From orality to literacy: Translating traditional Ugandan oral forms into texts for children

Date of Completion

January 2007


Literature, Comparative|Literature, African|Folklore|Literature, English




This study is a corollary to the fieldwork I carried out in Uganda from 2004 to 2005. It catalogues three categories of oral texts I collected, drawn from the Ugandan child culture: riddles (variously called ebikokyo , ebishakuzo/ebiito, and ibisakuzo in Luganda, Runyankore-Rukiga, and Runyarwanda-Rufumbira respectively); folktales (engero, enfumu , and imigani); and children's rhymes ( obuyimba bw'abaana, ebikwaate or obweshongoro bw'abaana, and uturirimbo tw'abaana). Drawing on interdisciplinary strategies used by fieldworkers such as William Bascom, Richard Bauman, Gordon Innes, Isidore Okpewho, Austin Bukenya and Jane Nandwa, I transcribe and translate this archive of texts into English and discuss the procedures used, as well as challenges involved in the process particularly when dealing with what I consider to be some "untranscribable" and "untranslatable" elements of the oral text.^ The study is theoretically grounded in children's literature scholarship, translation theory, literary pragmatics, and orature, and it employs analytical procedures based on close reading and content analysis. It conceptualizes recording and translating oral texts as processes that are always already mediated by technology, and it examines the benefits and challenges this technology intervention presents to the collector. The study discusses key questions regarding transfer of oral elements to the page, the problematics of achieving "transparency," and what choices ought to be made in the transcription and translation process, and it provides possible ways of rethinking the question of orality and literacy in children's literature.^ By presenting these oral texts in the original languages and in English translation, and analyzing their form and social relevance in the domestic arena and school culture in Uganda—where such materials are currently deployed for children's education under the bilingual Universal Primary Education (UPE) program—the dissertation opens this new material to further critical inquiry.^