In the African Oral Tradition, the audience needs to recognize that the storyteller is a real individual person who utilizes a specific style to unleash information about the characters. The storytellers we’ve studied in this course craft intricate plots that follow the structure of a Rite of Passage to demonstrate a character’s self-development. The definition of a Rite of Passage is the inner chaos that an individual experiences while getting through a transition. There are three distinct stages that follow a specific structure: isolation, separation (ordeal), and return/reincorporation. The isolation stage is when the character is secluded from the rest of society and forced to undergo the Rite of Passage. The person decides that destroying weak features of the self is essential in order to mature. The purpose of the impossible task ordeal phase is to determine if the past is really gone. Maturity is valued over innocence. The isolation stage is definitely the most significant because the character builds the necessary strength needed to make it through the impossible tasks. The impossible task functions as the struggle that propels personal growth. Often this involves the character dealing with the struggle of being separated from the old familiar. In order to overcome “impossible tasks,” a character needs to use set of adult skills and tools instead of strategy that the person used to fall back on in the past. The last stage is rebirth of the new, when the main character returns as an integral member of society. The character strives to prove that the struggle made the person capable and worthy of respect. I’ll focus on the isolation section of Rites of Passage. There are two different stories from class that illustrate Rites of Passage structure isolation phase: Mrile (written by the Chaga people in Tanzania) and Negomba’s Basket (written by the Fiote people who live in Congo). Both of these stories depict isolation in significantly similar and conflicting ways.
The story from earlier in the semester that illustrates the isolation stage is called Negomba’s Basket. Two sisters are on their way to go fishing, and Negomba has a dermatological condition and is therefore identified as different from the other women. Negomba is officially in a different space socially and cosmically from society and feels the need to embark on a journey towards completeness. In this piece, beauty is a symbol of femininity. When a narrative says, “you need to be a beautiful woman to be marriageable,” it makes beauty a normative characteristic of females. Normatives are universally true but not fundamentally true because they change in various societies and different times. Understanding the significance of a normative characteristic is key to comprehend the isolation stage, as it is essentially the expectation to kill old and natural characteristics to strive for acceptance. When individuals are Negomba was isolated from the rest of society, it motivates the woman to endure the struggle that Rites of Passage require.
The Tanzanian people exemplify the isolation stage through the literal incorporation of death in the traditional story Mrile. Death is the killing off of childhood and egocentric thinking Concrete destruction of the past forces an individual to completely demolish old traits. Complete focus is devoted to the construction of new attributes, instead of preservation of the old. In this case, the mother kills a baby who represents Mrile’s childhood. The mother is essentially looking out for Mrile in order to ensure that his innocence is destroyed. The brutality of death is significant in this piece, as it shows that the isolation phase is the most emotionally painful for the character. When we transition into adulthood, we learn about the impermanence of life. In this piece, death of the baby Mrile symbolizes this. Although the infant and Mrile are two separate entities, killing off the baby eliminates the barrier between Mrile’s childish limited perspective and reality. When Mrile flies into the sky, the storyteller is trying to represent individuals venturing out into the unfamiliar. Isolation causes the comfortable past to be inaccessible and pushes the character to move forward in the process of self-development.
The stories both convey the reality that Rites of Passage are often propelled by motivation that comes from an outside pressure, instead of the character’s inner desire to grow. Negomba didn’t even realize that there was anything unacceptable about her appearance until the other women make Negomba fish independently. The woman identifies the dermatological condition as a barrier that needs to be destroyed. Society doesn’t allow Negomba any other choice. In Mrile, the mother determines the boy’s destiny when she kills off his innocent soul. The boy never had a choice. From that moment, though, there was no option to transcend back in time to prevent it. The key element of these Rites of Passage stories is that isolation creates the need for the character to advance his journey. After isolation, both Negomba and Mrile were in this nomads-land phase of their development- they were in between childhood and adulthood. In order to regain comfort and a feeling of stability, the character must get through the Rite of Passage.
The effect of this similarity between the two pieces is evident in contemporary society. Individuals are told that their natural pure characteristics are not sufficient enough to meet society’s standards. Even though Rites of Passage are beneficial because it pushes individuals to reach their limits, they also encourage change so much that an issue of lack of self-esteem arises. Isolation makes individuals feel unsupported and resentful towards society. Isolation is unhealthy when completing the stage is conducted out of the pressure to be socially accepted, rather than out of inner motivation.