Traditional communication sometimes takes various forms. These various forms are the focus of this unit.
- classify traditional communication
- list the channels under each class of traditional communication
- outline the different types of communication in Africa
- outline the channels under the various types of communication in Africa.
For the purpose of a fair guide, it is necessary to explain meanings of the two words – traditional and channel as used in this text. Traditional as used in this text refers to cultural institutions, ceremonies, events, and arts of African ancestors observed, practised and perpetuated by successors from generation to generations; while Channels are link up ways and means by which ideas, messages information, orders, instructions, secrets and movements are carried out, contacted and contracted.
So, traditional channels of communication are numerous as some of them tend to serve specific or secret purposes and others serve the interests of all in general. Though some appear to be obsolete, their uses still linger on today in rural societies. They are commonly used to advise, inform, warn, encourage, and incite people on what, how, when and where to act. They are of different types. Akpan (1977) mentioned bells, canon shots, drums, arti-factual communication, folksongs and proverbs, which made him conclude that traditional media are more visual than audio. Again, Modum (1980) mentioned music and rituals as media of communication in indigenous Nigeria. Another scholar, Ugboajah (1979) also noted that traditional societies of Nigeria communicate more of informal than formal mechanism. He cited songs, dances, symbols, cult scripts, iconography, linguistic and market place dialogue as channels. Another similar but more encompassing view is that the informal channels are rooted in the people’s governments, social structures, titles and secret societies, marriage structures, cultures and in their laws and customs. Ugboajah (1979:43) asserted, “the most significant thing about Africa’s traditional communication is that the audience has learnt to attach great significance to it. Local media are also said to have force and credibility and that puts stability into the African indigenous institutions”. An attempt has been made below to classify them.
3.2 Classification of Traditional Channels of Communication
What are these modes of communication in Africa? How are they classified? How do they work? What are their functions?
In Africa just like in other parts of the world, communication may occur without any conscious or deliberate attempt by an information sender. Communication occurs in different forms – verbal or non-verbal; oral or written; formal or informal; and intentional or unintentional. They are all interactive and do not exist in isolation of one another. For instance, observers might infer much from others’ actions, dress, physical appearance and body language.
Again, the bulk of childhood learning consists of imitation. Animals, plants and inanimate objects such as stars and clouds convey much information to those able to interpret them. So, the receiver must decode the incoming information against the backdrop of his/her culture and match it with existing knowledge. Hence, culture and existing knowledge have impact on encoding, decoding and matching processes, which could produce noise in the communication channel and results in no two people with a very few exceptions having exactly the same knowledge about anything. This explains why there are problems in neatly defining and classifying African communication systems. Essentially, gradations, overlaps and exceptions abound. According to Ibagere (1994:81), “There has often been some confusion regarding what actually constitutes African traditional media (or, rather, African traditional modes of communication.” It should also be noted that changes in technology and organisation make it difficult to draw a firm line separating indigenous from non-indigenous or exogenous communication … system which existed [in Africa] before the arrival of mass media and formally organised bureaucratic system (Wang 1982:3) cited in (Wang and Dissanayake, 1984).
Furthermore, a Nigerian communication scholar, Nwuneli (1983) asserted that the traditional channels of communication in the rural areas of Nigeria (and other parts of Africa) are well organised and purpose oriented. In addition to these, differentiation could be made between the process of information dissemination and the channels through which information are disseminated in the rural communities of Nigeria. In order to justify this assertion of the possibility of differentiating between the process of information dissemination and the traditional channels through which information are disseminated, he presented a model for traditional media of communication in which he made distinctions between the hardware and the software of communication in the traditional communication process.
From the above discussion, it is obvious that no classification is right or wrong. As far as there are many scholars of African communication, their cultures, observations, and experiences would impact on their classification; and so there would be sundry classifications of African communication modes. However, this does not discount the fact that the classification attempt made by this author would enhance our understanding of the traditional modes of communication in Africa.
This module set out to classify the modes of African communication forms, with the aim of grouping them for ease of excursion. From the discussion so far, the various traditional sources and channels of communication and opinion formation have been modestly identified.
SELF ASSESSMENT EXERCISE
- List the classes of traditional communication proposed by this author.
- List four hard wares of instrumental communication.
- Discuss five characteristics of African communication systems.
- List four similarities between African communication systems and mass communication.
- Discuss two of the similarities between African communication systems and mass communication