Oral Literature in Africa

Oral Literature in Africa

This campaign succeeded on Jun 21, 2012.
257 ungluers
$7,743 raised
$7,500 goal
345 Ungluers have Faved this Work

Ruth Finnegan’s Oral Literature in Africa was first published in 1970, and since then has been widely praised as one of the most important books in its field. Based on years of fieldwork, the study traces the history of storytelling across the continent of Africa. This revised edition makes Finnegan’s ground-breaking research available to the next generation of scholars. It includes a new introduction, additional images and an updated bibliography, as well as its original chapters on poetry, prose, "drum language” and drama, and an overview of the social, linguistic and historical background of oral literature in Africa. This volume is complemented by original recordings of stories and songs from the Limba country (Sierra Leone), collected by Finnegan during her fieldwork in the late 1960s, which are freely accessible here. The book is available as a free pdf and ebook download thanks to the generous support of interested readers and organisations, who made donations using the crowd-funding website Oral Literature in Africa is part of the World Oral Literature Series published in conjunction with the World Oral Literature Project.

This book is included in DOAB.

Why read this book? Have your say.

(Oct. 21, 2013, 1:14 p.m.)
If you have been using the UNGLUED EBOOK edition of ORAL LITERATURE IN AFRICA for teaching or research, Gluejar would like to know how and where. Super if you could sponsor a Readmill or Goodreads discussion of #DH or African Diaspora.
(March 7, 2013, 7:51 a.m.)
To the fine people who unglued Oral Literature in Africa and (we hope) enjoyed the fruits of their labour: are you ready for round two?

The dabbawalas deliver lunch to nearly 200,000 people in Mumbai every day with astonishing efficiency, and the second book we're hoping you will help us to unglue is about them. It's called "Feeding the City: Work and Food Culture of the Mumbai Dabbawalas" and is by Sara Roncaglia.

You can find out more, spread the word, and support it from its Unglue page:

(Oct. 11, 2012, 12:09 p.m.)
A few days before relaunches on 10-15, we're delighted to see that Internet Archive now shows 1081 downloads of the Unglued Ebook for Oral Literature In Africa by Ruth Finnegan. Ask your Library if they have it, please.
(Sept. 28, 2012, 8:56 a.m.)
I have noticed that almost 1,000 people have downloaded OLA through Internet Archives. If you are using the Unglued Ebook in your research, teaching or a digital humanities project, I would love to know -- and to let other Ungluers know. If you aren't already, you may want to follow the Twitter hashtag #DH for a lot of interesting discussion on ways to integrate CC and open access content. For my work as a literary agent, I would particularly like to know how the fact that the CC BY license allows for reuse of excerpts (and translation) with attribution in your own syllabus or work might benefit projects such as the California Digital Textbook initiative.
(Sept. 14, 2012, 10:46 a.m.)
It's a pity that the proposed improvements or corrections cannot be included right away in the file available for downloading. Maybe the corrections can be collected and then included in a new version when and if they reach a critical mass
(Sept. 14, 2012, 10:02 a.m.)
Huh! Thanks for the comment. While we did validate & spot-check the file, examining every page of a book this long wasn't feasible, so help from the crowd is great!

Looking at the epub file, it appears there's div class="line" under the title in Ch 4 that I don't see under the title in a few other chapters. So your reader is rendering code that is in fact there (although why it would be different in different readers I don't know). Not sure why this code would be in Ch 4 and not in others.

Because of the CC BY license, anyone who wants to remove this from their copy is free to; has the unzipped epub code and instructions on how to rebuild it. (Some comfort with HTML & CSS required, but if you have that knowledge the process is surprisingly straightforward -- I'd never built an epub before last month and I was amazed how simple it was!)

I'm hesitant to change a file that's already in wide distribution (i.e. the Internet Archive version), but I'm going to remove that section from our github repo since I can't see any good reason for it to be there.
(Sept. 14, 2012, 9:48 a.m.)
Thanks a lot to all the ungluers and to everyone that is taking part in this initiative.

I think that there's some problem at the beginning of chapter 4, I've used a couple of epub readers and one of them shows a big blank space under the title (bigger than the blank space that separates the title from the text in the remaining chapters) while the other shows a thicker and displaced line under the title
(July 11, 2012, 12:02 p.m.)
Ben: We've actually been exchanging a flurry of emails about this with Open Book over the last day. Right now the ebook is mostly formatted and the recordings have been digitized. The next steps are adding metadata to the recordings (should be done by the end of July) and making sure we've properly credited supporters on the acknowledgements page -- if you're eligible for that premium you should be getting an email soon.

The absolute longest we'd expect things to take is 3 months from the ungluing date, but I think we'll come in well under that bar.

This is our first chance to work with a rights holder on getting an unglued ebook out the door, so part of what we're doing behind the scenes is finding out the bottlenecks and building mechanisms to make it go more smoothly -- this will streamline things in the future but we do appreciate your patience & continued interest while we work out the kinks.
(July 11, 2012, 11:47 a.m.)
Any projection on when this ebook will be available? I imagine making a well-crafted ebook takes some time; I'm just hoping for a ballpark ETA.
(June 22, 2012, 8:14 a.m.)
Thanks,Thad - you sent me checking if my payment had succeeded (thankfully it had).

Raymond, a part of the FAQ could be "What to do after a successful campaign" and one thing mentioned there should IMO be "Please check that your payment was successful" followed by the instructions Thad asked for, in case it was not.
(June 21, 2012, 9:25 a.m.)
Thad -- thanks for bringing the issue about failed payments up -- it's on my list of things to address today. Let me get back to everyone whose payment did not go through properly with a solution.

Thanks again for making this campaign a success and for your patience as we work through making the process smoother.
(June 21, 2012, 9:21 a.m.)
Failed Payments - it happens for various reasons, lost wallets/purses, CC expires, etc.

What is the recommended way to get your previous pledge that failed - reinstated and paid in full ?

Get this on the FAQ or someplace where it makes sense, additionally could an email be sent back to the ungluer to notify them and somehow correct the error and resubmit with a new CC # or something ?

I used Amazon Payments for my $5 pledge to Oral Literature in Africa, and just got an email from Amazon that it failed, but no easy way to correct it.
(June 21, 2012, 1:52 a.m.)
Thanks to your generosity, we were able to close this campaign tonight. Everyone who has pledged should have received a message (or many -- my apologies for a bug that caused a lot of spam) that the campaign was successful and that their Amazon account will be charged.

You may notice that the display for this successful campaign is also broken. Alas, we hadn't tested the display for a successful campaign thoroughly. The description of the book is currently missing, and the Rights tab will look as though no campaign has ever happened. Don't worry -- all the underlying data is ok and we'll fix this display as soon as possible.

Thanks for your patience as we work out the kinks in our system.
(June 20, 2012, 10:48 a.m.)
Yay! This is GREAT! No bourbon here, I'm afraid (unless hubby has picked up some while shopping and hasn't mentioned it) but I'll raise a nice glass of Shiraz.

What I would love to try next would be "Disaster Response" by Erik auf der Heide, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", "The Cat in the Hat", "The Wizard of Earthsea" or "The Lord of the Rings". But those (at least the last four) would be much bigger, much more public projects, cost a whole lot more and take a considerably longer time, and such a project could be too big a step too soon. So maybe it is better to not be (too) hasty?

Of the current projects here, The Budding Reader Book set # 1 seem very inviting to me. I believe the approach that starts from pictures only is pedagogically sound and will give very young kids the kind of support they need at the very beginning of their reading careers.
(June 20, 2012, 10:13 a.m.)
Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I'm going to break out the good bourbon and raise a glass of it to all of you tonight.

We did this thing. We can do this thing!

So: it's a start. You tell us: what should we unglue next?
(June 18, 2012, 12:20 p.m.)
We have four more days in this campaign. Is there anything you would like to know about Oral Literature in Africa? I have a copy of the 1970 edition out from the UC Berkeley library and carrying it around with me while I've been dipping into it. (Here's a picture of the book with me as I drink tea: As a non-specialist, I've been wanting to learn more about the book and the subject and will gladly share what I've learned thus far. I had never heard about the book before we started the campaign. Fortunately, I live in a town with a great university library, full of treasures such as Ruth Finnegan's classic.
(June 14, 2012, 5:09 p.m.)
Wow - we are really excited at how many of you ungluers have contributed to this campaign and are willing to support making Oral Literature in Africa freely accessible and the unglue concept - and for the many comments and useful suggestions we are receiving. This campaign is clearly demonstrating how unglue is an exciting and realistic new way or enabling open access publications. On top of that it looks like we may well make history by creating the very first unglued edition.

In any case we would like to say “thank you” to all of you – and to be able to give something back as an additional reward if the campaign completes successfully. So, for all of those who have contributed $7.50 or more, we would like to give you an additional free digital edition of any of our titles. For those of you who have contributed $40 or more we would like to offer you a free paperback edition of any one of our titles (or three free digtial editions if you prefer). And for those of you who have contributed $75 or more we would like to offer you a choice of a free hardback edition, or two free paperback editions, or six free digital editions selected from our list of titles. (We would ask you to make your choices by 30 September 2012 though - hope that gives you enough time to choose!).
All these have now been added as premiums as well - so you can always up your donation to get a free book if you wish!

Once again, many thanks - and please do continue to spread the word about the campaign and unglue - there is now only a week to run and more support is still needed if we are to hit the target.

Best wishes
Rupert and the whole OBP team
(June 14, 2012, 8:30 a.m.)
cudbm, we're working on options that are more tax friendly, but these things take time!
(June 14, 2012, 8:11 a.m.)
Is a more philanthropic, tax-friendly option possible? (Yes, I'm aware of the internal contradiction there!) Eg in the UK you can get an extra 20% from HMRC, IFF there is no benefit to the donor from the donation; this makes the higher donor "perks" self-defeating. Would need a UK-based charitable presence, however... and I suppose is not actually a charity. Oh well, clearly I haven't thought this through!
(June 13, 2012, 4 p.m.)
Just thought of two more places to possibly get more publicity:

the unshelved comic which seems popular with the library crowd. Could probably work with them to do an ad or a featured comic.


arstechnica -, which I should have thought of sooner. Don't seen an obvious way to submit a story at first glance though. Not sure if it would get in their front page, but might be able to get in one of the sections.

Of course, I'm not sure how you
(June 12, 2012, 12:13 p.m.)
I know it's just a start, but what a great one! This model has a lot of potential in opening the door to materials valuable for research that might not otherwise have seen the light of day.

You can also imagine the kind of appreciation that this will be met with by people who are a generation or two removed from the ethnographic fieldwork done in their community--if a civil war has taken place in the meantime, it's a way to reconnect with a lost heritage, that might otherwise stay tucked away on a shelf or locked up in a cabinet.

Good way to help restore meaning and purpose! Check out the audio sample further down on this page, collected by Finnegan when she worked with the Limba in Sierra Leone.
(June 12, 2012, 10:54 a.m.)
A special shout-out to Charles Riley, (Catalog Librarian for African Languages at Yale), for sending out a note about our Oral Literature in Africa campaign on the H-Africa list <>. He's been super helpful to me when I contacted him about who we should reach out to with respect to this campaign. I hope that Charles will participate in this thread and share with us his expertise in terms of what we will be able to do with an open and free digital edition of Oral Literature in Africa.
(June 11, 2012, 1:29 p.m.)
Thanks Amanda and Eric - that was quick, effective and very positive. *both*thumbs*up*

Now if someone would still add this sentence to the Support header field: "If you choose a Premium when making your pledge and your pledge value is at least the minimum value for that Premium, this is what you get. Note that you can always refuse any particular detail(s) of your Premium package if you wish."

I'm a quite happy curmudgeon again. ;-)

(June 11, 2012, 11:11 a.m.)
I've added a post to the blog on anonymity:
(June 11, 2012, 9:53 a.m.)
Roja: fully intends to allow for anonymity regarding pledges at the supporter's sole discretion. Sorry that's not clear in our FAQ or Privacy policy as now written. Please be assured that, at the time a Campaign meets it's goal and you are notified that your pledge has been charged, a Rights Holder will contact you about the details necessary to fulfill a Premium -- if you have chosen one. At that time you may request to remain "anonymous" in any acknowledgements on the Unglued Ebook. If you pledge without choosing a premium, you are identified only as an "ungluer." If you have any other questions, write us at or use the Feedback tab.

(June 10, 2012, 4:25 p.m.)
Where can I comment on the general principles of how functions? I ask because I did not find a comment section on the FAQ or any FAQ entry on how various sizes of donations are acknowledged.

I know that many people are motivated to donate by that their donations are acknowledged by name and by that the (major) donors get some special memento. However, at the moment the wording of the "Support" field (to the right on each book's page -> ->) gives the impression that a donator *must* accept both the publishing of their name and, in case of larger donations, a printed book, regardless of whether they personally happen to love or abhor either type of acknowledgement.

I happen to be seriously DEmotivated by the supporter perks as they are currently worded. I absolutely do not want my name published in a manner that pretty exactly reveals how much or little I have donated for each book project (I'm a privacy nut concerning my finances and likely to remain so, seeing as I'm soon to be 50). And I definitely do not want any more dead trees in my home unless I am forced to get one that is not available as a (preferably DRM-free) e-book, due to study or business reasons (I have been actively getting rid of paper books and exchanging them to e-book versions whenever possible since 2008).

Therefore, solely due to the appearance/tone of the Support perks, any donations above 24 USD are totally out of the question for me now.

Surely this was not an intended effect of the Support column, even if this particular effect would concern only a minority of potential donators?

Surely a way can be found for a donator to stay completely anonymous? Surely a way can also be found for an anonymous or a named donator to politely refuse a printed book - e.g. to donate that particular copy to a lottery that benefits

I hope a solution will be found. is a wonderful initiative and deserves to attract every possible donator, regardless of their attitudes about privacy, ethical and/or religious convictions regarding public philanthropy, willingness and/or ability to designate physical space for paper books, or whether they happen to be egregiously extroverted or excruciatingly shy (just to name a few dimensions along which people who find a worthy cause can vary).
(June 8, 2012, 3:08 p.m.)
Jon: We would definitely like to get on public radio, either by getting interviewed (which would be the best, of course) -- but taking out an ad is a good idea.

I didn't know about TWiT ( ?) and Revision3 ( -- thanks for those pointers too.

I've definitely been looking into academic circles that might be interested in African history...more about that in another comment.
(June 8, 2012, 11:42 a.m.)
Institutional support makes sense to me. Libraries place orders all the time for forthcoming books (that sometimes don't actually get published), or desiderata orders for out of print titles. The analogy isn't perfect, but close enough I think.
(June 8, 2012, 11:29 a.m.)
Bob, do you think it's conceivable that institutional support for unglueing books could be possible? It would be great if Columbia and like minded institutions could marshall support for the model.
(June 8, 2012, 11:14 a.m.)
If this new edition were published by standard means, Columbia's library would almost certainly buy it at any reasonable price This example is really sponsoring a new edition (the intro, sound clips and photographs) which makes it worth a higher price than a digitized backlist title. We need to have libraries supporting this model.
(June 8, 2012, 9:23 a.m.)
Hmmm, I don't know if you guys have an advertising budget or are relying on word of mouth. I'd try to get on Public Radio and then on various podcast networks (TWiT, Revision3 etc). Some avenues it might be better to just promote

Can't think of any avenues for this book specifically though, aside from looking into academic circles around folklore and African history.
(June 5, 2012, 2:24 p.m.)
The campaign has been going successfully so far, but we still need to reach out to more people who do love or might care about Ruth Finnegan's *Oral Literature in Africa*. Who should reach out to?
(June 1, 2012, 10:45 a.m.)
I just pledged to unglue this book on principle. I want to succeed!
(May 28, 2012, 11:53 a.m.)
A sample from the collection of tapes Ruth Finnegan made during her fieldwork in the 1960s is now available. This sample demonstrates the richness of the audio material to be made available for the first time as part of this campaign:
I hope it gives you a flavour for the material you are supporting to make publically available.

A huge thank you to all you ungluers for your wonderful support so far. It is really exciting and stimulating to find such a breadth of support for what we are doing.
Please do continue to spread the word and tell/tweet people about your support for this campaign and the unglue site generally.

You must be logged in to comment.

A campaign has succeeded to unglue Oral Literature in Africa!

The rights holder, Open Book Publishers , has agreed to release Oral Literature in Africa to the world as a Creative Commons licensed ebook (CC BY) thanks to the efforts of ungluers like you.

Campaign details: the fine print

If this campaign is successful, the new edition of Oral Literature in Africa will be launched at The World Oral Literature Project Workshop in Cambridge, England on 29-30 June 2012. The complete original text, along with a new introduction and images, will be an Unglued Ebook available to readers everywhere -- along with access to new digital archive materials of audio and visual clips from Ruth Finnegan's research -- if together we raise $7500.00 by June 21, 2012, 11:59 p.m.


This work has been downloaded 12918 times via ebook links.
  1. 1204 - pdf (CC BY) at OAPEN Library.
  2. 1716 - mobi (CC BY) at Internet Archive.
  3. 4953 - epub (CC BY) at Internet Archive.
  4. 3401 - pdf (CC BY) at Internet Archive.


  • 20th century
  • anthropology
  • Literary Criticism
  • Africa
  • African culture
  • African Folk literature
  • Children's literature, English
  • Drama
  • Drama / African
  • Folk literature
  • Folk literature, African
  • History
  • History and criticism
  • Limba
  • Limba people (Sierra Leone)
  • Literary Criticism
  • Literary Criticism / African
  • Literature & literary studies
  • Nonfiction
  • Oral literature
  • Oral tradition
  • Orality
  • Prose
  • Proverb
  • Sierra Leone
  • Social Science
  • Social Science / Anthropology
  • Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural
  • Storytelling
  • thema EDItEUR::D Biography, Literature and Literary studies
  • Unglued
  • West Africa
  • Yoruba people


DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0025


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