Achebe, Ong, orality and literacy

Consider that Chinua Achebe’s novel No Longer at Ease (1960), which draws directly on Ibo oral tradition in West Africa, provides “abundant instances of thought patterns of orally educated characters”. (Ong, 2002: 35) As Ong observes, Achebe’s work relates the experiences of speakers who “reflect, with high intelligence and sophistication, on the situations in which they find themselves involved”. (ibid)

Many expressions in oral cultures have been created, maintained and developed over generations to retain cultural integrity and enable progression. Ong also offers the following, with respect to progression or regression (depending on one’s perspective) within and from primarily orally educated communities: “Knowledge is hard to come by and precious, and society regards highly those wise old men and women who specialize in conserving it, who know and can tell the stories of the days of old. By storing knowledge outside the mind, writing and, even more, print downgrade the figures of the wise old man and the wise old woman, repeaters of the past, in favor of younger discoverers of something new.” (ibid: 41)


Achebe, Chinua. No Longer at Ease (London: Heinemann, 1960)

Ong, Walter J. Orality and Literacy; The Technologizing of the Word (London: Routledge, 2002)

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