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Oral Literature: Research in Living Traditions


Admission requirements

‘N.B. Course descriptions are subject to change’



The course uses texts on performance theories and methods as orienting framework besides concentrating on a selection of cases studies of various genres of verbal arts performed by different artists from all over Africa, Islamic Asia and Mediterranean area.
More specifically, the course will follow two trajectories: in order to understand text as an aesthetic experience for poet and audience, the course focuses on how to analyse the actual delivery of performances in Africa and by African story-tellers or artists. Secondly, it takes into consideration the relationship of the performer, audience and the context in a comparative perspective through the analysis of shared oral texts in different cultural contexts (i.e. ijala chantings in Yorubaland vis à vis Cuba and Brazil, Swahili and Indian taarab music, Arabic qasidas in Egypt and Indonesia).
With the knowledge acquired during the course, ATC students will write their paper when they are in Africa in the second semester (see “Werkstuk Afrika”). All the other students write their paper and submit it three weeks after the course. The required length of the paper is 10 pages.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of the course, students will:
1. Situate an oral performance within its cultural and socio-historical context;
2. Acquire critical knowledge of theories and methods of analysis of oral literature, performance and improvisation;
3. Acquire and practice techniques of text transcription and translation;
4. Acquire and practice techniques of ‘visual’ description of the performance and the context of performance;
5. Develop critical thinking and communication skills in presentations and essays


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

  • Take-home exam 15%

  • oral presentation 15%

  • final paper 70%

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

The following list is indicative. Please consult the syllabus and the course shelf for more detailed information.

  • Barber, K. (2007). The Anthropology of Texts, Persons and Publics Publics: Oral and Written Culture in Africa and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press).

  • Bascom, W. (1976). “Ọba's Ear: A Yoruba Myth in Cuba and Brazil” in Research in African Literatures, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Autumn, 1976), pp. 149-165

  • Doane, A. N. (1994), ‘The Ethnography of Scribal Writing and Anglo-Saxon Poetry: Scribe as Performer’, Oral Tradition, 9,2: 420-439.

  • Eisenberg, Andrew J. (2017). “The Swahili Art of Indian Taarab: A Poetics of Vocality and Ethnicity on the Kenyan Coast” in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, 2017, Vol.37(2), p.336

  • Finnegan, R. (1992). Oral Tradition and the Verbal Arts, Routledge: London and New York, 1992, chap. 9 (Texts in process), pp. 186-213.

  • Honko, L. (2000). Textualization of Oral Epics, Berlin ; New York : Mouton de Gruyter

  • Merolla, D., J. Jansen, K. Naït-Zerrad (2012). Multimedia research and documentation of oral genres in Africa : the step forward. München [etc.] : Lit Verlag

  • Orsini, F. (2015). Tellings and texts : music, literature and performance in North India. Cambridge: Schofield, Katherine Butler editor.

  • Schecher, R & A. Willa (1990). By means of Performance By means of performance : intercultural studies of theatre and ritual. Cambridge [etc.] : Cambridge University Press.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Reuvensplaats