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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

Oral History in Somalia and South Sudan


Oral history and oral literature are valuable repositories of culture and key resources for written history. Eastern and Central Africa played a vital role in the recognition of the value of oral heritage. Among the pioneers were Jan Vansina working in the Congo, Okot p’Bitek in Uganda and B.W. Andrzejewski in Somalia. More recently, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Taban lo Liyong and Ouwuor Anyumba have championed the role of traditional spoken genres in the creation of modern African literatures. Today, the development of communications technology is driving a new movement for audio and video recording, enriching written history through the production of digital records.

On 12 March, the Rift Valley Forum will host a presentation by Somali and South Sudanese researchers on their oral history work with Somali migrants, customary authorities in South Sudan and on the 1999 Wunlit Peace Conference, followed by a discussion on the future of oral history in an era of fractured states, global diasporas and expanding internet access.


Tom Odhiambo
University of Nairobi


Nuruddin Farah
Bard College

John Ryle
Bard College

Machot Amuom
Rift Valley Institute

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