Art, Society, and Performance: Igede Praise Poetry

Art, Society, and Performance: Igede Praise Poetry

Art, Society, and Performance: Igede Praise Poetry

Art, Society, and Performance: Igede Praise Poetry


"This is the first detailed study in African oral literature that examines the complementary elements of praise and criticism in traditional oral poetry.... One of the few studies today that give us an insight into the folklore of less well known African communities, as against the vast majority of works that concentrate on larger groups like the Yoruba.... There is a freshness about this work that recommends it greatly" -- Isidore Okpewho, Suny-Binghamton

"A very important and welcome addition to the growing scholarship on song traditions in Africa". -- Helen Nabasuta Mugambi, California State University, Fullerton

Conventionally, scholars of oral literature have studied works of praise and criticism as distinct from one another. Ogede examines the ways in which praise and criticism work in tandem in the oral performance of the Igede of West Africa. He explains how they are used in negotiating social relationships and in navigating the political, religious, and spiritual spheres. He further demonstrates how oral performance among the Igede is not the exclusive preserve of any particular group but is ultimately a means of public expression, available to and employed by all in dealing with powerful emotions and events.

Ogede focuses on the minority Igede of Nigeria's Benue State in order to extend the study of oral literature beyond such familiar majority ethnic groups as the Yoruba, Igbo, and Zulu. By drawing from work by leading oral artists and younger composers, he examines how oral materials are created and transmitted among the unlettered Igede, how they vary from one performance to another, and how mutual influences between the audience and the artist are essential to thepower of the oral performance.


This book makes a joint study of praise songs and vilification songs. Songs of eulogy exist side by side with the opposite, songs of reproach or vilification; and so, I argue that their combined analysis constitutes the best approach to studying praise songs. Scholars have tended to treat praise and rebuke as if the two were separate entities and, in particular, have given attention to praise song, while too often ignoring its twin component of reproof. In his recent study African Oral Literature, Isidore Okpewho singularly accords recognition to the coexistence of praise and vilification, when he observes that "[a] great deal of critical spirit is embodied in African oral literature. Some of it is to be found even within what generally passes as praise poetry" (147). But a detailed exploration of the practical and theoretical ramifications of this phenomenon is yet to be accomplished.

The impression that the practice of praising stands apart from the desire to defame is erroneous, for while praise satisfies a universal and fundamental human need--the need to give or receive adoration, recognition, or exaltation--the reverse, tongue-lashing, also satisfies the human need to withdraw compliment or commendation. Both appeal directly to the intellectual and emotional faculties of people, and the two almost always go hand in hand. They touch the very nerve of being and reveal the contradictory nature of life. The song mode provides a particularly effective means for the articulation of accolade and castigation. Among the Igede people the urge to admonish or vilify, like the desire to praise, is accepted as a process by which one gives honest appraisal of the behavior of others or of any context in which one finds oneself. Those who live in cultures where people are more discrete or less forthright in expressing opinion may need to be reminded of this: one of the most cherished values of traditional societies is the courage to uphold and express a view-

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