African Languages and Oral Literatures: Video Documentation and Digital Materials

The Verba Africana series aims at producing DVDs for the video documentation, research and e-learning of African languages and oral literatures. The idea underlying this project is that both textual content and visual performance are essential for the classification, description and interpretation of African verbal arts as well as for the comprehension of their aesthetic quality and reception.

African oral poems, epics and tales, but also proverbs, prayers, incantations and a variety of other oral genres, have been collected and written down to offer material for linguistic, literary and anthropological analyses. As a result, a large amount of ‘oral texts’ in African languages (and their translation in European languages) is nowadays available for research and teaching. However, these ‘oral texts’ are written transcriptions, and, in the printed form, the characteristic orality given by the ‘live’ performance of oral genres fades away. What gets lost in the written form are the intonation and the gestuality, along with the eventual musical accompaniment, the interactions between performer and audience, the clothing and scenography, and the context of the performance.

A number of such elements can be recorded on video. Video recording can indeed support the documentation as well as the study and presentation of oral aspects that we miss when dealing exclusively with the written transcription and translation of oral languages and oral literary genres. This series responds to the increasing need for new electronic tools that can integrate the written and audio-visual materials for research, teaching and learning of African languages and oral literatures.

The materials presented by Verba Africana have received various and often contested generalizing labels, such as Oral Literature, Verbal Arts, Oral History, and Folklore. In the series, the terms Oral Literature and Verbal Arts are used interchangeably.

This is an educational series. Any quotations or fragments cited from Verba Africana should indicate author(s), storyteller(s), the series’ name and director.