Theory In the Study of African Oral Literature: The Oral Artist’s Agenda


  • Joseph Muleka University of Nairobi



theory, performance, oral artist, ‘performer-centrism’, oral text, oral expression, ‘orate’, context, composition, transmission, audience.


This paper grapples with the question of choice of theory in the study of African oral literature. The paper argues that while it is easy and desirable to choose a facilitative theory in the analysis of a written work of literature, such a process poses challenges when it comes to the oral type of African literature. The difficulty of such choice lies in the unpredictable and ephemeral nature of oral literature in which to a large extent it is the performer who decides what to perform and how to perform it. This leaves the literary analyst in a dilemma over what theory to apply unless the latter wants to base the choice on trial and error.  Owing to the centrality of the performer in an African oral performance this paper argues that choice of theory in this respect has to put the oral artist at the centre. Besides the paper criticizes unchecked application of the Western type theories to African oral literature as some are not designed to cater for the oral nature of the said literature.


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