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Oral Tradition: Do Storytellers Lie?

Isidore Okpewho
Journal of Folklore Research
Vol. 40, No. 3 (Sep. - Dec., 2003), pp. 215-232
Published by: Indiana University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3814909
Page Count: 18
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Oral Tradition: Do Storytellers Lie?
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Abstract

One of the challenges that narrators face is the critical reception of their accounts by the audience. While the narrator is inevitably subject to the imaginative and emotive pressures of the narrative material, the audience tends to take a more rational view of the artistic choices the narrator makes in his effort to construct a convincing account. The "aesthetic discrepancy" that seems to exist between narrator and audience leads some listeners to feel that the narrator is lying. Some scholars have questioned the usefulness of such accounts in the construction of a people's history. Okpewho addresses the issue by examining a tale he recorded in Nigeria from the narrator Charles Simayi about a contest between two men for a chieftaincy title. In making himself one of the judges in that contest, Simayi draws misgivings from one of his listeners about Simayi's touted role in the event. Okpewho examines this act of self-insertion against the background of similar evidence in various African countries and elsewhere in the world, and sees in it a narrator who "feels committed enough to the interests of his society to take a subjective stand in interrogating them. What is at play in such narratives is not so much an abstract concept of truth, as the right of the individual to review the facts of historical experience in the context of contemporary realities."

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