Background of Study

Oral literature means oral works of high merit which are products of the creative use of imagination by the artist of the spoken words in pre-literate communities. Such works are composed mentally by the illiterate raconteur; Stored in the memory and then spoken, recited, chanted or sung on specific occasions (Ikwubuzo, 1993). It consists of both prose, verse, narratives, poems, songs, myths, rituals and dramas, proverbs, folktales and riddles.Values on the other hand is the collection of guiding principles; what one deems to be correct and desirable in life, especially regarding personal conduct. They are beliefs about what is right and wrong and what is important in life (Hornby, 2005). Ogunbameru and Rotimi (2006) observed that “values are all inclusive, deeply internalized personal feeling that direct actions”. Thus, values may not be seen, but are recognized in the behaviour of the child. As leaders of tomorrow, the young ones are given the basic spiritual and cultural training to enable them take over the adult responsibilities in order to maintain and sustain the societal development. The use of Igbo oral literature (Folktale) as a tool for value inculcation to children and youths is the concern of this paper. The emphasis is on Igbo folktales.

It would seem that the study of the cultural achievements that make us human should hold pride of place in every educational system of higher education and research. Nations justifiably look to their universities for the education of their citizens and leaders, and for the production of knowledge necessary for growth, security, and prosperity. More often than not, a university’s core mission is rooted in the humanities—in the study of culture, history, language, literature, anthropology, philosophy, religion, the arts and folklore. The abovementioned disciplines constitute a people’s common heritage. The humanistic disciplines, and particularly folklore, have a clear practical value: they teach critical and analytical thinking while at the same time stimulating the imagination and promoting ethical values. Leaders need these skills to lead, to identify problems, and to conceive creative solutions. Citizens need them to participate actively in public life. Yet the key contribution of the humanities—and folklore in particular—goes beyond cultural education and training in analytical skills. Humanistic studies help ground national dialogue on many urgent issues encompassing humane values. Technical and technological solutions today raise ethical issues and questions that require public understanding and public debate. Humanistic research and teaching illuminate the ethical principles that frame discussion and provide examples of objectivity and fairness in dialogue (ASSAF 2011, p. 25).

This paper examines oral literature as a medium of teaching moral values to selected schools in Oru West local government area of Imo state. It draws attention to the richness of indigenous knowledge contained in oral literature and demonstrates how the ethical and moral gap in the existing educational system can be filled by the moral precepts embedded in oral literature. The paper argues that oral literature has not received the attention it deserves among other disciplines of the humanities in institutions of higher learning in Africa. This is because a sound educational policy in any country with folklore at the centre enables students to understand their own society before proceeding to learn about other cultures. In other words, a sound grounding of the student in his/her people’s culture helps him/her become a useful member of the society.

It should, however, be noted that “there are three categories of literature in Africa, namely oral literature in African languages, written literature in African languages; and written literature in some European languages” (Sone 2009, p. 157). Of these three, oral literature in African languages is naturally the oldest and most predominant in Africa. This is so because its creators and users are, generally speaking, non-literature, rural and agricultural. From the above observation, it follows naturally that an awareness of the African people can only come from the knowledge of the culture, customs and knowledge systems which are vastly found in African oral literature. Thus, oral literature provides the proper milieu for the release of creative energy necessary for the development of a sense of cultural belonging that sustains the foundation of a common identity. It is for this reason that Kimani (as quoted by Ganyi (2016, p. 17)) makes the following statement:

Orality has been an important method of self-understanding, creative relationships and establishing equilibrium between body, soul and environment. Through oral [literature] , communities have been able to pass through values, attitudes, knowledge and modes of practice for generations (Kimani 2010).

Recounting the agelessness of oral literature as folklore in human history, Ganyi (2016, p. 19) also quotes Bynum (1974):

For many millennia, the only instrument of rhythmic words and narrative known in any part of the world was the tongue men were born with [ . . . ] so for long ages, so for any way any knowledge could survive from one generation to another was through oral tradition. Rhythmic speech was the world’s first great medium of communication for complex ideas and there were certainly media men of astonishing skills long before anyone on earth knew how to write.

It is worthy of mention that prior to the advent of Ruth Finnegan’s magnum opus Oral Literature in Africa (1970), it was normal practice and even scholarly in some circles to see oral literature as an appendage of disciplines such as Anthropology, Folkloric Study, History, Cultural Studies, Religious Studies, and even Sociology. Oral literature was never seen as literature, not to mention being studied as literature. Today, as a result of the pioneering works of scholars like Finnegan, Okpewho, Tala, Nketia and many others, oral literature in Africa is becoming a robust and thriving field of study. In its process of evolution, it has encountered prejudice and misinterpretation by many scholars who attempt to coerce it into other non-literary disciplines.



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