Africa's Indigenous Means of Communication

Part 1
By Sulaiman Osho
Freelance Writer- Nigeria & The UK

Africa is not only unique in customs, tradition, and culture, but also in its means of communication.

Africa as the cradle of civilization, intellectualism and humanity possess the most unique means of communication in the world despite the modern means of communication like the mass media, e.g. the new media of internet and social media of Facebook, twitter and others.

This series explores the traditional means of communication in Africa and their relevance in the contemporary world- for the sake of identifying the African traditional media and their uniqueness in modern age.

The African traditional media have come to subsist for their uniqueness, originality, and freshness based on the tradition and culture of the people.

The Ancient History of African Communication Means

Africa is not only unique in customs, tradition, and culture, but also  in its means of communication. All the means of communication originated from the earliest Africans in the old Egypt. The civilization later spread to China, India, Greece and Rome.

The uniqueness of the African means of communication is embedded in their originality, creativity, tradition and culture of the people. These essentially make them highly effective and enduring in the dissemination of information personally, inter-personally and through group communications.

However, the enduring nature of the African means of communication has actually made them to subsist in the contemporary world despite the emergence of modern mass communication channels like books, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, telex, facsimile, internet and the social media.

One continues to marvel at the continued relevance of the African indigenous media otherwise, known as: African traditional media, Folk Media, or OraMedia, despite the manifestation of Marshall McLuhan’s theory of ‘Global Village’ in the contemporary world.

Indeed, the electronic media has re-socialized the world into a single global village by reducing the transmission of information by time and space. McLuhan declares:

After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the western world is imploding. During the mechanical ages, we had extended our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.

Rapidly we approach the final phase of the extensions of man – the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society.     Western man acquired from the technology of literacy the power to act without reacting… But our detachment was a posture of non-involvement. In the electric age, when our whole nervous system is technologically extended to involve us in the whole of mankind and to incorporate the whole of mankind in us, we necessarily participate, in depth, in the consequences of our every action.

It is important to note that the manifestation of the ‘Global Village’ theory today is the inevitable indispensability of the” oral culture” of the OraMedia which Africa continues to pride itself as the inventor.

Really, the African OraMedia like the use of gongs, drum beats, town criers, puppet shows, dance, singing and masks actually influenced the Greek and the Roman civilizations (Scannell,2009) which Harold Adams Innis, a Canadian economic historian of the 1940s, who influenced the thoughts of McLuhan, describes as the best means of communication that will be enduring. According to Innis (1950):

The civilization of the Greeks is underpinned by the ‘oral tradition’, while Roman imperialism is underpinned by writing. This distinction is strongly normative. (It is called Bias of Communication). Oral cultures are praised for their power and vitality, their freshness and elasticity, in contrast with ‘the dead of written tradition’ that threatens to destroy the spirit of Western man.

Despite the dominant nature of ‘mass culture’ and ‘cultural imperialism’, the OraMedia has continued to endure.

The enduring nature of the OraMedia is best understood and appreciated when we realize that Africa remains an oppressed and suppressed continent in the shackles of imperialistic eras of:

  • Exploration
  • Slavery
  • Slave Trade
  • Scramble and Partition
  • Colonialism
  • Nationalism
  • Independence
  • Neo-Colonialism, and
  • Globalization

These have brought greater challenges to the peoples of Africa and their means of traditional communications to endure in the face of the Western organs of mass communication and their attendant technologies to further oppress the world politically, economically, and socio-culturally.

Despite the dominant nature of ‘mass culture’ and ‘cultural imperialism’, the OraMedia has continued to endure. This might perhaps been further motivated by the nationalistic movements of negritude, pan-Africanism, and the African personality. But quite humbly and honestly, OraMedia has been sustained through its originality and resilience in the face of neo-colonialism and imperialism.

Presented At: Seminar on Cultural Diplomacy In Africa (CDA), and International Conference on Cultural Diplomacy In Africa – Strategies to Confront The Challenges of the 21st Century: Does Africa Have What is Required?Organized By: Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD), Germany.

Sulaiman Osho is a Doctoral Candidate, specialized in Media and Multiculturalism. He is a freelance writer for OnIslam.net's pages.

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