THE CONTINUED RELEVANCE OF ORAL DOCUMENTATION IN THE STUDY OF AFRICAN CULTURES

BY

ANTHONY C. ONWUMAH
Director, Research and Publications,
and Head, Ibadan Outreach Office,
Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization
e-mail: tonyonwumah@yahoo.com

SUMMARY
There is a growing debate on the usefulness or otherwise of oral documentation in the study of African cultures. This debate is borne out of the fact that, methods and media of information gathering, storage, and documentation have grown in sophistication and complexity. This has made it possible for an incredibly large volume of data to be stored in simple devices with an equally incredible amount of efficiency. The urge therefore is to discourage oral documentation in the light of the many draw backs associated with it. For instance, there is a limit to which large volume of data could be stored in the human memory and transmitted to future generations over a long period of time. Other associated problems include: issue of bias and deliberate manipulation, establishing a reliable chronological and dating framework, quantification and language shift. These notwithstanding, the usefulness of oral documentation in the contemporary study of African cultures cannot be glossed over. It helps Africans to tell their own story by themselves, it has been found useful in refuting some euro centric views about African history and culture. In addition to assisting in finding solutions to political problems such as chieftaincy disputes and land matters it has equally been found useful by the present generation of African’s political leaders as veritable instruments of teaching the youths about their past. The paper ends on a note of caution. Those who are interested in oral documentation must do so with caution, if the data obtained will be reliable.

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Posted in VOLUME 14 N0. (1) APRIL 2012.

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