The oral word is typically mobile: once the vocal cords produce vibrations of the air the sound is transported by air waves to be captured by the ears of the speaker and his audience leaving a temporary sonic impression with cognitive and emotional effects. While speech acts and oral deliveries are unique and ephemeral, modern audio-visual technologies have enormously extended the limitations of both time and space, which arguably have led to a revival of oral traditions and certainly have resulted in a reappraisal of what may be considered ‘traditional’ orality and performances. 

By way of the internet now oral traditions and performances travel the world and are archived in digital formats to be preserved for future generations to study fleeting traditions. Ironically perhaps, orality is very much a phenomenon of the here and now surviving mass education and print literacy, to receive fresh stimuli from new technologies, such as television, radio and internet-based media. Although broadly speaking primary oral traditions may be vanishing quite rapidly, types of orality persist and thrive in close connection with written and print-literate traditions. In fact, the concepts literacy and orality are impossible to understand in isolation from each other. Orality is an infinitely important mode of textual production everywhere, especially in Asia and Africa where age-old traditions of story tellers, singers and other verbal artists survive and increasingly inspire and interact with the production of new texts and artful expressions in a large variety of media.

The title of the workshop refers to the exploration of oral traditions in combination with performances, travels and a separation with the place of origin. For huge numbers of people travelling or moving great distances is part of everyday life and therefore form an important marker for their identities. Although the geopolitical focus will be Asia and Africa, the workshop also welcomes papers, presenters and performers dealing with Europe as a new home in the diaspora.

The city of Hamburg does not only boast old economic, cultural and academic relations with the regions included in the purview of this proposal, it also has welcomed and accommodated large groups of people who have migrated to Germany in recent years. The Asia-Africa Institute of the University of Hamburg has a long tradition in the study of Asian and African cultures. It is a direct descendant of the Colonial Institute and the first African Studies journal, Afrika und Übersee, established in 1910, is published by the AAI. The University of Hamburg also may boast a very old collection of ethnographic sound recordings at the Institute of Systematic Musicology dating back to the year 1910 and comprising several thousand individual recordings of music and speech from all parts of the world, with a distinct emphasis on the musical traditions of Africa and the Near and Middle East.

We envision the workshop as the start of a meaningful discourse connecting research on oral traditions within and between geopolitical, social and cultural planes. As the workshop concerns the study of living traditions we plan to involve a number of verbal and musical artists to perform in connection with the academic deliberations in order to establish firmconnections between the academic conversations and their object of enquiry. These performances would not only illustrate or liven up the academic deliberations but, much more importantly, would directly involve the performers into the research being presented in the workshop.

The workshop also intends to provide a platform for young scholars within the Asia-Africa Institute and others to present their research projects in front of an international academic audience.


The main objectives of this project:

1. to convene a conference where specialists, students and artists exchange ideas and research results about the oral traditions they are studying and producing from the regions of Southeast, South and West Asia and regions in Africa or diaspora;

2. to form a core group of specialists who are invited to further develop the ideas and results of the workshop into a proposal for a bigger project that would encompass cooperation between African, Asian and European academic institutions and involve research by PhD students and Postdocs.

3. to explore possibilities for research in the oral cultures and performance traditions of groups of people who have settled in the region of Hamburg or other parts of Europe.


The topic of the workshop can be subdivided into the following categories:

1. Performing traditions: narratives and other types of texts in oral traditions often are stylized in certain ways and performed before an audience most frequently in accompaniment with musical instruments. These performances comprise audio-visual elements and will affect the audience in a variety of ways which will facilitate a successful transfer of culturally relevant knowledge.

2. Travelling narratives: texts and travels are intimately related - storytellers are often itinerant so that they can distribute their knowledge among a larger audience, people bring their stories with them on their voyages in search of safety, narratives frequently deal with real or imaginary voyages that are important for the cultural identity of the people, and stories travel different media that may preserve, disseminate or amplify them.

3. Living the Diaspora: narratives and traditions may be a way to connect the people who are or have been on a journey from their homelands with the lands and people of origin. These stories may re-create an idealized image of the homeland and may also create its own audience in the diaspora.