Trip in African Oral Literature as Quest for Human Essence: Kaïdara and The Choice of Ori

Ndollane Dione


The way towards self and communal achievement is generally viewed as a wilderness path paved away in African oral literature through legendary figures moving across complex realities.  Appearing first as a response to an internal imbalance or spiritual need, the desire for completeness extends into a physical world where its impatient imperialism is subjugated by time and hindered by antinomic forces[1]. From this antinomy springs the quest which is valued concerning difficulties characters are expected to come across. There lies the terrible battleground, the theatre of merciless internal and external confrontation, marked by sacrifices and formulas that empower the tragic self.  This severe hardship experience stands as a non-stop initiation process that moves progressively until the whole discovery and achievement of the quest are preceded by self-annihilation. Beyond the abstract speculation about education and society, it becomes praxis practical action for metamorphosis. This step corresponds to an enlightenment situation that engenders a remapping of the environment around us, which is very often gifted by triumph over inimical forces. Soyinka presents this process in Yoruba mythology through what he terms “the passage-rites of hero-gods, a projection of man’s conflict with forces which challenge his efforts to harmonize with his environment, physical, social and psychic[2].” From this achievement occurs in traditional African society the canonization of heroes, as the embodiment of core values shaped and assessed in oral genres through the travelling protagonist, on the road of deadly obstacles, often under the appearance of strange forms, including supernatural and fantastic manifestations.


        Accordingly, the value of the trip stands in the significance of self-achievement as an existential experience set within and between cosmic powers painted through a world of symbols out of the ordinary and yet highly vivid. The trip becomes the human essence moving through cosmic forces that stand as a way for self-accomplishment, which is the major meaning of life. Both Kaidara and The Choice of an Ori are stories of African oral heritage presenting heroes who are expected to explore humanity through the gates of the physical and metaphysic arena. They respectively belong to Peulh and Yoruba cultures, stand as some oral art material transmitted through generations and are told by literary figures. Centered on this varied material, this paper aims at examining the similarities and differences of trip resonances in these stories, through characterization, time and space, in a perspective of reviewing the rich parallelism of art forms from different cultures. A major task of this work is to locate the accomplishment of human beings, society and Africa in general within the symbolism of trip as a quest in oral art’s creative impulse.     


[1] The expression belongs to Wole Soyinka.

[2] Wole Soyinka « Morality and aesthetics in the ritual archetype », Myth Literature and the African World, Cambridge, Cambridge university Press, 1976, p.1.


Ori, Kaidara, trip, self-accomplishment, creative impulse.

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