As in most Southern African cultures written literature is based on a great tradition of oral literature. Traditionally stories and legends were told to children by elders at night and so the past of peoples were passed on vocally. This included participation by the audience in the form of repeating certain phrases, singing or dancing. This also reminds to African theater which is often referred to as a form of interactive theater where participation by the audience is important for the success of a certain play or performance.
When told a story, a Basotho storyteller begins with "Ba re e ne re".. the listeners, to show that they are attentive have to reply with "Qooiiii".. this is a long drawn out qooi with relish and anticipation in it!
Vansina (1985) notes that the oral tradition includes a wide spectrum of themes:
News - eyewitness accounts of things that happened in a short time frame.
Verbal Art - like poetry or songs.
Memorized speech - incantations, religious poetry and sayings (sometimes even the meanings of phrases are lost but the words are still used)
Stories on the origin and genesis of the tribe
Epics - a narrative couched in poetic language
Historical accounts - tales around events of historical importance
Oral literature tend to be very dynamic and is adapted with each retelling. Only with the arrival of European missionaries in Southern Africa were oral texts written down and published. One of the most important works being Litsomo tsa Basotho (Legends of the Basotho) as published by Rev. E. Jacottet in two parts in 1909 and 1911 respectively.
Oral literature includes various folk stories such as: myths, legends, fables and folk tales.
GUMA, S.M. 1993. The Form, Content and Technique of Traditional Literature in Southern Sotho. Pretoria : Van Schaik. 215p.
VANSINA, J., 1985 Oral Tradition as History. Univ. of Wisconsin USA
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© J. Olivier (2009)