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Oral Literature Notes-Narratives Comprehensive Notes

Definition: oral literature is Spoken, acted and performed art whose main focus is presentation or performance.

Genres, categories, forms, types, kinds, classes or classification of oral literature.

Oral literature items are divided into

  • Narratives
  • Songs or Oral Poems
  • Riddles
  • Tongue twisters
  • Puns
  • Jokes, Mchongoano
  • Proverbs

State the Features of ORALITY in Narratives

  1. Timelessness: The exact time when narrative took place is not mentioned, or is impossible to determine- Narratives do not exist in a real / human timeline

It is indicated by the presence of opening formula such as Once upon a time, A Long time ago, There once lived…

2. Elements of fantasy: They have elements/ aspects of imagination; things beyond the experience of a normal human being; for instance animals or inanimate objects talking. This level of personification is specific to Oral literature

3. Moral lessons: Narratives have teachings (virtues/morals) drawn from them. They should be given positively. For instance, we should be honest. ~They are didactic in nature

4. Direct Address/ direct speech:  Speaker talks directly to another person, animal or inanimate object (apostrophe).

5. Opening formula in Oral Narratives

Examples … Long ago…. Once upon a time…. There lived…. In the olden days….

Functions of opening formula:

  • It announces the start of the narrative.
  • It attracts the attention of the audience.
  • It identifies the narrator.
  • It takes the audience to the world of fantasy.

6. Closing/ ending formula examples

  • That is the end of my story.
  • And that is my story.
  • Thereafter and they lived happily.
  • My story ends there.

Functions of closing formula in Narratives

  • It announces the end of the narrative.
  • It releases the audience from concentration.
  • It paves way for the next narrative.
  • It brings back the audience to the world of reality.

7. Ideophones and Onomatopoeia:

Use of actual natural sounds in which the words are not found in the dictionary. For instance, krrrr…Ouch! Hahaha…, tap tap tap…. 

8. Dialogue

Conversation between characters is evident in narratives.

This is to make it live, real and captivating.                                       

  • Personification: Human qualities/ attributes are given to animals or inanimate objects. For instance, stone talking or hare laughing.
  • Repetition/ Refrain/ Chorus/ Repetition of action: Aspects of repetition of words, phrases, clauses or sentences are evident in order to:
  • Emphasize on certain point(s), concept(s), issue(s), topic(s) or idea(s).
  • It also creates rhythm in the narrative.
  • It gives mood to the narrative.
  • Use of local/ ethnic words: Use of vernacular language i.e Wat, ‘Mikai, Misumba, chik, dak’ in order;
  • Give the narrative a local flavour/ beauty.
  • Provide setting; place where the story was set.
  • Mimicry: Imitation of words or sounds of other characters.
  • Use of proverbs: This is in order to precisely/ briefly capture the moral lesson of the narrative.
  • Use of songs: This is in order to;
  • Allows the audience to participate in singing.
  • Creates rapport between the audience and the singer.
  • Breaks the monotony of narration.
  • It acts as a code/ system of communication between characters.
  • It allows as a comic relief; makes audiences laugh hence relieving tension.
  • Sets the mood of the narrative.
  • Allows smooth transition between scenes. 
  • Lack geographical specificity: Narratives lack exact mention of particular places where the story is set. It just uses words such as:
  • Far far away.
  • In a distant place.

Oral Literature: Types/Genres of Narratives Notes

State at least key characteristics of the 8 sub-genres/ sub-categories of oral narratives.


  • They are historical.
  • Based on community hero/ heroine.
  • Hero/ heroine have supernatural powers/ abilities.
  • True in nature.
  • Hero/ heroine usually sacrifices a lot on behalf of the community.
  • Have a moral lesson.


  • Are sacred/ religious.
  • Tell about origin of a community; certain beliefs and customs.
  • There is reference to superhuman being/ Involve superhuman being.
  • Based on history of a community.

Dilemma tales/ narratives

  • Protagonist has to make a tough choice.
  • None of the choice is easy to make.
  • Protagonist usually regrets the choice made.
  • Always ends with a question.
  • Have a moral lesson.

Aetiological or Explanatory narratives:

  • Explain the origin of natural phenomena/ occurrences.
  • Explain why things are the way they are.
  • Deal with the question: Why?
  • Heavily rely on the cultural background of the community.
  • Have a moral lesson.

Trickster narratives/ tales/ stories

  • Involve treachery/ deceit/ cunning; trickster tricks another, dupe is tricked.
  • Involve small versus big animals.
  • Small animals are usually intelligent and cunning.
  • Big animals are usually mighty but gullible and foolish.
  • Test brain (intelligence) versus brawn (strength/ power)
  • Small animals always trick the big animals.
  • Have moral lesson.

Ogre/ monster narratives

  • Involve interaction between ogres/ monsters and human beings.
  • Involve creatures from human imagination and fantasy (unreality).
  • Creatures have the ability turn themselves into human forms.
  • Creatures always take advantage of the vulnerable/ weak in the society.
  • Monsters/ ogres are pursued/ hunted by heroes/ heroines.
  • Teach a moral lesson.


  • Involve animal characters.
  • The animal characters give human qualities and attributes (traits) – personified.
  • Derived from particular backgrounds.
  • Politely teach social norms/ standards/ rules.
  • Teach a moral lesson.


  • Have a religious allusion/ reference.
  • Used to teach a moral lesson.
  • Are a form of education.
  • Use human characters.

Oral Literature Notes: Riddles and Riddling Process

Which are the various stages in a riddling process? It is also called a riddling cycle

  1. Invitation – Challenger draws the attention of audience using an opening formula, for instance: ‘Have a riddle.’
  2. Acceptance– Respondent responds or accepts to take the challenge, for instance: ‘Throw it.’
  3. Challenge/Riddle – Challenger poses/ gives the challenge (riddle) itself.
  4. Guesses or answers– Respondents try to answer; provide guesses.
  5. Prize – Challenger asks for a prize in order to provide a solution in cases where respondents fail to answer it correctly. The prize is given, challenger finally accepts it.
  6. Response– Challenger gives the right answer. (KCSE 2020 rejected Solution)

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