Oral history, in the context of a culture or society, refers to that culture or society’s passing on of cultural information from generation to generation through oral communication.
The passing on of cultural information is considered as an important and natural aspect of any society, especially when considering that such an aspect relates strongly to the integrity and progress of the society.
The progress of a society depends on how well it is able to maintain a body of knowledge gained from the collective experiences of the members of society, in order to support future decisions and to avoid mistakes or failures experienced by the society in the past.
A society can have a variety of means of passing on cultural information, such as by way of writing or by way of singing, storytelling, etc. In the case of oral history, the main means is used for passing on cultural information to the younger generations is oral communication. Oral history involves the use of different kinds of oral communication, such as singing and storytelling. Also, oral history does not include the use of written language.
Oral History as Oral Tradition among Hoopa Valley Indians
In oral history, the emphasis is on the oral tradition or cultural characteristics of a society. In the case of the Hoopa Valley Indians, for example, oral tradition is used as a means of transmitting information about the traditions and ceremonies of the tribe, in order to ensure that these ceremonies and traditions are performed in a way that is very similar to the way they were performed by the tribe’s ancestors.
Oral history can serve as a rich channel that can properly transmit detailed information about ceremonies and traditions. Oral history presents the opportunity for a society to continue to maintain its cultural characteristics and cultural information through the use of oral history as the information is passed on from the older generations to the younger generations.
Oral History as a Type of Oral Communication in the Tribe of Goa in India
Oral history can also take the form of only on specific type of oral communication. Oral history can be done through singing, chanting, poetry, or storytelling. In spite of such variety of methods through which oral history can be used, it is also possible to use only one method for a society. For example, the forest tribe of Goa in India makes use of only folk songs as a way of transmitting cultural information over the generations. This tribe does not have any written language and does not significantly use any other way of transmitting cultural information. The tribe does not use storytelling as a way of transmitting cultural information over the generations. Thus, it is possible to use oral history in a very limited way and still be able to effectively transmit valuable information about the society and its culture.
The case of the forest tribe of Goa shows that oral history, in spite of its limitations, can prove to be effective in continuing the passing on of cultural knowledge through the years. The case of the forest tribe of Goa also shows that oral history does not necessarily have to be highly complex; it is possible to have oral history using only singing, such as in the form of folk songs, and still be able to effectively pass on cultural information to younger generations.
Oral History as Limited Communication in the Iowa Tribe
The lack of use of written language and the limitation to oral communication can have limitations on the kinds of information that can be passed on from generation to generation. This is especially so because oral communication is not necessarily as detailed as written communication and oral communication cannot hold as much technical information as written communication.
In addition, oral communication comes with the risk of misunderstanding and forgetting of some details as the information gets passed on from person to person. In the case of the Iowa Tribe, oral history occurs in the form of oral language and songs. The Iowa tribe has been experiencing some issues in the loss of its language, especially when considering that the tribe has been making contact with various groups, including non-native populations in the United States.
The result is that the tribe has been losing some of the details of its cultural information passed on via oral history. Oral history has its own limits and comes with the risks of possible loss of information over time. There may also be significant changes in information as it gets passed on from generation to generation. For instance, the misinterpretations of the younger generations about the cultural information passed on as oral history can accumulate over time, thereby leading to a situation in which such cultural information has already undergone significant changes relative to the original information that came from the tribe’s ancestors.
Oral history is an important aspect of societies. In the case of the three tribes examined in this paper, it is shown that oral history makes use of oral communication, and that oral history can be an effective way of transmitting cultural information through the years from generation to generation. However, oral history has its own limitations and the improper use of oral history can result in undesirable changes and possible loss of valuable information about a society’s culture. Nonetheless, through careful use of oral history, a society can continue to pass on valuable cultural information to younger generations.
- Goankar, D. (2015). Need To Preserve – A Tribe’s Oral History. [Opens in New Window]
- Hoopa Valley Indian Tribe (2015). The Hoopa People. [Opens in New Window]
- Iowas of Oklahoma (2015). Oral History and Language. [Opens in New Window]