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To truly understand what the role of a Griot it is important to first discuss the Oral Tradition.
Every culture on the planet has had their own form of Oral Tradition. To this day we use this type of tradition and don’t even know it. Think back to grade school and the silly rhymes said on the play ground. Ring around the rosey, a pocket full of poesies ashes, ashes, we all fall down.This very simple rhyme has been song by children for centuries, but it is the history of the plague that ravaged Europe in the 14th century.
In the context of West African culture the responsibility of the preservation of cultural knowledge and the dissemination of Oral Tradition was given to the Griots. While this definition is technically accurate it does not fully explain the extent of griots talents.
The knowledge held by the Griot as been handed down from generation to generation within a family unit. Although it is important to note that while this familial practice is done to this day. With the modern resurgence of the Griot more and more artisans call themselves Griots even if there is not familial passing of knowledge. During the lifetime of a traditional Griot he or she will have amassed an education equivalent to a doctorial degree.It has been said that “the death of a Griot is the equivalent of a library burning down” ( The Griot Circle).All this knowledge is not just spoken to those that wish to know for the Griot the History of his or her people must be sung.
In addition to being the keeper’s of their cultures history. Griots have long been the advisers to kings and noblemen. Nothing takes place in a community with out the consultation of the Griot. Everything from waging war to marriage is under the guidance of a Griot.In the Epic tale of Sundiata, BallaFasseke defines this concept perfectly “ Griots are men of the spoken word and by the spoken word we give life to the gestures of Kings…”
Dr. Thomas Hale a Professor of Liberal Arts in African, French, and Comparative Literature at Penn State “ describes Griots as being very different from regular society. They are like a different ethnic group.” Their songs are like nothing you have ever heard and their instruments have no comparable in Western society. A Griots song can raise you up, but it can also raze you to the ground. For this reason Griots are both revered and reviled.
As western ideals permeated the area of West Africa oral Tradition fell by the wayside and fro a time the profession of the Griot was met with distain. We have all been taught the merits of written history over oral history. These feelings towards Griots would continue long after the region’s independence from French rule in 1960, despite the backing of the new government and the change of social class.Ironically the reason for the shunning of society was for the same reason that they were once praised. Griots were the voice of the ruling class.
However like many thing in our society what is once taboo will soon become chic. With documentaries like the Wonders of Africa by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and countless others the Groit is finding the love and acceptance he or she richly deserves. This resurgence is not only felt in Africa but all across the world. This desire to reconnect with the pasts or our cultures has spurred the creating of many organizations, museums, and communities.
Griots Of West Africa1
Griots of West Africa<br />Keepers of History<br />
“The spoken relation and preservation, from one generation to the next, of a people's cultural history and ancestry, often by a storyteller in narrative form.” <br />ORAL TRADITION<br />
West African Culture<br />…the dissemination of oral tradition… <br />