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Book Reviews 199

HISTORY
Ruth Finnegan. The Oral and Beyond: Doing Things with Words in Africa.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Oxford: James Currey; Pietermaritzburg: Uni-
versity of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2007. xiv + 258 pp. References. Index. $63.00. Cloth.
$25.00. Paper.
Ruth Finnegan has been writing about orality for nearly half a century,
mostly on Africa. As she points out in this work, her scholarly career has
spanned a time from when orality was only a nascent genre to a time when
it has become a central theme for studying African societies, and she is not
shy about pointing out (e.g., 14041) that her work has played a prominent
role in this transformation. Finnegan describes this work as a second look
(xi) on how collecting and interpreting oral literature has changed during
the past fty years, nearly forty years after publishing her Oral Literature
in Africa. However, this perspective is somewhat mitigated by the fact that
eight of the twelve chapters are versions of articles published between 1969
and 1992, sometimes lightly altered to bring in new data or arguments.
As always, Finnegan is less interested in the accuracy of the content of
oral texts than in their appositeness, air, individuality, dynamism, and nar-
rative uidity. Indeed, as Finnegan points out, one of the striking elements
of much Limba oral art was in fact the scope for verbal variation on differ-
ent occasions and among different exponents, and the creative qualities
brought to it by the immediacy of situation-based performance (27).
In this work Finnegan shows little, if any, interest in oral texts as vehicles
for carrying historical information across timethe work of Jan Vansina
and others is not cited. By no means, however, does this imply that histori-
ans should neglect her arguments. To cite only one example, a persistent
theme throughout The Oral and Beyond is that treating literacy and orality
as hermetic genres is misguided in practice and analytically pointlessin
fact, erroneous. Such a notionthat the oral and the written inuence
each other reciprocallymirrors much work being done for other times
and other places (particularly late medieval/early modern Europe). This is
an argument against treating oral tradition (i.e., oral information handed
down from the past) as sufciently static to have retained true accounts of
a past more than a few generations distant.
Finnegan is also insistent that literature is an appropriate word to
apply to the creative discourse of oral societies. This seems fair; in any case,
in practice the term retains only a subliminal etymological connection with
writing. Nonetheless, it is worth adding that there do remain inherent dif-
ferences between literature and oral literature.
Seemingly in contrast to her osmotic argument noted above, Finnegan
argues (103) that there seems ample evidence that neither literacy nor
an acquaintance with written literature necessarily interfere with oral com-
position and performance, but I wonder. I am thinking not so much of
200 African Studies Review
the overlap in performers or informants, but what effect the knowledge
that their audiences areor might beaware of alternative written ver-
sions would have on circumscribing improvisation. Finnegan notes that the
examples she cites date to before 1976, but also contends that many paral-
lel cases could be drawn from more recent work (102 n.3) This all reects
on the notionwhich some believe and others do notthat writing and
the Internet will eventually drive orality, or at least oral art, from the mar-
ketplace. While even the most literate societies will always retain an oral
dimension, the question is: will this become an increasingly marginalized
mode of transmitting information beyond the face-to-face?
Although The Oral and Beyond is wide-rangingindeed, virtually com-
prehensiveI failed to notice any discussion of the disposition of eld
notes. Sharing eld notes, whether aural or written, is one of the most ef-
cacious ways to spread the word, as it were, for it endows speakers words
with an afterlife that will endure in time and space.
This is not an easy work to absorb, but I wholeheartedly recommend it.
It is especially valuable to historians for its likely sobering effect, but for oth-
ers as well it is a state of the art valediction by one of the elds preeminent
exponents. Finnegans wide-ranging citations also allow readers to expand
their focus.
David Henige
University of WisconsinMadison
Madison, Wisconsin
Diana Jeater. Law, Language, and Science: The Invention of the Native Mind
in Southern Rhodesia, 18901930. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 2007. Social
History of Africa series. xxi + 273 pp. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $94.95. Cloth.
$38.75. Paper.
Diana Jeaters new book presents an intricate narration of the construction
of the relationship between settlers and African people in the rst forty
years of settler rule in Melsetter/Chimanimani District of the Eastern High-
lands of colonial Zimbabwe. One might think that there is little new ground
to be surveyed on this topic. But Jeaters work reveals that historians may
have relied simply on a set of vague assumptions, if not platitudes, about
the early colonial period: conquest, defeat, resistance. This is a closely
argued history, not only of what people did, but also of why they behaved
as they did. In particular, Jeater is concerned with the ways social under-
standings and misunderstandings were refracted through the lenses of the
many languages swirling around the District. Specically, how did the set-
tlers develop perceptions of African peoples thinking sufcient to declare
themselves able to codify conceptualizations of the native mindand
then to dub this science? To answer this question, she examines interac-
tions in and among African chiey communities and kingdoms, Christian