Home African communication systems 11 FOLKMEDIA: FOLKLORE, PROVERBS AND PARABLES


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This unit focuses on folkmedia. It looks at the concept of folkmedia, features and communication functions. It also examines folklores. It looks at the concepts of folklore, the features, communication functions of folklore and the types of folklore.

At the end of this unit of study, should be able to:

  1. Define folkmedia
  2. Discuss the features of folkmedia
  3. Discuss the communication functions of folkmedia
  4. Define folklore
  5. Discuss the features of folklore
  6. Discuss the communication functions of folklore


3.1.0 The Concept of Folkmedia

Folklores, proverbs and parables are folkmedia and means of information dissemination in Nigerian towns and villages (Nwuneli, 1983; Akpan, 1977; and Otasowie, 1981). Folkmedia are intangible artifact of a culture, madeup of customs, traditions, stories, songs, religion, performance arts and superstition. It can be considered to be the memory of a collective people.

3.1.1 The Features of Folkmedia

Folkmedia is mainly engaged as an oral tradition. It survives only if it holds meaning for the people around whom it is centred, because if a story no longer meets the needs of the cultural group, then it is discarded over time. Wang(1982) cited in Wang and Dissanayake (1984) stated that folkmedia may involve virtually everyone in a community as well as people from outside. Essentially, they entail performance by an actor or actors before an audience.

3.1.2 Examples of Folkmedia

Folkmedia has developed a rich pattern of expression in all cultures. Wang (1982) cited in Wang and Dissanayake (1984) mentioned the following as some components of folkmedia:

  1. Festivals (discussed under extra-mundane communication)
  2. Plays, puppet shows and folkdrama 
  3. Story telling (see Folklore)
  4. Poetry
  5. Debates
  6. Parades
  7. Carnivals

This author adds others which include proverbs and parables,The above traditional forms of entertainment were thought to be in danger of being superseded by radio and television, but fears of cultural imperialism and realisation of the limitations of mass media have sometimes led to their revival. This sometimes has occurred with the aid of modern broadcast media, with traditional performances, albeit somewhat changed in form, being broadcast over television and radio Wang (1982) cited in Wang and Dissanayake (1984).

3.1.3 The Communication Functions of Folkmedia

Folkmedia is used to transmit information from one generation to another in a ritualised fashion. Folk media, which comprises of a broad range of art forms, is used primarily for entertainment, but it is also used to promote education, values, cultural identity and continuity.

3.2.0 What are Folklores?

Folklore is “… story from a particular place that was originally passed on to people in a spoken form (Hornby, 2000:458). Folklores and story telling constitute a common feature in most African traditional societies. In rural Africa during the moonlight, children sit around elders listening to stories. Nwuneli (1983) found out that folklore in Nigeria touches every aspect of life. They are stories of war, great men and events, religious happenings, natural phenomena such as drought, famine and mysteries such as “why a tortoise has a shell on its body”.

According to “Myth and Legend from Ancient Times to the Space Age” citing a book Folklore, Myth, and Legends: A World Perspective by Donna Rosenberg, A folktale is a story that, in its plot, is pure fiction and that has no particular location in either time or space. However, despite its elements of fantasy, a folktale is actually a symbolic way of presenting the different means by which human beings cope with the world in which they live. Folktales concern people — either royalty or common folk — or animals who speak and act like people.

Folklores (alo in Yoruba and Inu in Ukwuani) in Nigeria touch every aspect of life. African story tellers narrate memorised historical epics and genealogies at length. Conventionally, folk stories are told to children especially in the evenings i.e. after the day’s work when people are relaxing before going to bed. So, it is not unusual at this particular time of the day to find many children gathered around an elderly person, mostly women, to listen to folk stories. So generally in Africa, children gather around elders who tell them stories under moonlight and sometimes this could involve song, singing and clapping of hands. The children are allowed to participate by contributing to lessons learnt from the stories; and the children are encouraged to adhere to the positive sides always.

Most of the folk stories that are very common in African communities have themes that reflect on the various aspects of the social life of the people generally. So, it seems certain that there is no aspect of life of the people that is not covered by folk tales.

3.2.1 The Features of Folklores

According to “Myth and Legend from Ancient Times to the Space Age” citing a book Folklore, Myth, and Legends: A World Perspective written by a lady, Donna Rosenberg, although folktale develops within individual cultural groups, some of the patterns are repeated around the globe. Authentic folktale must have at least two versions and it must exist in more than one period and place. The Cinderella story, which teaches us that what must be, must be and that the meek will triumph is a prime example of the concepts as scholars have discovered over 1,000 versions of its story that developed over hundreds of years in many countries (see appendix I for the full story of Cinderella) . As folktale is passed from one person to the next, variations or changes occur often. It takes on many different forms that in turn represent the customs and beliefs of the represented culture.
Folklore comes in form of mixed media (song and stories). It can also be used for synergy in modern media –radio. Folklores used to be the essence of our living before the intrusion of modern media. Traditional society used to be proud of its oral tradition in folklores before now.

Folklores are stories that appear to be timeless. Sometimes the characters are animals that have human traits. These are called fables. There are also folklores that have a hero or heroine, a search for a treasure and sometimes a trickstar. The most well known trickstars in folklores are the tortoise, hare, spider and coyote. So, folklores are stories that cover a variety of characters from human, to animals, spirits and other supernatural beings.

3.2.2 The Communication Functions of Folklores

Folklores are stories that generally teach lessons about human traits.These stories are basically meant for entertainment but they are more importantly, a part of education (especially in early life), as the didactic morals implied by them are inculcated as wisdom and discipline. Mede (1998:2) stated that “folktales are actually part of Tiv [Benue State in Nigeria] mythology and explain certain supernatural events and facts in life.” This may account for the argument that folklores are vehicles for transmitting cultural information. Folklore is also used as a vehicle for instruction, socialisation and education. They are originally structured to entertain. It can be used to promote development and acceptable behaviour in society.

Since children are allowed to participate by contributing to the lessons learnt from the stories and children are encouraged to adhere to the positive sides always. The folklore medium plays a very important role in the socialisation of children in African communities because the medium is primarily used to educate and inculcate the traditional social values into the children, apart from entertaining them. For the old people, the folklore medium serve as means of social control, especially in reinforcing the traditional values that have already been acquired. Such traditional values include honesty, integrity, hardwork, faithfulness, etc.

The importance of folklore lies in the fact that they are very effective means of teaching moral and socialising the young into internalising the important values and knowledge of the society because within stories, narrators can infuse information on morals, condemn evil and commend goodness (Nwuneli, 1983).

Okonkwo (1924) quoted in Olusanya (1982:15) pointed out in his study that:…folktales are used to teach morals, create amusement and laughter, expose follies of people and extol the praise-worthy actions of others.Some folktales, however, aim at entertaining people with music, while
others show …mythological beliefs.

The findings from Okonkwo (1924) show that, apart from being used for didactic (teach values and moral lessons) purposes; folktales are also used for entertainment and for propagating mythological beliefs. And since stories (folktales) are hardly forgotten because of their narrative quality, folktales have been easy ways of introducing new and acceptable ideas into the society (Nwuneli, 1983). In this respect, mention must be made of the popular moonlight gatherings which are dominated by folktales. Although anyone could be a folktale teller, some are highly gifted and proficient in the art. They know what is interesting and appropriate to an audience and have the gift to make them exciting and sensational. They could be seen as perhaps the prototypes of the modern news reporter.

Essentially, they are mainly used to teach morals and values as expected in any given society. Although it appears that a deliberate instruction is more important than occasional puppet performances, village festivals, or even the ubiquitous exogenous channels of radio, television and schools; as well as large part of our enculturation process which occurs through act or set of acts performed by an individual to modify the behaviour of another individual to induce habit formation. Deliberate instructions include both direct learning (informal acts of teaching) and schooling (formalised institutional activities in any given society). These include child rearing practices such as feeding, anal control, and weaning, training during childhood and adolescence, as well as traditional (often religious) schools, and instructions given by parents and other older people as a child works and plays in the fields or at home. It continues during adolescence and adulthood through initiation rites and other rites during, apprenticeship arrangements and instructions given by indigenous authorities. Despite the importance of deliberate instruction in enculturation and information dissemination for didactic purposes as found commonly in folklore, the issue is receiving little attention from communication scholars and social development specialists, perhaps because of the influence of mass media.

However, a greater percentage of folk stories that are commonly told to children are those with themes that mainly encourage love for others (especially between step brothers and non-kins), contentment, hard work and respect for elders. There are also those meant to discourage greed, acts of roguery, laziness, dereliction of duty and refusal to run errands especially for elders. Traditional marriage institution especially reflects more on the evils of jealousy engaged by rival wives in polygamous homes, war, endurance and reward for patience.

3.2.3 Types of Folklore

In many parts of Africa, there are two types of folk stories. They are short
riddles and long stories normally told orally in the evenings.

a) Short Riddles (Alo apamo in Yoruba): One is the very short riddles which are meant to test the intelligence and sense of logic of the audience, since the audience is normally required to provide quick answers to riddles that are thrown at them. A typical example of short riddle in Yoruba culture goes thus: 
  1. Story teller: Story, Story
  2. Response (all): Story
  3. Story teller: It passes through the Oba’s palace without greeting the oba. What is it?
  4. Response (by one or all): Erosion.

Another example is this:

  1. Story teller: Story, Story
  2. Response (all): Story
  3. Story teller: It always shares drink with the Oba. What is it?
  4. Response (by one or all): Housefly.

b) Long Stories (Alo apagbe in Yoruba): Is that category of folk stories that are usually long, and in which short but entertaining verses of songs are injected in between stories. It is this category of folk stories that are didactic in nature, because normally at the end of each story, the story teller usually says what a particular story teaches the audience by saying: “this story teaches us to do or not to do XYZ”.


Drawing from Nigeria the unit concludes that folkmedia are means of information dissemination in African towns and villages and thus worthy of academic inquiry.It also concludes that folklores are used to denote stories that reflect on simple social situations, ordinary fears and desires of the people. This practice is carried through the ordinary story telling usually held in the evenings after supper, particularly when the moon is bright.


This unit focused on folkmedia and folklores. It looked at the concepts of folkmedia and folklore, their features and communication functions.It further looked at the types of folklore.

Self Assessment Exercise

  1. What is folkmedia?
  2. What is folklore?


  1. What are the communication functions of folkmedia?
  2. What are the features of folklore?
  3.  Discuss the communication functions of folklore.


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