Oral Tradition

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Lance Kennedy
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Oral Tradition

Post by Lance Kennedy » Sun Sep 09, 2018 11:32 pm

https://www.bloomsbury.com/au/the-edge- ... 472943262/

There are many indigenous peoples who claim that their oral traditions are accurate. These are stories passed down through the generations in the time before writing was available. I am very, very skeptical.

The reference above is a book which claims accuracy for Australian aboriginal stories going back to end of the last ice age. The author claims that the stories accurately describe the flooding of the land as the ice melts. I am seriously skeptical. Those stories have many other possible explanations including simply being a description of the tide coming in.

Have you ever played the game of Chinese whispers ?
This is often played by children at school. A line of children are formed. A simple statement is told to the child on one end of the line, and that child tells it to the next, who tells it to the next, and so on right to the end of the line. After as few as ten repeats, the final statement is usually totally different to the first.

Yet indigenous peoples claim accuracy over a thousand years or more. In my country, the native Maori people believe fervently in the accuracy of oral history. Yet the data tells another story.

For example, the first European ship to visit New Zealand was Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642. He anchored off a bay and encountered the Maori. The encounter was traumatic and violent, ending with cannons fired and two white men killed, with their bodies captured (and probably eaten). When the next Europeans visited the same tribe, this time with interpreters to permit conversation, 127 years had passed. The Maori had totally forgotten the first encounter, despite it being only 5 generations, and highly traumatic . Yet the Maori (and other indigenous people) claim to have passed down accurate information by word of mouth over 1000 years (40 generations) or more.

It is, of course, not politically correct to disbelieve in the exaggerated statements of the capabilities of indigenous people. Am I the only one to be appropriately skeptical .

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Re: Oral Tradition

Post by ElectricMonk » Mon Sep 10, 2018 7:01 am

My beef is with the suggestion that oral tradition should aim at being accurate in the first place.
Arguably, a society based on re-told tales is far more flexible than one based on written words: just re-phrase and tweak the stories you were told as a kid to emphasis those bits you want to pass on to your children and suppress the now considered bad bits.
As Lance said, it would be unrealistic to assume that such stories would survive the ages even if accuracy was the objective.
I would argue that it never was.

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Re: Oral Tradition

Post by TJrandom » Mon Sep 10, 2018 8:44 am

Memories change with age and with each retelling since the act of retelling reinforces the last `memory`, no matter how different from the first.