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Oral Literature: Research in Living Traditions



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


Language of instruction: English

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



Mode of instruction


Course load

Total course load for this course is 5 EC (1 EC = 28 hours), this equals 140 hours, broken down by:

  • Attending classes: 26 hrs

  • Assessment hours (take-home-exam): 4 hrs

  • Time for studying the compulsory literature: 65 hrs

  • Time for completing assignments: 45 hrs.

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.


Blackboard will be used to provide information on the syllabus, required readings, power points by the lecturers and other. Blackboard

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 questions about the content of the course, please contact the teacher: Annachiara Raia

Coordinator of Studies: P.C. Lai LL.M. MSc

Education Administration Office: van Wijkplaats