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Oral Literature in Africa

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Ruth Finnegan

II. Poetry

6. Elegiac Poetry

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General and introductory. Akan funeral dirges: content and themes; structure, style, and delivery; occasions and functions; the dirge as literature.

I

Elegiac poetry is an exceedingly common form of expression in Africa. We hear of it from all areas and in many different forms. However it is usually less specialized and elaborate than panegyric poetry, and, perhaps for this reason, it has attracted less interest.1 More private and normally lacking the political relevance of panegyric poetry—to which, nevertheless, it is closely related—it tends to be performed by non-professionals (often women) rather than state officials. It shades into ‘lyric’ poetry and in many cases cannot be treated as a distinctive genre. However, lamentation so frequently appears in a more or less stylized and literary form in Africa that it is worth treating on its own in this chapter. Furthermore, some account of Nketia’s detailed work on Akan funeral dirges—a study not known widely enough2—may serve as a sti...

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