Oramedia – African means of Communication in a Contemporary World

Below you find an extract of a paper that was presented at the 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?
The author of the text is Sulaiman A. Osho –  from Nigeria and Doctoral Candidate on Media and Multiculturalism at the Al-Maktoum College, University of Aberdeen, UK. The seminar was organised by the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD) in Berlin, Germany, July 11 – 17, 2011.
The complete article is also published at africanoutlookonline.com.

African Traditional Media

The African traditional media are the indigenous means of communication in the various countries of the second largest continent in the world. They reflect in the various talking drums, the folk songs, drama, festivals, town criers, traditional wears, the artifacts, art works, paintings, stories, and among others cultural architecture that reflects in the palaces, shrines, and African cities, towns and villages. But by the thought of Wilson (1999), Oramedia or traditional media ‘are the local means of communication that remain what essentially sustain the information needs of the population which represents over 70 per cent of the national population in the rural areas’.

This definition is quite apt to demonstrate oramedia as enduring, sustaining, and inevitable in the modern world as they represent the culture and tradition of the people. Even the UNESCO Commission on Communication recognises the age-long introduction of indigenous media and their relevance in contemporary world. According to MacBride et al (1981:47), ‘Traditional media or oramedia are body languages and other non-verbal languages being used in the traditional societies for millennia for a variety of purposes, their validity and importance today, despite obvious limitations. The messages and ideas are transmitted by means of itinerant dance and mime groups, puppet shows and other folk media which serve not only to entertain but to influence attitudes and behaviour’.

It is important to note that oramedia are highly effective than all other means of communication because they are interactive, inter-personal, combines verbal communications with non-verbal codifications, and they are simple, natural and less expensive. The high content of non-verbal in the oramedia actually makes them to be more effective because non-verbal communicates the mind more than verbal. When anybody wants to lie, it is non-verbal that readily contradicts the verbal lies. Really, Hall (1959) corroborates this position that ‘non-verbal codes speak louder than words and shout the truth where words lie.’

However, on the efficacy of non-verbal , Mehrabian (1981) confirms in his research findings that, ’93 per cent of meaning in a conversation is conveyed non-verbally; 38 per cent through the voice and 55 per cent through the face’.

One unique thing about oramedia is the immediate feedback, which makes communication to be effective. In fact, a research conducted by Birdwhistell (1974) attests to this that, ‘research has shown that 65 per cent of all social meaning in face-to-face communication is conveyed through non-verbal stimuli, while verbal stimuli account for no more than 35 per cent’.

Indeed, oramedia are highly effective in the dissemination of information among the peoples of Africa. They are embedded in the cultural values and tradition of the people through body language, signs, and objects. According to MacBride et al (1981:3, 47), ‘starting with the simplest vocal and gestural signals rooted in their physical structure, human beings developed a whole range of non-verbal means for conveying messages: music and dance; drum messages, signal fires, drawings and other forms of graphic symbols, including the pictogram, followed by the ideogram, important especially because it associated with the representation of an object with an abstract idea…facial expression, gesture, mime, dance, images, music, songs, drawings, paintings, sculptures, sport…of special value are lip reading and sign languages used by millions of handicapped persons’.

Indeed, oramedia is culturally based as it is natural with the tradition and customs of the people. It involves their language, dialect, individual occupation or family occupation or communal occupation. So, people of another culture may not necessarily understand the message within a particular oramedia, because it is culturally situated and conditioned.

Uniqueness of Oramedia In Modern Age

It is important to explore the uniqueness of oramedia in the contemporary world. They include the following:

  1. Traditional: Oramedia are traditional means of communication in Africa as they are transmitted from one generation to the other. People grew up with them, and they get accustomed to them in their day-to-day interactions. So, they are bound to be with the people till eternity. When you seek to separate a people from the oramedia, you are attempting to exterminate them from the faces of the earth.
  2. Language: Oramedia are both verbal and non-verbal means of communication which make them more appealling , effective, and understandable.
  3. Alternative Media: The indigenous media in Africa serves as alternative media in the modern age because for messages to properly get to the grassroot, the people must be linked up through the oramedia. Hence, traditional rulers across Africa even in big cities like Lagos, Cairo, Cape Town, Nairobi, Abeokuta and others still use the Town Criers to announce festivals, restrictions, and traditional ceremonies. This is being done in the face of the mass media and the new media that are still elitist among the few. It is oramedia that reinforces the information they get from the mass media because the market women and others have the opportunity of asking questions directly from the representatives of the traditional ruler, the Town Crier who brought the message. Indeed, the ‘medium is the message’. (McLuhan,1964).
  4. Culture: The oramedia are derived from the culture and way of life of the people. Hence, it is enduring and effective.
  5. Less Expensive: The traditional media is less expensive, as it costs less to send messages and to receive. It contradicts the new media and the mass media that takes toll on your lean purse every second. The more you are on your laptop, handtop, or handset communicating online or talking, the more you are paying for the service. It is not so with oramedia.
  6. Uses Indigenous technology: The folk media uses indigenous technology which can be improved upon by our Engineers and Traditional experts in the transmission and reception of information which are peculiar to the way of life of the people.
  7. Communal: The oramedia are communal in nature because they are used within the confines and understanding of a particular people, tribe or ethnic.
  8. Credible: The people believe in the messages of the traditional media more than the exogenous media or the new media.
  9. Easy Understanding: The messages that are being transmitted through the traditional media are easy to understood, and does not require the interpretation of anybody. It is transmitted in the language and culture that are traditional to the people.
  10. Simplicity: The oramedia are simple and less sophisticated to apply. A lot of elite still don’t know how to manipulate many things in their handsets and laptops after many years.
  11. Opinion Leadership: The people of Africa believe strongly in their Opinion Leaders and whatever information they get from them. They include the traditional rulers, traditional Chiefs, market leaders, Aides of traditional rulers, and heads of families, and religious leaders. The people believe that these leaders cannot mislead them because they are in position to serve them.

Challenges of African Communication

The African communication system is faced with some challenges in the contemporary world. These include:

  1. Extinction of African Languages: A lot of African languages are going into extinction because of the adoption of the language of colonial masters as official language. Nigeria adopts English as the official language as part of the colonial heritage. This threatens the over 250 languages being spoken in the 200 million population country. Once the language of a people is taken, the whole of its culture is eroded.
  2. The manifestation of the ‘Global Village’ theory of Marshall McLuhan is a challenge to oramedia. We now have the new communication culture of electronic age that perhaps enslaves man on the websites and internet.
  3. The erosion of the cultural technology in preference for new technologies constitutes threats to oramedia.
  4. The reliance of oramedia in the opinion leaders is a challenge as the new sets of opinion leaders in Africa are selfish, self-centred, and protégés of the West that continues to undermine African culture. The new opinion leaders are now partisan, and now colour and distort information to the people through the folk media.
  5. The social system in the African family set up, community and institutions are greatly affected by the dominant Western culture which threatens oramedia. The African children now lack the home training, and the understanding of the African languages to the understanding of the oramedia messages.
  6. The erosion of African value system in various homes in Africa also threatens the folk media.
  7. The domineering nature and indeed the ubiquitous nature of the mass media and the new media threaten the indigenous communication system in Africa.
  8. The lack of understanding of African body language, paralanguage and other non-verbal codes by the new generation of African children, constitute threat to oramedia.
  9. Lack of pride in African tradition and values among the new generation of African children is a challenge the African communication system.
  10. Urbanisation constitutes threat to oramedia through the expansion of African villages and towns into cities, as it destroys the communal way of living of the people that gives fillip to folk media.
  11. The problems of illiteracy, poverty, ill-health, lack of social amenities, and population explosion constitute threat to oramedia in African countries. This is because, knowledge is power, and health is wealth.
Read the Full Article at africanoutlookonline.com including an Introduction with background information on the continent of Africa, its people and phases of development, a case study on Egypt and the list of references.

One thought on “Oramedia – African means of Communication in a Contemporary World

  1. The gradual extinction of many cultural values of Africa is bothersome. In no distant time, a discourse on oramedia will only be a subject of research in contemporary communication theory as there might not be any tangible traces of its existence. In my opinion, Africa lost it all during the last century by her failure to harness her heritage along with the tide of 20th century revolution which ushered in the radical 21st century. While European countries like Spain and Portugal; and an Asian Nation like China used the better part of the 20th century to bring back the lost heritage of 19th century, African nations were ravaging under colonial emperors and famine. Even Egypt, with her attendant verifiable cultural and scientific legacy swayed along the line. The mummification and hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt are now mere reference materials.

    Sulaiman’s fear on the danger of complete erosion of African communication system is understandable when one considers the western modifications of African oral communication system. The instant messaging, closed broadcast, podcast, narrow messaging and smiley codes are the contemporary versions of what Sulaiman Osho averts to in his oramedia submission. Whereas, Africa can truly boast of unequalled interpersonal communication enmeshed in her folklore, myths and language.

    This article actually x-rayed the totality of its subject. Bravo!

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