Centering the Peripheral: A Case for Poetry in Africa


  • Joseph Muleka University of Nairobi



This paper grapples with a frequently asked question: Is there a case for poetry in Africa? Though not necessarily a polemical rooting for recognition of African oral poetry, the paper stands in contention with assertions that have tended to dismiss the said artworks as non-poetry, while at the same time attempting to confer superiority of the written poetry over the oral. In particular, the paper contests the arguments by some pioneer researchers into African literature that posited that what was usually touted as poetry in Africa did not qualify as true poetry, but rather, simply songs and chants. In an attempt to address the nitty-gritty of this subject the paper tackles the crucial question of what constitutes poetry and whether there is a significant difference between a song and a poem.The paper employs the theory of ethno-poetics which takes interest in the aesthetic components and poetic structuring of oral poems. Ethnopoetics gives guidelines on how to organize an oral text in lines to render its fullest charge of texture: rhythm, nuance, phrasing and other components that allow full poetic meaning. It is intended that the poetic restructuring will particularly help realize the poetic qualities in African poetic works. Besides, the paper also tries to popularize “narrato-centric” approach, an application we used earlier during a discussion on theory in the study of oral literature. The approach encourages the study of oral literature material that puts emphasis on performance and the dynamics dictating the performer and his role in the performance.   


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