Oral Traditions

Oral narratives    

An oral narrative is a form (genre) of oral literature. It refers to prose account of people, events and places which may be factual or fictional. An oral narrative is passed down from one generation to another through a word of mouth. It is also referred to as a folktale. Characteristics include plot, characters, conflict, setting and point of view.

Oral tradition was and still is very important among the Kalenjin. Prior to the introduction of writing, folktales served to convey a sense of cultural history. The Kalenjin have four oral traditions: stories, songs, proverbs and riddles.

Stories are usually about both people and animals and certain animals are thought to have particular character traits, e.g. the hare is a trickster figure whose cleverness can get him in trouble, the lion is courageous and wise, and the hyena is greedy and destructive.

There is a lot to learn from oral narratives which include history and science. In traditional set-up it was done by elders, especially at night before bed time. This helped to maintain cultural heritage and was also done as a fun activity.

Nowadays, oral narratives have been written down, with some written down exactly as they were told. When you read their stories, you sound like a storyteller. Oral narratives are best when you can see and hear the storytellers. A talented storyteller can make an oral narrative come to life.

Oral poetry and epics    

Oral epics were products of preliterate societies and oral history poetic traditions. Oral tradition was used alongside written scriptures to communicate and facilitate the spread of culture. In those traditions poetry is transmitted to the audience and from performer to performer by purely oral means.

Epic poems are lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily involving a time beyond living memory in which occurred the extraordinary doings of extraordinary men and women who in dealings with the gods or other super human forces, gave shape to the moral universe for their descendants the poet and his audience to understand themselves as a people or a nation.

Another type of epic poetry is epyllion which is a brief narrative poem with a romantic or mythological theme.  The term which means little epic came into use in the 19th century. It refers primarily to the erudite, shorter hexameter poems of Hellenistic period.

Poetry just like oral narratives helped curb the pervasive moral decadence by emphasizing the crucial role of traditional literature in every facet of their lives. It helped people from degenerating into child molesters and perpetrators of various forms of violence in the community.

The utterances whose composition and performance exhibit to an appreciable degree the artistic characteristics of accurate observation, vivid imagination, and indigenous expression served a clear role in the community.

Proverbs and sayings    

Paremiology which is the study of proverbs and paremiography which is the collection of proverbs has attracted a number of scholars in the course of history. These scholars have been interested in different aspects of proverbs from the use and function to the meaning and origin of proverbs.

Proverbs convey important messages and are often used when elders settle disputes or advise youths. Its intention is to inform the audience of something.  The audience has to recognize the informative intention. By producing an ostensive stimulus, the communicator encourages her audience to presume that it is relevant enough to be worth processing.

Proverbs and sayings come in few words yet they inform a lot.  They can also be studied in different angles such that one can bring out many features by juts using a single proverb. Proverbs are fascinating and sometimes mind trigging. Some proverbs are unique to a community but there are others that are common across cultures. For example,

English: Do not cry over spilled milk

Swahili: Maji yakimwagika hayazoleki

Keiyo:  Makirirchini chego che kakopa

The meaning in the above proverb is that some situations are irreversible, hence once they have happened the best thing is to just accept.

Proverbs play a vital role in a society. They are used to summarize an experience or an observation. They are also used during speeches and religious functions. In addition, they are used to teach, advise and warn.

Jokes, tongue twisters, epigrams and puns    

A joke refers to the display of humour in which words are used in a specific and well defined narrative structure to provoke laughter or cause amusement, and is not meant to be taken seriously. It is usually short and culminates in a final sentence called the punchline, that lets the audience know of the conflicting meaning, irony or sarcasm intended.

Tongue twisters basically are a sequence of words, a sentence or expression that is very difficult to pronounce quickly and correctly. For example,

            Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper.

This is because of a succession of similar consonantal sounds.

An epigram is a short saying or poem which expresses an idea in a very clever and amusing way. Often satirical having a witty and ingenious ending. They supply indirect commentary on a turn of events without naming or tagging the victims intended.

A pun is a clever and amusing use of words with two meanings for a humorous effect. It brings out two or more of the possible applications of the word or words used. For example, you have an experience in a larger frame, pun intended.


A riddle is a question, a puzzle, a phrase, or a statement devised to get unexpected or clever answers. It is a verbal play or joke deliberately worded and presented as a problem to be solved.

Riddles show the playful nature of language in an easy and manageable form. It usually involves two or more plyers and the key to solving it is to realize that one of the words is being used in a surprising or unexpected way.

Types of riddles that people can create are enigma and conundrum riddles.

Enigmas are types of riddles that employ the use of allegorical or metaphorical devices; they usually involve critical thinking and ingenuity on the solvers behalf. Example: I have a tail and a body, but I am not a snake. What am I? (Answer: Coin)

Conundrum is a riddle that relies on the use of puns to achieve its desired effect. Example: What kind of tree can you carry in your hand? (Answer: Palm tree)

The main function of riddles is often to entertain the audience. But they serve other purposes. For instance, they allow for deeper thinking concerning issues and allow questions to arise. They also act as conversation starters. Riddles sometimes hold hidden truth that requires one to think deeply than just at the answer.