The Nature and Kinds of Oral Literature
Epics, ballads, prose tales, ritual and lyric songs, as genres, existed orally before writing was invented. We do not have a special word to designate them before they were manifested in writing, so we are left with the paradox of”oral literature.” But if literature can be defined as “carefully constructed verbal expression,” carefully structured oral verbal expression can surely qualify as literature. This is common sense. People did not wait until there was writing before they told stories and sang songs.
Moreover, when these genres first appeared in writing, their metric base, their poetic and compositional devices, were already fully developed and none of them could have been invented by any one person at any one time. They are too complicated for that.
Oral literature, then, consists of the songs and stories, and other sayings, that people have heard and listened to, sung and told, without any intervention of writing. The creator or transmitter did not write the song or the story but sang or told it; the receiver did not read the song or story but heard it. These stories and songs are, therefore, not only oral but also aural; they are not only told, they are also heard.