Alaafin: Oral tradition, not literacy, key factor in all cultures

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From Bode Durojaiye, Oyo.

Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi, has said that the ability to communicate and pass information from one generation to the other is a key factor in all cultures, whether literate or not, adding that many cultures had survived without acquiring the ability to read and write.

He noted that though oral tradition is usually the best known method
of communication and information dissemination in oral societies, yet
“the past is seen to be the repository of all important sacred and secular knowledge, and efforts, therefore, made to pass on this knowledge from one generation to another.’’
Speaking with newsmen in his palace, Alaafin submitted that “in fact, it is difficult to determine whether oral societies were totally non-literates. Some form of literacy must have existed as shown by the Corpus of Ifa in
Yoruba societies and other modes of divination in many Nigerian
societies, including the intricate modes of counting, calculations and
some artistic words. But of course, in some areas where “literacy occurred, it was invariably secondary to oral tradition’’.

Said he: “Ancient cultures of African peoples as shown through archaeological excavations and some of the items in museums exhibitions show that these are products of fertile and highly intelligent people who had some knowledge, however crude, of mathematical precision, physics, geography, geology, and various
branches of modern engineering. Oral societies do generate and utilise a vast amount of information embodied in such societies. These include stories, proverbs and riddles, songs, festivals and ceremonies, arts, crafts and implements as well as political and social information’’.
Citing instances of proverbs and riddles, the paramount ruler asserted that they are aspects of the spoken words in African communities.
According to him, “proverbs provide useful information in
understanding a people’s philosophy of life, their beliefs and
culture. They outline a code of conduct by stipulating what should or
should not be done, and the conditions under which certain actions and
situations are accepted. Proverbs also give information on the
structure of a language. The riddle belongs to the same generic group
as the proverb. The riddle can take the form of a question, a
statement or description designed to test the bearer’s ingenuity in getting an answer or meaning of the reference. The riddle is nearly always used in contest situations and mostly by children. Besides, their entertainment value, riddles provide information on social and cultural issues and develop children’s language skills.’’
The royal father further explained that one important aspect of the riddle is that it enables the questioner to show off his or her knowledge of language and ability to invent attractive metaphors and unusual similes.
“Riddles have a way of sharpening the wits of the children and widening their understanding. The combination of beauty and mystery on the one hand, and the absolutely logical and factual reasoning on the other hand are essential in the education of children. What is more, because proverbs and riddles contain metaphors and symbols drawn from nature and events in society, they help children and adults alike to
observe their surrounding more carefully,’’ Alaafin stressed.

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