- Dagara Verbal Art: An African Tradition by Paschal Kyoore
This book is about the verbal art forms of the Dagara people of Northern Ghana: their folktales, proverbs, and riddles. The Dagara verbal arts and their performers have not long been known to folklorists. In fact, this is the first study to document the Dagara folklore. Paschal Kyoore argues that the knowledge and performance of Dagara verbal arts held the community together and gave them their sense of identity, even when colonialism worked to divide the community. Although knowledge of the Dagara oral art forms was practiced and transmitted both during and after colonialism, the years after colonialism brought new challenges to the Dagara, as well as to other ethnic groups in Africa. It became difficult for the Dagara to formally study and preserve their cultural heritage, that is, to publicize and politicize that heritage inside, outside, and among members of the fragmented Dagara-speaking community that had been divided by the colonial states.
Even though the Dagara community was divided and subsequently incorporated into separate nation-states, Dagara folklore continued to evolve and diffuse from village to village. In this engaging study, Kyoore identifies a number of functions of Dagara tales, moving away from a Western interpretive frame. Instead, he focuses on the performance and storytelling contexts. Dagara narrative folklore covers a variety of themes, including ones involving the flora and fauna that characterize Dagara land, in addition to utilizing humor and wit.
Dagara Verbal Art: An African Tradition is composed of twelve chapters, each addressing and analyzing aspects of Dagara verbal art forms. Kyoore bases his analysis on a substantial corpus of oral tradition, which he collected and translated over several years in various performance contexts. For him, Dagara verbal art is a distinctive mode of communication and a valuable source of knowledge about culture, language, history, and religion. In chapter 1, Kyoore lays out his collection method and develops his theoretical framework for analysis of these folktales, riddles, and proverbs. He maintains that "there are many advantages in using technology to record folktales on audio and videocassette" (p. 5), which enables the collector of said folklore to examine the material closely; however, technology creates an artificial environment in a storytelling performance context or during an interview with storytellers.
In chapter 2, Kyoore examines Dagara proverbs, an important part of the culture and language. In the Dagara language, he maintains, the word zukpar means both a proverb and a riddle. The distinction between the two categories is made in the context in which they are uttered (p. 6). The word zukpar is used for both riddles and proverbs and often is utilized in the opening performances of folktales. Proverbs, on the other hand, are used in everyday conversation to communicate clearly. Proverbs are also used by Dagara people to impress their audiences as well as to set the performance context. Zukpar, for Kyoore, is an amalgamation of both verbal and nonverbal art forms (p. 6).
Chapter 3 focuses on aspects of Dagara culture as they relate to folktales, riddles, and proverbs. The terms that are used in Dagara oral tradition cannot always be translated into English because of nuances in the Dagara language. With this in mind, Kyoore explores Dagara verbal art forms in their authentic cultural contexts. [End Page 362] The approach Kyoore takes is of interest to folklorists, as it enables the collector to explain the meaning of the verbal art forms for the local people in question. Kyoore's method provides useful information for folklorists to better understand the differing meanings of verbal art forms in the context of their varying usages.
While Kyoore's meticulous collection provides a useful store of information, his superb method of folklore collection in performance leads to detailed contextual background, which clarifies the meanings of oral art forms in the milieu of their utterances as well as their sociocultural importance. Kyoore's method is illuminating in that he offers an understanding of the meaning of verbal art forms as they are used in specific contexts...