The Narrator as an Editor
Near and Middle Eastern Studies
In 1970, when Ruth Finnegan published her ground-breaking book Oral Literature in Africa, she devoted extensive chapters to prose narratives, proverbs, riddles, and praise poetry. She did not neglect forms in African folklore that at the time were barely studied, such as children's songs and rhymes, But to the epic she allocated in her massive book of over 550 pages only two-and-a-half pages that she set aside at the conclusion of her chapter on "Poetry and Patronage" under the title "A Note on 'Epic'" (Finnegan 1970: 108-10). Probably having in mind the works of the Chadwicks and Bowra, she strikes a negative chord: "Epic is often assumed to be the typical poetic form of non-literate peoples, or at least non-literate peoples at a certain stage. Surprisingly, however, this does not seem to be borne out by the African evidence. At least in the more obvious sense of a 'relatively long narrative poem', epic hardly seems to occur in sub-Saharan Africa apart from forms like the (written) Swahili utenzi which are directly attributable to Arabic literary influence" (Finnegan 1970: 108). The reason for her inability to observe epic texts in sub-Saharan Africa was partially the mode of the textualization of the stories.