Brilliant Open Book! It means that for the first time in — wow am I that
old (but not quite demented yet) — in over forty years, people in Africa
have a real chance to read Oral Literature in Africa (if they want to: many don’t
of course, but an amazing number, it seems, actually do). Long live Open
Access! Despite the stuffy stuffed dismissals (sorry, mixed metaphors
and all, but too bad pedants and Olde Tyme Publishers), throw open the
windows, let in the golden open air, forbid the shuttering!
Meaning what? Well, one of the best things in my life (blessings again, ye
OpenBookers) was attending a conference on oral literature about a year
ago. It was in Grahamstown, South Africa (Rhodes University, always one of
the leading liberal universities even in apartheid times, and the home and
learning arena for many years for the heroic (every sense), Xhosa
protagonist and scholar Jeff Opland).
At the conference I (me!) was introduced by the organiser in a wonderful
eulogy, praised in the drums too (luckily I had some clue about how to
respond even if mine was only a little jig-jog). I was told — oh
amazingly, but everyone clapped!! — that I was “the mother of African oral
Well what else could I do with that ocean of enthusiastic faces looking at
me, hundreds of them: “No, NOT the mother … ” (no doubt they all
thought I was going to be suitably modest, English -pretend-wise-style.
Hrrm the opposite), “not the mother. The grandmother. And you are all
my grandchildren, the ones to take us further”. I must have got
something right — I meant it too —- because they had, and do, and will
again. Countless generations. Can y’think of a greater blessing for an
attempted pioneer scholar?
And now, these last eighteen months, a very different blessing, but
equally, so it seems to me, from Africa.
The Black Inked Pearl.
And — what more African — born in dreams. ALL of it.
And like other African genre-breaking novels a thorough mix: fiction,
prose, don’t, outlandish impossible orthography and syntax, prophecy,
philosophy and theology (yes!), riddle, poetry — I could go on.
Have you ever come across anything like it? The dreams? The style? Have a
look and see. To my amazement (it must be the mixed anthropological,
Homeric and Irish as well as African roots) after just 4 days on Amazon
it’s climbing the rankings (all right, by the time you get there it’s
sure to’ve fallen down again, but still! For me, an academic
And do tell: anyone else out there besides Coleridge, Tartini and
Tavener (Einstein too if we’re to believe what he says) had their best
work “sent” (only word that seems to fit) in dreams? And if so (or
even if not so) where on earth or not-earth do they come from? And as
I do need to know …
Coo-ee for now, taa-ra.
RF, in Old Bletchley, at the start of autumn, the first day of September
in the year 2015
Ruth Finnegan’s Oral Literature in Africa was first published in 1970, and since then has been widely praised as one of the most important books in its field. Based on years of fieldwork, the study traces the history of storytelling across the continent of Africa. Since publication, this book has been viewed 76,926 times on OBP’s website. It has been accessed more in Africa than in any other continent. Read it here.
You can also watch an excellent video introduction to the second book Ruth Finnegan has published with OBP, Why Do We Quote? The Culture and History of Quotation: