South African Journal of African Languages

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Rereading Albert B. Lord’s The Singer of Tales. Revisiting the definition and application of formulas in Sesotho praise poetry

CF Swanepoel


Access to a fresh set of video-recordings of Sesotho praise-poetry made in the year 2000 enabled the author to revisit his adaptation of Albert Lord’s definition of the formula as a dynamic compositional device that the oral poet utilizes during delivery. The basic adaptation made in 1983 pertains to heroic praises (dithoko tsa marena) and was based on King Griffith’s poem that dates back to the early 20th century. While the adapted version is retained here, the rereading led to a clarification of a number of issues with special reference to the use of formulas by Morabaraba Lehloha in a praise-poem dedicated to the late King Moshoeshoe II. There is a distinct density in the configuration of formulas, not only of the one-word variety but of word-group formulas as well. The article finally explores Lord’s view of ‘theme’ as ‘a group of ideas regularly used in telling a tale in formulaic style’, and shows how Lehloha’s imaginative formulaic chronicle of the turbulent concluding part of the King’s life unfolds through a set of eight consecutive scenes by which a particular rounded narrative structure is achieved.

S.Afr.J.Afr.Lang., 2010, 1
AJOL African Journals Online