Word! the African American Oral Tradition and Its Rhetorical Impact on American Popular Culture

By Hamlet, Janice D. | Black History Bulletin, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Word! the African American Oral Tradition and Its Rhetorical Impact on American Popular Culture


Hamlet, Janice D., Black History Bulletin


Popular culture consists of the everyday culture that comprises virtually every aspect of our existence. Its forms of expression include music, dance, literature, drama, film, poetry, language use, newspapers, radio and television, fashion, sports, and leisure activities. (1) Its major components are objects, persons, and events, but it is through the use of verbal and nonverbal symbols that popular culture is constructed and has the potential to persuade, influence, motivate, and inspire. We are surrounded every day by these constructs of popular culture.

For many years, African Americans were simply objects within popular culture whose representation tended to be quite stereotypical and problematic. So wrote Todd Boyd in his three-volume work African Americans and Popular Culture. (2) However, at a certain point, notes Boyd, African Americans attempted to harness the means of production and create their own representations instead of being represented by others. (3) As a result, the African American influence on American popular culture has been among the most sweeping and influential rhetorical impacts this nation has ever seen. African American cultural expressions have been a way of resisting racial oppression by articulating experiences of resistance and struggle and articulating oppositional identities in highly creative and dynamic ways, beginning with the oral tradition from which all other cultural forms originated. (4) Because of this dynamic, an understanding of the African and African American oral traditions is highly important for K-12 students to learn.

The oral tradition refers to stories, old sayings, songs, proverbs, and other cultural products that have not been written down or recorded. The forms of oral tradition cultures are kept alive by being passed on by word of mouth from one generation to the next. These diverse forms reveal the values and beliefs of African Americans, the things they hold to be true, and lessons about life and how to live it. (5) In African American culture, the oral tradition has served as a fundamental vehicle for cultural expression and survival. This oral tradition also preserved the cultural heritage and reflected the collective spirit of the race. It has a powerful history, beginning with Africans' preslavery existence.

Prior to enslavement in America, Africans lived in societies developed around a worldview that was predicated on highly sophisticated religious systems and an impressive oral communication style. The Africans believed in Nommo, which means the generative power of the spoken word. Nommo was believed necessary to actualize life and give man mastery over things. "All activities of men and all the movements in nature rest on the word on the productive power of the word, which is water and heat and seed and Nommo that is, life force itself ... The force, responsibility, and commitment of the word and the awareness that the word alone alters the world." In traditional African culture, newborn children are mere things until their fathers give them names and speak them. No medicine, potion, or magic of any sort is considered effective without accompanying words. So strong is the African belief in the power and absolute necessity of Nommo that all craftsmanship must be accompanied by speech. Nommo was not restricted to the spoken word in a public forum, but encompassed all communication situations. (6)

Culture was transmitted through this oral tradition. The people's cultural mores, values, histories and religions were transmitted from generation to generation by elderly individuals known as griots who were known to be excellent storytellers. These storytellers gave to their listeners narratives that contained elements of realism and magic in situations and characters with whom they were familiar. (7) They infused their storytelling with dramatic power that appealed to the emotions: it satisfied inner cravings, cloaked unrest, evoked laughter, provided solace, and fostered a temporary release from the misery of chaotic experiences. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Word! the African American Oral Tradition and Its Rhetorical Impact on American Popular Culture
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.