A Brief History of Oral Tradition

Long before the entirety of human knowledge was place within reach of anyone with an internet connection before the written word filled countless volumes of book, novels and encyclopedias populating the dust shelves of libraries across the world, there existed the oral tradition.

Oral tradition was used to pass down important cultural and practical information from one generation to the next. It was the primary method education for societies that did not depend on the written word, or who used it sparingly. From the mouth of an elder to the ears of the young, history was kept as a living, breathing document. A document reliant on the ability of the young to listen, hear, and learn.

The influential scholars Renée Hulan and Renate Eigenbrod defined oral tradition as, “the means by which knowledge is reproduced, preserved and conveyed from generation to generation.” Oral tradition was particularly important to the First Nations cultures of North America. Hulan and Eigenbord called it “The foundation of connecting speakers and listeners in communal experienced and uniting past and present in memory.”

In cultures that depended on oral tradition, storytellers and poets were looked up on much as scholars are today. They were the ultimate fonts of knowledge within their societies. Final arbiters of cultural significance.

Now you may be wondering, what does all of this have to do with us here at ASLHC?! Consider the importance of hearing in a culture built around oral tradition. Not only was history and religion passed down using oral tradition, means of survival were as well. This is how younger generations learned to build homes, to farm, to hunt, to survive drought and disaster. Societies build around oral tradition were entirely reliant on their essential ability to speak and hear. At ASLHC, we believe nothing is more important.