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Oral Literature Notes: Songs and Oral Poems

Highlight Features of Songs and Oral Poetry

  • Repetition
  • Transliteration/ direct translation
  • Direct address/ Apostrophe
  • Short stanzas/ lines
  • Parallelism; uniformity in structure
  • Simple vocabulary.
  • Figurative language.

Stylistic Devices Used in Songs

Describe the poetic language/structure evident in songs

  • Repetition/ refrain
  • Rhetorical/ rhetoric questions
  • Similes
  • Metaphors
  • Rhythm
  • Rhyme
  • Verse form
  • Apostrophe/ Direct Address

Categories or Genres of Songs and Oral Poems

  • Work songs
  • Love songs
  • Political songs
  • Religious/ sacred songs
  • Wedding songs
  • Topical songs.
  • Initiation/ circumcision songs
  • Funeral songs/ dirges
  • War songs
  • Teasing/ satirical songs
  • Praise/ panegyric songs.
  • Lullaby songs
  • Children’s play songs/ singing games
  • Child naming songs

Love songs

  • Express love for the opposite sex; woo them.
  • They can express sorrow at being rejected.
  • Either performed by a group or individual.
  • They are romantic in nature.
  • They can involve dialogue between lovers.

Wedding songs

  • They are sung by the bride and/ or her companions.
  • They are characterized by pomp/ show and celebration.
  • They are usually accompanied by drums, shakers, jingles etc
  • Praise the pride and groom and their family.
  • Express the role of the bride and that of the groom.
  • Express sorrow of leaving home and parting with friends.
  • Warn of the challenges likely to be faced at groom’s place.
  • Enhance happy mood during the wedding time.

War songs

  • They are sung in preparation for, during and after war by warriors.
  • They are highly repetitive.
  • Express fighter’s prowess/ heroism and courage.
  • Are exaggerated.
  • May scorn/ condemn opponent.
  • Praise political leaders.
  • Sung with lots of gusto/ enthusiasm/ passion/ enjoyment/ delight/ pleasure/ zest.

Sacred songs

  • They have stanzas and a chorus.
  • They are structurally repetitive.
  • They are slow and solemn.
  • They have steady rhythm.
  • They address a supreme being and emphasize people’s helplessness.

Work songs

  • They are hardly accompanied except with sounds of work tools.
  • They are fast so as to create rhythm for work.
  • They are repeated over to last the duration of the job at hand.
  • They may extol/ praise hardwork and denounce/ condemn laziness.
  • They may ridicule/ condemn/ deride a known miser or lazy person in the community.

Initiation/ Circumcision songs

  • They are sung by initiates and elders.
  • They have elaborate accompaniments like shakers, horns, drums etc
  • They encourage the initiates to be brave.
  • They mock cowardice.
  • They emphasize the new roles of the initiates as men and women the community.
  • They appreciate forefathers of the community for upholding and bequeathing/ living this tradition for them.
  • They raise the bravery of the initiates.

Dirges/ Funeral songs

  • They are sung by mourners.
  • They are somber/ sad/ melancholic.
  • They are repetitive.
  • They may be fast or slow.
  • They are accompanied with a lot of drumming and dancing to cheer up the bereaved.
  • They express sorrow and disbelief at the loss of loved one.
  • They praise the achievement and virtues of the dead.


  • They are sung softly.
  • Are repetitive.
  • Have slow rocking rhythm.
  • Have soothing words that even lying to the child. Some lie that mother has gone away to bring the child a tantalizing/ enticing/alluring gift.

Singing games

They are short and quick-changing from song to song to avoid children getting bored.They are repetitive.They are characterized with mockery/ ridicule.Are highly playful.Are rhythmic.

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