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African Oral Poetry and Performance: a study of the spoken verse

Marianna W. Visser, Phillip Hayab John


The article defines poetry and situates the genre within an African context, with justifications on why it relies on a performative enactment for the realisation of its full import. The focus is on the fact that much of what is characteristically categorised as “poetry” in African oral literature is intended to be performed in a musical setting, where the melodic and vocal components are mutually dependent on representation. The leading concern, therefore, is the observation that poetry in a traditional African society derives its classification from the perception of the society for which it is performed, and need not be limited to the Western construal or perspective. The article employs poetic verses from the Ham and Hausa of Nigeria, the Ewe and Akan of Ghana, the Ocoli of Uganda, and the Zulu of Southern Africa to exemplify the position that an enactment reveals the core of the communicative act in an orally-recited poetry.

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