding the warmth of group interaction and physical contact
which were experienced during live oral narrative sessions.
Digitalization has however brought with it some negative aspects attributed to a form of cultural loss. Scholars
supporting this interpretation identify an "erosion of orality" that points to the loss of live interaction between
performers and their audience. Traditionally, oral performances were designed to educate as they entertained and
fostered intrapersonal and communal interaction. This social function of performance is lost when oral genres
engage with the digital media, since the audience interacts with a machine and not one another. Though the
Messenger Service in devices such as computer and other attachments that model themselves after the computer,
such as the I-phone and I-pad, make it possible for the intended audience to watch a performance live, interrupt and
chip in information relevant to the performance, the interaction is pseudo and one sided since only the audience can
chip in information and not the narrator(s). And even though they can chip in information they cannot affect, warn,
or punish characters in the digital space (even though they would like to), neither can they influence the narrator to
change the course of events accordingly. The order in which the story information is presented is thus determined by
the filmmakers entirely. Although interpreting a film always includes a mental jumping’ back and forth from the
moment and to different points in the film, and although the audience has to mentally rearrange the order in the
story, for instance a flashback, the cinematic ‘text’ itself cannot be reordered or changed by the audience.
Whether composed orally or written, oral narratives are meant to be recited since they employ many of the formulaic
expressions of oral tradition. Oral stories, in ancient Africa, used to be committed to memory and passed from
generation to generation. With the advent of writing and currently the digital media, stories can be recorded, and
shared over wide regions of the world. The performances will however be committed to a fixed media hence losing
originality with the audience unacquainted with the worldview. Thus an oral narrative, preserved digitally, is an oral
composition written in a literate culture and is distinct from an oral composition composed in an exclusively oral
culture.
‘Orality’ itself has deeper layers of meaning and goes beyond the vocal. Though the term ‘oral’ denotes an
interaction that is vocal, an artistic performance also includes other signals such as: sound arrangement of a nature
other than aural; such as drum beats, gesticulation, bodily vibrations and audience interaction to be complete. The
‘orality’ that the digital oral arts offer raises questions of whether these digitalized oral arts are genuinely oral or
‘pseudo-oral’ since they pose a kind of artistic performance of written texts learned, rehearsed and disseminated via
a machine making the performances dry and removed from the owners community.
Songs play a big role in oral narratives. Each performer in a sense interprets the tradition using songs and, more
importantly, renews it and transforms it through a personal performance. Since songs are freshly created from
memory at each separate performance, they are subject to constant variation both in text and tune. Variations kept
the songs alive by gradually bringing into line the style of life, beliefs, and emotions of the community that creates
it. Singing is mostly accompanied by musical ‘instruments’ such as rattles, whistles, jingles, drums and several other
instruments. Though the digital technology has succeeded in conveying songs without losing their melody nd
rhythm meaning is interfered with.
The importance of singing and the place it occupies in African oral tradition cannot be ignored. In the African
culture, there are always specific customs associated with singing during story telling sessions; etiquette might
demand gifts from the audience, or the listeners to respond with specific phrases at specific points in the song or
story. When these songs and narratives are removed from their communities to serve a wider remote audience, some
of these cultural aspects get lost. Though there are songs in digitalized oral narratives such as Tinga Tinga Tales, the
songs are presented for their entertainment value and not for the folkloric value or its function in the owners’ daily
life. While these songs are exciting to the audience and raises the levels of fantasy in the tales, the audience does not
gain from the wealth of knowledge meant to be contained therein. Digitalization having thus taken out some cultural
value out of the folktales, one wonders if these digitalized oral tales would still be a dissemination of African rich
culture or just a way of storing and making available dry data. For a performance which purports to embody African
culture to be complete, it needs to include the soul and spirit of the African tradition which the digital tools used in
re-packaging the folktales in modern society cannot faithfully transmit. Ahmed Rushdie Saleh in his expose,
‘Influences of Mass Media on Folklore in Egypt’ argues that:
When folkloric material is produce on radio or television, it is submitted to a series of influencing
conditions. Usually the material chosen is presented for its value as entertainment, not for its folkloric
value or its function in the owners’ daily life. (p.159)
Rushdie’s argument imply that the folkloric value of these folktales get lost when they are repackaged in digital
modes. This is due to the fact that in the process of recording, the narratives are subjected to a series of preparations
which end up interfering with the narratives, losing the reason for which these narratives were brought to life.
Rushdie continues to speak about this distortion of folkloric value saying:
The presentation of songs, music and dances through the mass media can subject these traditions to
misunderstanding, distortion, and misrepresentation. There are other causes that deform these arts. One of
them is the attempt to “reconstruct” dances or choreograph them to fit into the television show format.
What is known as popular theatrical dance or popular television dance is not folk dance but fabrication of
folk dance molded to fit the techniques of these modern media. (p. 160)
This distortion that Rushdie talks about is evident in Tinga Tinga Tales. The tales are ‘reconstructed to suit a wider,
remote audience, with many of the essential elements native to Africa dropped or distorted to suit the imagined
recipients. An audience watching Tinga Tinga Tales would not find anything uniquely African in the tales. The
songs, for instance, sound contemporary and without any African cultural values. Other than the songs, the
mannerisms, the attitude and even the accents are quite western; hippo for example displays American mannerisms,
and accent throughout. When the animals decide to put a stop to hyena’s habit of biting bottoms by having hyena
fall in to a deep hole and suggest hippo’s bottom as bait. Hippo replies in an American accent that:
Lion: We are going to need a bigger hole and a much much bigger bottom
(Turning to hippo) Hippo?
Hippo: But he’s already bitt’n ma bott’m
The animal characters talk in assorted accents; American, British, Jamaican etc. all in an effort to reach a wider
audience. As a result of these distortions, the audience ends up being exposed to an adulterated product, quite
different from the originally intended African folktales. Oral narratives are culture-specific; as such the oral
narrative’s appeal is more often local rather than universal and events in it specific to the culture of the owner. Since
cultures and sub-cultures have different world view, they barely accommodate each other posing a question on the
crossing point between the oral narrative and technology. This implies that stories significant to particular
communities will lose their significance when a different community is exposed to them. Producers have thus
resorted to ‘distorting’ the tales in order to suit a wider, remote audience, with the essential elements native to the
place of origin dropped or distorted.
Some of the wholesomeness of an oral narration comes from coaxing and urging the audience to listen. Oral arts are
composed in performance, the warmth of a group interaction encouraging both the narrator and the audience to
participate with the performer gauging the audience’s mood and alertness and modifying his act accordingly. This
however, does not occur in digitalized oral narratives since the performer(s) and the audience does not interact due
to the barrier created between them by the screen. This implies that the future of oral narration as a communal
interaction, the physical pleasure in communal contact, the pleasantness of actual rather than virtual grouping, the
physical availability of people to others, and the privilege of physical accessibility of one age group to another,
which are the communal element in which Oral literature is grounded, are all threatened by the invasion of digital
technology on oral genres. This interferes with the children’s natural learning and development process since
socially, relationships with peers and adults have an effect on how children think, learn and develop. Other than
social development, the culture a child lives in contributes a set of values, customs, shared assumptions and ways of
living that influence the child’s development throughout the lifespan. Culture may play a role in how children relate
to their parents, the type of education they receive and the type of child care that is provided. These relationships can
be fostered during group interactions such as story telling sessions which is presently and in the future threatened by
the inversion of the digital technology.
Human beings are social animals and nothing can take the place of physical contact in the world. There is a basic
instinct in every human being that dictates the need for human contact. A narration by a machine would be
incomplete and however interesting it may seem, it may not fulfill the main reason for which African oral narrations
were brought to being; educate as it entertains and foster inter-personal and communal relationship. A machine
cannot give immediate reward which is what provides satisfaction for an oral narration. Wole Soyinka comments on
the human element in a performance in Myth, Literature and the African World, he says:
The lone human figure … unlike a painting, a voice, motion picture, is a breathing, living, pulsating,
threatening, fragile example of this paradigm. Threatening because its fragility is experienced both at the
level of its symbolism and in terms of sympathetic concern for the well-being of that immediate human
medium. (p. 41)
An audience being in support of a narration and encouraging the narrator to go on cannot be achieved in Digitalized
oral narratives. However much the audience is excited at the narration and the actions of the other characters, the
narrator and the other characters on the screen cannot gauge this mood and modify their actions accordingly. In
addition, however much the audience may be bored by the narration, the narrator cannot modify the performance
accordingly. The narrator would continue even if the audience fell asleep in the process of the narration. In a live
narration, both the audience and the narrator would gauge one another’s mood, encourage one another and work
together for the success of the narration.
Other than this loss of physical contact, another impediment would be the loss of the physical attribute associated
with culture coming from, for instance, tribal markings which go a long way to give identity, the manner of dress,
the behavior and general demeanor of the oral performer/narrator, all which in turn go to give that physiological
satisfaction upon a narrative performance. These, in a digital story space, get lost to both the performer and the
audience who will end up being ‘culturally lost’ since he cannot pin the tales to any specific culture. In the process
of digitalizing these folktales, producers tend to only take down the words without knowledge of the cultural world
view and hence the failure to relate the context or significance of the work to a specific culture. The translators too
tend to use the formal conventions of language with a wider audience in mind, in the process dropping or losing
some aspects of language native to the owner, some which may not be having equivalent translations in English. The
translations end up being so literal that the original beauty gets distorted or lost.
The digitalized tales are presented on the television for their entertainment value and not for their folkloric value.
The superficiality of narrative performances on the screen implies a rehearsed, edited and polished end-product yet
‘Oral literature is a natural, unconscious product of the society’ (Patterns in Oral Literature p. 274). How, then, can
this learned, rehearsed, recorded and edited version still be a natural product of the society, pure and unadulterated?
This implies that the end product of digitalization of folktales is not an original African tradition but an adulterated
version and an access to dry data and not oral narratives. Some scholars have taken this ‘dry data’ a notch higher by
rebuilding what they call ‘strong tales’ through embedding several tales to form one. Taking the case sample done in
the late 1970’s by Sheldon klein et al. in the book, Patterns in Oral Literature. In their essay subtitled: Modeling
Multi-move Tales, they demonstrated the possibility of rebuilding of a stronger narrative form by embedding several
other tales to form one. They argue:
…the first is the device of calling the system for a look into the future. This peek into the future could
provide the data for quantifying another call to the program to generate and embedded tale, or its peek into
the future could be at the outcome of an embedded tale, to obtain information for quantification of
information of the remainder of the outer tale. The second device is the use of natural language meta-
compiling….. the data from a peek into the future could be used to generate, compile, and execute a new
restricted program for generation a set of embedded tales relevant to the current outer tale. This technique
would permit nested embedding of tales with logical connection to the outer stories much stronger than
that in actual Russian folktales. (p.165)
This chopping up of tales and reconstructing them, however, is a way of data analysis, and not a process of creating
oral narratives. Though this building of stronger genres, and analyzing them at deeper levels, might appear useful
and futuristic, looked at deeply, it interferes with the cultural value of the narratives. The originally intended purpose
of the oral narration should remain a natural and unconscious product of the society, and a natural product of the
societies’ impulses.
Oral literature acts as the voice of a tradition preserving the culture of ethnic groups. In the process of gathering and
preserving these folkloric materials, the communicative act is changed to a greater extent by the recording methods.
Though the digital tools record the speaker both aurally and visually, the ambience of the occasion and ritual is lost
as a result of the "freezing" of the oral moment into an artifact, yet a major characteristic of oral literature is its
capacity to be changed through generations, and even from occasion to occasion, by storytellers. Oral literature is
meant to be composed in performance; transmitted orally over generations through oral performance. The process of
digital transmission thus interferes with the folkloric materials since oral literature lives in performance.
The sense of community is integral to oral tradition. The stories and their context are community centered; they both
are products of the community and are told for its sake. Because the names of individual composers or poets do not
feature prominently in oral literature, it is popularly believed that oral literature is communally created. The digital
recording robs the communities of their ownership since the one who does the collection and the digital recording
and production can claim ownership and copy right. Tinga Tinga Tales, for example, is produced by Tiger Aspects
in conjunction with home Boyz entertainment, who have the copyright of the series.
Digital tools such as TV, computers, you-tube and other electronic gadgets are just gaining access into the world
making them still unattainable by majority of people in the world. This implies that a big percentage of the world’s
population remain largely cut off from these gadgets. It is likely, therefore, that so many people may be cut off from
enjoying these digitalized oral narratives for lack of access to the digital tools such as TV, video and DVD machine,
you-tube etc. This however, will be until such a time that all humanity will have changed its mode of
communication, from physical to virtual. These digital oral narratives still remain the domain of only a privileged
few. The need for technical competence would also create hurdles, since the operation of some of the digital tools
such as the computer (you-tube) is academically rooted, which implies that the ability to use the gadgets may
presents limitations for many, with regard to training, geographical location or economic status. Even the DVD and
TV, which may seem easy to operate, rely on energy source alien to many environments on the continent.
While these digitalized oral narratives are enriching to the Kenyan audience, the remote nature of the performances
takes some life out of it. Having taken out some life from the oral narrative, one then wonders how well such a
performance would fulfill the role for which it was originally intended; to educate as it entertains and especially to
foster intrapersonal and communal interaction? Besides it is not easy to participate in something alien to one’s
environment. Some of the wholesomeness of an oral narrative performer comes from the coaxing and urging the
audience to listen, and the warmth of group interaction encourages both the narrator and the audience to participate.
The performer acts as an immediate role model and enriches part of the whole presentation, gauging the audience’s
mood and alertness and modifying his act accordingly. Listening to a narrative told orally prompts quick responses
and a sharp memory. There is thus a heightened receptivity, since more information is absorbed and retained for
longer in the absence of repeat performances. This is the beauty of the oral narrative; that every piece is an original
artifact for which no replication is possible. Sharper creativity and quicker impulses are prompted in the artiste, in
anticipation for this one-time performance. This creative process is hampered with artificial modes of
communication presented by digitalization.
Oral narrative is such that it accommodates changes in interactive signals, of the community, of the composer, this
makes one to wonder if the oral narrative of the future will describe and explore interactions in digitalized spaces.
The world of fantasy is a direct product of the physical world, as one would not describe that which the mind cannot
conceive. The effective oral narrator is one who is deeply rooted in folk culture. By living it, walking it, breathing it,
one is able to bring into fruition wholesome exchanges with the audience. Feeding of the subconscious mind is a
very gradual and delicate day to day affair and the flora and fauna. All these are requirements for a complete and
wholesome creation of an oral narrative. The virtual simulation would not coax the same level of imaginativeness.
Digitalized narratives do not have gendersensitive designs. Take for instance, an oral narrative specifically meant
for ‘men-to-boys’ or a ‘women-to-girls-only’ sitting; without a doubt, digitalization has resulted in inability to sieve
out material specifically intended for the one group only. This can result in information reaching untargeted group.
CONCLUSION
Digitalization poses a case of giving with the right hand and taking with the left. Though the digital technology
repackages and preserves the oral narratives, it modifies them and in the process interferes with the culture, which is
a drawback since the end result is an access to dry data and not an oral narration.
The future of oral narration as a communal interaction is thus threatened, the physical pleasure in communal contact,
the pleasantness of actual rather than virtual grouping; the physical availability of people to others, the privilege of
physical accessibility of one age group to another, the communal element in which Oral literature is actually
grounded, are all, now and in the future threatened by the virtual interaction presented by the digital technology.
A scholar of oral literature pondering the future of oral literature on the globe wonders if the interaction between the
digital technology and the oral narratives is advancement or a drawback; this remains a dilemma. The future of oral
narrative therefore lies where physical human contact begins and ends. However, the pertinent issue remains ’what
the originally intended purpose of the oral telling of the narrative was and the narrative process being a natural and
unconscious product of the society; a natural product of a people’s impulses. The question therefore is can the
purity of such a natural impulse and communal interaction be retained with intrusion by technology?
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BIO-DATA
Lencer Achieng’ Ndede holds a Bachelor of Education (Arts) from Moi University, Masters of Arts in Literature from The University of Nairobi
and Currently a PhD Student in Literature at The University of Nairobi. She is an Adjudicator in Music and Drama. She is passionate about
development of Literature and has written and presented a number papers at various Literature, Drama, Film and Music conferences. She teaches
Literature at Egerton, and Kenyatta University.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Article
The study of oral traditions and verbal arts leads into an area of human culture to which anthropologists are increasingly turning their attention. Oral Traditions and the Verbal Arts provides up-to-date guidance on how to approach the study of oral form and their performances, treating both the practicalities of fieldwork and the methods by which oral texts and performances can be observed, collected or analysed. It also relates to those current controversies about the nature of performance and of 'text'. Designed as a practical and systematic introduction to the processes and problems of researching in this area, this is an invaluable guide for students, and lecturers of anthropology and cultural studies and also for general readers who are interested in enjoying oral literature for its own sake.
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How and where should critics – especially scholars of South African writing – be channelling their energies in a digital age in which the conditions of cultural production have shifted profoundly not only in content but also in the very media of representation? Does the migration from depth-charged literary books to the surface-surfeit of screens involve more than just a change in technology, but also an altered scale of literary-cultural value? This article takes up the public invitation by critic Sarah Nuttall to enter into discussion on precisely these questions, in her various recent articulations about ‘the way we read now’. The article rejoins Nuttall's usefully provocative argument about whether or not ‘the reach of the literary has been receding rather than growing in recent years’, and looks critically at the counter-valorization of ‘surface’ and ‘reality hunger’, incorporating a predisposition towards affect in preference to acts of ‘symptomatic reading’ in the mould of Freud, Marx, Althusser and Jameson. The argument is then routed through a reading of Ivan Vladisavić's novel, Double Negative (2010), suggesting that not only does this work of fiction do what Nuttall suggests the ‘literary’ cannot do, or is not doing, namely capturing the surface real and its engagement with ‘reality hunger’, but it also uses – as its fictional substrate – a complex play with ‘surfaces’ of the real, and their representations, as part of its novelistic objective, which ultimately subsumes the ‘surface real’ in ways that such a category cannot, in turn, do to literature.
Patterns of Folklore
  • H E Davidson
Davidson, H. E. (1978). Patterns of Folklore. New Jersey: D.S Brewer, Rowman & Littlefield, 1978. Dorson, Richard M., Ed. Folklore in the Modern World. Paris: Mouton Publishers.
The Children's Literature in Kenya
  • Henry Indangasi
Indangasi, Henry, et al, Eds. (2006). The Children's Literature in Kenya. University of Nairobi: The Department of Literature.
Literature and the African World
  • Wole Soyinka
  • Myth
Soyinka, Wole. Myth, Literature and the African World. Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 19_. BIO-DATA