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Reviewed by:
  • Littérature orale africaine: nature, genres, caractéristiques et fonctions
  • Pius Ngandu Nkashama
Littérature orale africaine: nature, genres, caractéristiques et fonctions Crispin Maalu-Bungi Pensée et perspectives africaines 4. Bruxelles: PIE Peter Lang, 2006.

The didactic perspective of this work is undeniable and affirms this from the very first chapters devoted to theroetical aspects and criteria of identification of oral literature. The manual is meant first of all for students wanting to pursue their research in the so-called Africanist fields, and by extension, all productions of orality. This is an opportunity for the presenter to take up the definitions for certain terms that often contribute to the equivocacy of languages, even the very postulates of “literature” and “oral literature” (28–32). These givens dealing with criteria of identification are discussed with a great sense of objectivity, for they are indispensable to the understanding of the field that is thus circumscribed. Old theses of classic ethnology are discarded by a well thought-out methodology. And the concepts that are utilized, such as “traditional literature” or even “nonwritten literature” (32) are restored in a more pedagogical context. Instead of continuing to reduce the techniques of analysis to a few phraseologies of rhetoric, the expose goes beyond the simplified criteria of “societies without writing” that are too frequently covered by an uncertain reading of the artistic works under consideration.

The author demonstrates repeatedly that the fact of orality does not prohibit texts produced in that fashion from evolving toward more complicated forms, and inspired even more by strategies of writing: “[D]u point de vue des utilisateurs, la structure se définit comme la régularité dans l’organisation du texte, quelle que soit sa nature ou sa forme” ‘[F]rom the viewpoint of users, structure is defined as regularity in the text’s organization, no matter what its nature or form’ (57). It is most of all a matter of showing that the “logic of the story” or even the morphology of the textualities is permanently adapted to the transformations in the societies that practice them, in formalization as well as receptivity. This occurs in parallel with the historical theory according to which diachrony means above all that stylistic procedures evolve according to the schema of mutations of spatio-temporal contexts or thematic contents. The example of narrative sagas that are lengthily described in this chapter is even more instructive (61).

The same can be said of the paradigms treated in the second part, on oral literary genres whose principles of classification are methodically exposed. Modes of transmission (especially for the articulated genres) as well as formal presentations [End Page 155] transform the textual referents and allow us to appreciate at the same time the performances of their public execution: myths and legends, popular tales and fabliaux, tales of the marvelous or humorous stories. To decode the poetic genres, and following a detailed description of nursery rhymes and catch-phrases, the study reviews the procedures that characterize proverbs, riddles, devises, lullabies, all the various forms of songs (of initiation, rituals, games; the sacred and the epic) as well as “telecommunicative languages,” also called “bush telephone” (169) or even tambourine messages. In the songs of praises, it emphasizes the preponderant role of kasàlà for the Luba society of Kasayi (182 and 194) and its heroic songs have been described successfully in several university theses, especially by Mufuta Kabembe and Nzuji Madiya. The more recent structure of the “letter” is an edifying example in the typology of communication: this genre is executed especially in nuptial ceremonies and it appeared among Catholic parishes towards the 1970s.

The different domains of literature, those written with the support of graphics and those of orality, both develop symbiotically, and they experience reciprocal influences, in as much as they are received by the same audiences and identical addressees. These influences are perceptible at the level of their stylistics and their enunciative, or narrative, modalities. The conditions in which they are véhiculés are also similar: functions that are recreational or ludic, educational, didactic, or initiative, but also social, political, and thus eminently cultural.

The common validity of such intertextualities can only...


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pp. 155-157
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