Oral history guidelines

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Doing Oral History

Edited by Dr Johan Wassermann (2002)

This publication is a product of an Oral History workshop organised by the Department of Education and the facilitator was Dr Wassermann from the University of KZN Compiled, collated, edited and enhanced by Dr Johan Wassermann

Course Coordinator – History Education

School of Social Science Education

Faculty of Education

University of KwaZulu-Natal

Private Bag X03

Ashwood 3605

Phone: 031 – 2603484

Fax: 031 - 2603595

Email: wassermannj@ukzn.ac.za

This publication originated during the Oral History Workshop held from 20-22 February 2007 in Durban. The workshop was an initiative of the Department of Education and the South African History Project and presented, under the leadership of Dr. Johan Wassermann, by the History Education discipline, School of Social Science Education, Faculty of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal. The purpose of the workshop, attended by subject advisors in History and Social Science employed by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education, was to build capacity in Oral History practice, a vital methodology in giving a Historical voice to the voiceless. In the process a range of materials and powerpoints were distributed to the advisors to be cascaded down, along with the portable skills they had gained, to History teachers in the field. Ultimately the vision was for all learners in KwaZulu-Natal, regardless of their grade, to become better at doing Oral History.

During the workshop the subject advisors were tasked to, in groups, plan an Oral History project according that could be implemented in schools. They had to use the following road criteria:  

  • It must have a clear topic/problem statement/research question
  • An explaintion why the topic was chosen
  • How could the project be presented – the end product
  • What would be considered when assessing the project – for example: planning, preparation, interviews, analysis of interviews or end product
  • The nature of the project - individual, pair or group project
  • Possible questions to be used in a semi-structured interview
  • An explanation on what benefits the project would hold
  • A list of anticipated logistical and Oral History challenges – as well as an explanation on how these could be resolved

This booklet, containing examples of 6 possible Oral History projects is the result of this exercise. My task was to compile, collate, edite and enhance the projects put forward. To boot I have added a 7th project – how do do Oral History without any electronic equipment in a disadvaniged school. Hopefully this booklet, the result of work done during the mentioned workshop, will assist in getting learners to be better at doing Oral History and educators – by using the examples below as guidelines – to be better at facilitating and managing Oral History work in their classes.

Dr JM Wassermann

Oral history project 1: Forced Removals from Roosboom

Phase: Further education and training (FET)

Developers: S Haw, G Pillay, P Ram, A Theron

Why did we choose this topic? We chose the topic of forced removals because it is relatively contemporary and is a fertile field for an Oral History project as it is calculated that some 3 million people were affected by this particular form of social engineering. Forced removals can furthermore lbe linked with relative ease to the workings of apartheid as covered in the classroom.

Fact file on topic: Roosboom or Enhlonhlweni as it I known in Zulu, is about 10 km from Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). It is located alongside the R103, which used to be the main road to Johannesburg. It is typical of many places in northern KZN where black farmers were able to by land before the passing of the 1913 Land Act. The first black farmers bought or leased land in the area in 1907. The farm was bought by Mr Joseph Khumalo who formed a syndicate consisting of 48 African families. After the 1913 and 1936 Land Acts, Roosboom became known as a “black spot” as it consisted of black owned farms in an area outside the land demarcated as reserve territory.

By the 1950s Roosboom’s population consisted of descendants of the original landowners and their tenants. The tenants did not farm but worked in Ladysmith.

In the 1960s Roosboom became the centre of protests against the removal of “black spots” in northern KZN as it was the home of Mr Elliott Mngadi, the founder of the Northern Natal Landowners Association. It was Mngadi who organized prayer meetings and rallies in Roosboom to protest threatened removal. These actions resulted in his banning in 1964. The Liberal Party supported him by setting him up in a fish and chip shop but the police harassed his customers making it very difficult for his business to thrive.

Elliott Mngadi. Source: Simon Haw

Pressure mounted in 1974 to have the people of Roosboom removed, as the presence of the settlement right next to the main road to Johannesburg was seen as reflecting poorly on the Klip River District. Much was also made of the danger of increased road accidents in the area. As a result the houses were numbered and the occupants were refused permission to build new structures or repair the old ones. This commonly happened prior to a forced removal. The government’s task was made easier by the fact that the Roosboom tenants, who formed the bulk of the population, were not opposed to moving to the settlement of Ezakheni. By 1976 Roosboom had ceased to exist. The reoccupation of Roosboom started in 1990 and today the community is larger than ever before.

 

How could this topic be presented?

We decided that the final product would be in the form of a report, with supporting field notes. A possibly extension activity could take the form of a heritage trail or an exhibition of sorts. This Oral History project can be done as individuals or in pairs, or even as a whole class task.

Who could be interviewed?

The following could be possible interviewees:

  • Descendants of the original land-owning families
  • An individual or individuals who were moved from Roosboom
  • A returnee who is now living at Roosboom again
  • A member of Mr Mngadi’s family or someone who knew him well
  • Members of the authorities who dealt with the process of removal and reoccupation

What should be done for assessment purposes?

The following components were identified as necessary for this project:

  • Field notes or logbook that could include the following: general planning, times and places where pre- or actual interviews took place, questions to be put to the interviewee, brief biographical notes on the interviewee, details of research underpinning the project, refelction on the process
  • Transcripts or notes taken during the interview
  • Actual electronic media used during the interview process
  • Consent forms
  • Report of between 1500 and 2000 words

What questions could be asked of the interviewee(s)?

  • Introductory questions on place and date of birth, schooling connection to Roosboom
  • What was life like in the original Roosboom community?
  • Do you remember individuals who stood out in the community?
  • What do you remember about the move from Roosboom?
  • What impact did the move have on you and your family?
  • How did the community react when it learned that the government intended to relocate it?
  • How did the outside world react to the idea of removal?
  • How did you experience the place to where you were moved?
  • How did the move affect your quality of life?
  • What happened to the land after the inhabitants were removed from Roosboom?
  • How does the new community at Roosboom compare with the old one?

What would the benefits of this project be?

A project such as this holds an obvious educational value for learners and the researched community alike. Firstly learners would get to grips with the workings/mechanics of apartheid and secondly they would be working with real sources on the site of the event. Lastly such a project would serve to restore a sense of its past to a dislocated community.

What problems might be encountered?

  • It could prove difficult to finding and contacting people to interview
  • Getting to and from the site might prove challenging
  • Finding suitable venues (with electricity for equipment and removed from spectators) for interviews to take place might be hard
  • Interviewees, because of the traumatic nature of the event, and because of suspicion of strangers might be reluctan to reveal it all

Oral history project 2: The name change of Stanger to KwaDukuza

Phase: General education certificate (GET) – Grade 4

Developers: T Barington, I Khumalo, V Langa, L Nzibande

Why did we choose this topic? This topic has immediate relevance to learners in Grade 4 who resides in this area – see fact file on topic below. It also fits into the broad curriculum. At the same time it would not be too difficult to find people to interview, while the learning outcomes related to investigating the past and presening and demonstrating historical knowledge and understanding will be developed – see the diagram below:

Radial Diagram

Fact file on topic: Stanger, also called KwaDukuza, is a historic capital of the Zulus. Located on the North Coast of KwaZulu-Natal a province of South Africa ( 29°27”²S, 31°14”²E) it is famous for being the place of King Shaka's assassination.

It was founded around 1820 by Shaka as KwaDukuza (Zulu: Place of the lost person) because of the capital's complex labyrinth of huts. After Shaka's assassination in a coup by two of his half-brothers, Dingane and Umthlangana (Mhlangane), on September 24, 1828, the town was burnt to the ground. In 1873, European settlers built a town on the site, and named it Stanger after William Stanger, the surveyor-general of Natal.

Today, a small museum adjoins the site of King Shaka's grave, a grain pit, in the town centre. The otherwise simple town is surrounded by sugar cane fields, and the mahogany tree where King Shaka held meetings still stands in front of the municipal offices. The Shaka Day festival, a colourful ceremony of 10 000 or more Zulus, is held at the Stanger Recreation Grounds on 24th September each year.

In Zulu, the 'Kwa' at the start of KwaDuzuka is pronounced as a vigorous click consonant. It was here that Shaka built his last capital called Kwa Dukuza - 'the place of the lost person.' Its notoriety was due to its size and being the place where he was murdered by his half brother Dingane in 1829.

Stanger is a cane growing centre and a bustling town. The Stanger North Coast Museum houses a great variety of historical items and information on King Shaka, the sugar industry and local history. Stanger became a municipality in 1949 and is the commercial, magisterial and railway centre for one of the more important sugar producing districts.

The modern day town area of Stanger has a distinct eastern flavour due to the importation of Indian labourers during the late 1800s to early 1900s to work under the name of sugar cane barons like Sir Liege Hullet. India sponsored indentured labourers to South Africa as the Zulus were not inclined to farm labour. The first few hundreds of Indian families departed northwards from Durban, on 17 November 1860, to the cane farms that applied for them. The idea of importing Indian labourers was abandoned in 1911 after their numbers exceeded one hundred thousand. Most Indians did not return to India after their work contracts expired, and exchanged their return trip passes for currency or property. The expansion of the Indian community brought about a change in the economical and cultural attributes of Stanger.

(Source: Wikipidea)

How could this topic be presented?

Learners of different abilities will work together to, for example, present a poster that can take the following format:

Organization Chart

The posters created by the learners – based on their research – could be displayed on school notice boards, school fences and within the community, like in for example clinics.

Who could be interviewed?

The following could be possible interviewees:

  • Parents and neighbours
  • Town officials
  • Inhabitants of the town
  • Local historians, teachers, librarians, museum workers

How would this project be assessed?

Assessment will be continuous and formative in nature and will focus on planning, preparation and execution. A rubric will be used to determine if the stated outcomes were achieved: Clearly able 3, Able 2 and Not/Unable 1.

What questions could be asked of the interviewee(s)?

Questions such as the examples below will be developed with the assistance of the teacher:

  • What was our area called ”¦years ago?
  • Why did the name of Stanger change to KwaDukuza?
  • Who was responsible for making the changes?
  • When did the name change?
  • What was the result of the name change?

What would the benefits of this project be?

Both the learners and the community would benefit. Firstly the learners would be actively involved in researching their local History and as such develop a range of skills and abilities. Secondly the community would benefit since it would be educated about the history of the names of their town.

What problems might be encountered?

  • Identifying relevant interviewees, arranging meetings with them and obtaining consent could prove challenging. Teachers and the SGB might be able to assist in this.
  • This Oral History project might prove to be time consuming and teachers must therefore allocate reasonable time for it.
  • Teachers must ensure that learners’ are able to access sources other than oral sources and that they are able to corroborate evidence. This might imply that the teacher must provide the necessary sources.
  • A project such as this might have financial implications, however, if well planned this could be overcome.
  • Grade 4 learners might struggle to execute and record the interview. Practicing the necessary skills could serve to alleviate this.

Oral history project 3: The impact of apartheid on peoples' lives - 1948-1960

Phase: General Education Certificate(GET) - Grade 9

Developers: MC Buthelezi, CT Chonco, KC Dlamini, MBH Khumalo, N Mndaweni

Why did we choose this topic? This is contemporary topic with huge potential – and countless available interviewees and secondary material to support the interviews. It was also chosen because of the range of Oral History skills it can develop in learners.

Fact file on topic: Most school History textbooks for the FET phase have some or other section related to this topic.

How could this topic be presented?

The learners could present their work in several ways:

  • The final product could be an essay or any other piece of extended writing based on the interviews conducted
  • Learners can also do an oral presentation about their research

Who could be interviewed?

  • Any person who experienced the period between the National Party coming to power in 1948 up to the Sharpeville massacre
  • Political activists of this era
  • Government officials of this era
  • Ordinary citizens who were alive then

What questions could be asked of the interviewee(s)?

  • For starters general biographical questions could be asked – name, place of birth, schooling and so forth
  • Learners can then focus on any aspect related to life under apartheid for the period 1948-1960 be it political, social, economical

What could be done for assessment purposes?

Learners will be expected to submit:

  • An essay or any other piece of extended writing based on the interviews conducted
  • Do an oral presentation about their research
  • Learners would also be expected to submit their field notes/recorded cassettes, transcriptions and logbooks.

During the process of assessment emphasis will be placed on: the planning for the project, the interview/s conducted, the analysis of the interview, and the report back on the findings (final product/s)

What would the benefits of this project be?

A range of people can benefit from this project. Both the final product as well as the cassettes and transcriptions can be kept in the local library/school for further research. Copies of the latter will also be given to the interviewee/s. This would then become part of the history of that individual, his/her family and/or organization/s. The findings of the research could also be presented to the local community. It the process a voice will be given to the voiceless. This is Social History par excel lance.

What problems might be encountered?

  • It might prove challenging to find individuals to interview. To address this the aid of religious organisations, teachers, parents and so forth might be needed to locate interviewees.
  • Equipment to record the interviews might be a problem. In this case learners could work in pairs with one conducting the interview and the other making notes. Both learners should afterwards elaborate on the field notes while the interview is still fresh in their memories.
  • It could possibly be unsafe for learners to go into certain areas to conduct the interview/s. This could be resolved by inviting the interviewee to a public place or to the school. Alternatively an adult family member could accompany the learner.
  • It is also possible that certain individauls might still feel trauamtised by their experiences during this time period. Learners need to be aware of this and have to plan on how to cope with emotional situations.

Oral history project 4: Why is there a split in the Nazareth Baptist church (Kwa Shembe)?

Phase: Further education and training (FET)

Developers: T Luthuli, PS Mahlambi, QQ Mehlomakulu, BB Mthembu

Why did we choose this topic? We chose this contemporary topic because it is so controversial. This was also chosen as it is an example of a study located in a specific area (limited geographical location). Despite this we deemed this topic, which is a divisive factor in this specific community, to be an excellent example of History from below/local History – see the fact file below.

Fact file on topic: The Shembe's Rise to the Lord

Near Inanda, north of Durban, is a sacred site called Ekuphakameni, the ‘Place of Spiritual Upliftment.’ It was named by Isaiah Shembe, prophet and founder of the Shembe Church. A major festival is held in mid-January at an equally sacred location, the mountain dubbed Nhlangakazi, some 30 kilometres north of Ekuphakameni. “Our pilgrimage to the mountain is based on the third book of Moses,” says a preacher from the area, Reverend Nxumalo. “It dates back to a revelation Shembe experienced in 1916, in which he was told that the Lord would speak to him on the holy mountain, Nhlangakazi, just as He had spoken to Moses on Mount Sinai.” Ekuphakameni is the place where the Shembe’s holiest shrines are to be found. Most of them were erected by Shembe himself. Egumbini, the ‘House of the Tabernacle,’ one of the holiest of holies, lies to the east of the Inanda Road. It adjoins a tree-lined open area termed ‘Paradise.’ As a token of respect, visitors must remove their shoes before crossing this terrain.

It is said that the late founder of the Shembe movement was alone on a hillside when struck down by lightning. The Voice of the Lord thundered the command: “Go south!”. Isaiah Shembe was carried, unconscious, to his hut. He was paralysed, and taken for dead. The women of his village wailed and ululated in hysterical fear. Sangomas and witchdoctors were summoned, and rituals performed to revive Shembe. When he came to, he told his followers that he was among spirits who had instructed him to go south. He duly left on his pilgrimage, carrying his Bible, blanket, stick and precious gifts from his followers. Among the sacraments stored in the Tabernacle at Ekuphakameni is a supply of holy water used for purification ceremonies.

The Shembe village is divided into five distinct living areas. Young women live in specially set aside stone dwellings. They are carefully brought up in age differentiated groups by the elders, and subjected to rigid discipline. Within the temple area, the Shembe leader resides in ‘eGumbini langaphakathi,’ near the Tabernacle. The married quarters for men and women are known as ‘ekamu,’ and the older men’s quarters as ‘Inhlalisuthi,’ whereas women live on the eastern side of the main church in an area referred to as ‘Kwa Fourteen’ or ‘Jamengweni.’ In future, boys living within the village will be divided into two age groupings, and once they are older they will move to the ‘Inhlalisuthi’ - quarters reserved for older males. Female children are divided into three groupings, known as ‘Amasheshakungena’ (up to 11 years), ‘Amatubhane’ (teenagers, not yet of marriageable age) and the ‘Twenty Fives’ or ‘amakhosazane’ (those who are ready to marry).

The Shembe Church is well known for its spectacular dance festivals and the church’s structure is a fascinating mixture of Christian dogma and the tenets of Zulu culture. The founder of the church inculcated in his followers a belief that closely mirrors the traditional norms of social and moral behaviour among the Zulu people.:“Our rituals include baptism by immersion, the keeping of the Sabbath, observance of a seven day fast before Holy Communion, and the celebration of Holy Communion at night, preceded by feet washing ceremonies,” says Enoch Mthembu, spokesman for the Shembe Church. “Holy Communion is celebrated twice a year, during the January and July festivals.” The January festivals, particularly the one held in mid-January, see Shembe followers, clad in traditional white garments, flock to the holy mountain of Nhlangakazi. Some worshippers travel very long distances to reach the holy mountain, where they participate in ritualistic song and dance. During the exodus to the mountain, the Shembe take part in a hypnotic, trance-like dance, with the men leading the way. The married women follow, carrying furled umbrellas and tiny ceremonial shields in the same colours as their church clothing. They are, in turn, followed by young maidens in full traditional regalia. A constant stream of vehicles and barefooted worshippers snakes along the dusty road to the holy site. Praising the Almighty on top of the mountain, and executing traditional Zulu dances, the Shembe reflect an alternative version of Christianity, which has evolved based on the Old, rather than the New Testament. The festival has evolved into one of the most colourful spectacles in Southern Africa, and it attracts increasing numbers of tourists each year.

By Themba Nyathikazi – Metro Beat

How could this topic be presented?

This sensitive and controversial topic can be presented in various ways:

  • An extended piece of writing like a newspaper report
  • An oral presentation on the factors dividing the church
  • A poster presentation on the factors dividing the church

Who could be interviewed?

  • Elders in the community
  • Elders in the church
  • Ordinary members of the church
  • People resident in the community but not belonging to the church
  • Academics who have studied the church
  • Journalists who have reported on the division

What questions could be asked of the interviewee/s?

  • For a start questions could be posed on the origin of the church – church history, the life and death of Inkosi Shembe
  • The role and position of the interviewee in the church could be interrogated
  • The two factions – Ebuhleni and Ekuphakameni and their doings, including the court cases, could be investigated
  • Attempts to heal the divisions can be asked about
  • The relationship to the holy mountain – Nhlangakazi - can be explored
  • The position of the church on issues such as polygamy, marriage and burial can be asked about

What could be handed in for assessment purposes?

Learners will be expected to submit:

  •  An essay or any other piece of extended writing based on the interviews conducted
  • Do an oral presentation about their research
  • Learners would also be expected to submit their field notes/recorded cassettes, transcriptions and logbooks.

During the process of assessment emphasis will be placed on: the planning conducted, the interview conducted, the analysis of the interview, and the report back on the findings (final product/s)

What would the benefits of this project be?

  • The learner/s might acquire conflict resolution skills from researching such a controversial topic
  • The followers of the church might benefit by gaining new perspectives and insights into their own practices.

What problems might be encountered?

This is an extremely controversial topic and in all probably not suitable for learners to attempt. Hostility, anger and lack of support (even possible threats of bodily harm) might face students should they research this topic. In all likelihood access to the community will only happen through an intermediary. It is recommended that teachers and parents be closely involved should such a topic be chosen. In reality a topic such as this is best left to experienced researchers OR the teacher must take the lead and invite the interviewee to the classroom for a group interview.

Oral history project 5: The life story of a person who contributed positively to our community

Phase: This can be done in any phase

Developers: D Hadebe, T Nzama, B Wahlberg, ASS Xulu

Why did we choose this topic? This topic was chosen because it could be done in any phase and grade. Furthermore, it is really giving a voice to the voiceless and is an example of Social History whereby the contributions of ordinary members of society are investigated and valued. Learners will have no shortage of people to interviews as any individual who contributed positively to the upliftment of society could be interviewed as a possible “hero or heroine.” In the process learners will hopefully come to realise that History is also about ordinary people. Learners will also be introduced into the genre of writing biographies/life stories.

How could this topic be presented? An Oral History project of this nature can be presented in a variety of ways:

  • It can be orally presented to peers or members of the community
  • The life story of the individual in question can be portrayed in poster format in a local community centre
  • A formal biography can be written
  • An essay or any other piece of extended writing could be completed

Fact file on topic:

Who could be interviewed?

It will not be difficult to find interviewees for this topic as each and every community will have individuals that qualify.

What questions could be asked of the interviewee(s)?

  • What have you done for the community?
  • What prompted you to do it?
  • What difficulties/challenges did you face/are you still facing?
  • How did you overcome the challenges you faced?
  • How did your contributions affect people in your community?
  • Have you been acknowledged/thanked for your contribution?
  • How can the community help in sustaining the project your endeavours?
  • Where do you see your project/endevour in five years time?

What could be handed in for assessment purposes?

Learners will be expected to submit:

  •  An essay or any other piece of extended writing based on the interviews conducted
  • Do an oral presentation about their research
  • Learners would also be expected to submit their field notes/recorded cassettes, transcriptions and logbooks.

During the process of assessment emphasis will be placed on: the planning conducted, the interview conducted, the analysis of the interview, and the report back on the findings (final product(s)).

What would the benefits of this project be?

A substantial number of people will benefit from this Oral History project:

  • First and foremost the individual interviewed will benefit as his/her contribution will be recognized and affirmed
  • The life story of a valued member of the community will be shared with a broader audience
  • Learners will be exposed to a range or Oral History skills
  • Learners will be uplifted/inspired and develop a relationship with the community
  • An awareness of the History of community members who can act as role models will evolve
  • A sense of Local History could be fostered

What problems might be encountered?

  • Learners might lack the necessary electronic equipment to conduct the interview. An alternative could be to use a cell phone.
  • If in doubt (safety related issues) the interview can be conducted at school or in a public place. Otherwise an adult could accompany the learner.
  • With a project of this nature the possibility exists that the interviewee might either over or under play his/her role in the community. In both instances other members of the community need to be interviewed so as to verify/enhance the reliability of the interviewee.
  • A distinct possibly exists that the interviewee might be interviewed in a language that is not his/her first language. In that case it might be necessary to enlist the help of a translator.
  • Members of the community being interviewed might be old and frail and suffer from memory loss. Interviewees need to exhibit empathy and sympathy

Oral history project 6 : The principles/values of the constitution and cultural practices

Phase: Further education and training (FET) - Grade 11

Developers: A Kane, VAN Majozi, R Pather and BP Zondi

Why did we choose this topic? This topic related to socio-cultural issues (rites of passage, coming of age, sacrament etcetera) in KZN communities was chosen partially because it deals with LO4 (Heritage) and partially because it connects the cultural practices of communities with the fundamental values of the constitution e.g.: ubuntu, respect, tolerance, reconciliation and so forth. The fact file below on the “The Umhlanga or Reed Dance” is an excellent example of a topic that could be investigated.

Fact file on topic: The Umhlanga or Reed Dance By Richard M. Patricks, SNTC. July 2000.

In an eight day ceremony, girls cut reeds and present them to the queen mother and then dance. (There is no formal competition) It is done in late August or early September. Only childless, unmarried girls can take part.

The aims of the ceremony are to:

  1. preserve giris' chastity,
  2. provide tribute labour for the Queen mother,
  3. produce solidarity by working together.

The royal family appoints a commoner maiden to be "induna" (captain) of the girls and she announces over the radio the dates of the ceremony. She will be an expert dancer and knowledgeable on royal protocol. One of the King's daughters will be her counterpart.

Day 1: The girls gather at the Queen Mothers royal village. Today this is at Ludzidzini, in Sobhuza's time it was at Lobamba. They come in groups from the 200 or so chiefdoms and are registered for security. They are supervised by men, usually four, appointed by each chief. They sleep in the huts of relatives in the royal villages or in the classrooms of the four nearby schools.

Day 2: The girls are separated into two groups, the older (about 14 to 22 years) and the younger (about 8 to 13). In the afternoon, they march, in their local groups, to the reed-beds, with their supervisors. The older girls often go to Ntondozi (about 30 kilometres) while the younger girls usually go to Bhamsakhe near Malkerns (about 10 kilometres). If the older girls are sent to Mphisi Farm, government will provide lorries for their transport. The girls reach the vicinity of the reeds in darkness, and sleep in government-provided tents. Formerly the local people would have accommodated them in their homesteads.

Day 3: The girls cut their reeds, usually about to ten to twenty, using long knives. Each girl ties her reeds into one bundle. Nowadays they use strips of plastic bags for the tying, but those mindful of tradition will still cut grass and plait it into rope.

Day 4: In the afternoon the girls set off to return to the Queen Mothers village, carrying their bundles of reeds. Again they return at night. This is done "to show they travelled a long way".

Day 5: A day of rest where the girls make final preparations to their hair and dancing costumes.

Day 6: First day of dancing, from about 15:00 to 17:00 in the afternoon. The girls drop their reeds outside the Queen Mothers quarters. They move to the arena and dance keeping in their groups and each group singing different songs at the same time.

Day 7: Second and last day of dancing. The king will be present.

Day 8: King commands that a number of cattle (perhaps 20-25) be slaughtered for girls. They collect their pieces of meat and can go home.

Today's Reed Dance is not an ancient ceremony, but developed out of the old "umcwasho" custom. In "umcwasho", all young girls were placed in a female age-regiment. If any girl fell pregnant outside of marriage, her family paid a fine of one cow to the local chief. After a number of years, when the girls had reached a marriageable age, they would perform labour service for the Queen Mother, ending with dancing and feasting.

How could this topic be presented?

An Oral History project such as this could be presented in numerous ways. The following is a list of examples: essay, report, exhibition – related material such as photographs, article for school/local newspaper, oral presentation, role-play, talks/lectures involving the interviewees, powerpoint and poster.

Who could be interviewed?

  • Members of a community who are still involved in rites of passage practices – this could be both the eldres and the young people
  • Formal organizations that represent/organise cultural practices related to rites of passage
  • Anthropologists and Historians

What questions could be asked of the interviewee(s)?

Invariably the questions will depend on the cultural practice under investigation. The following could be possible questions:

  • When you were gowning up, where there a special occasion to recognize your getting older?
  • Do you have some type of ceremony to honour this occasion? Explain.
  • How did you prepare for this ceremony?
  • Tell me about this cultural practice.
  • What do you remember about the ceremony?
  • Who is involved in the ceremony and what roles/s do they play?
  • How has this ceremonial practice changed you?
  • How has this practice affect your family and community?
  • In what way does your cultural practice reflect the principles/values of the constitution?
  • Do you think that the present generation should continue with this cultural practice? Explain.
  • How would you go about making other communities aware of your cultural practice?

What could be handed in for assessment purposes?

In this case an academic essay, using secondary sources and the interviews conducted, could be written. An Oral History project like this could de presented/dealt with in a variety of ways for example, debates on it, public prsenation both orally and in a written format, role plays and so forth.

What would the benefits of this project be?

  • The broader community might come to greater understanding and acceptance of cultural practices other than their own
  • The values embedded in the constitution will hopefully be embraced
  • A sense of community might develop
  • The interviewee might be exposed to a culture other than his/her own and as a result respect for diverse cultures will be fostered
  • Outcome 4 might be fully achieved

What problems might be encountered?

This topic might/might not be of a controversial nature - all depends on how forthcoming individuals or communities are about their rights of passage. A Jewish boy might readily speak about Bar mitzvah. Xhosa boys, on the other hand, might not be as forthcoming about their initiation practices. Some of the problems that could be encountered are the following:

  • Accessibility to communities where rites of passage is still practiced could be complicated to negotiate. In all reality an intermediary person will probably be needed.
  • Interviewers will need to be culturally sensitive. This can be achieved by good preparation including reading on the topic.
  • Experiences might not be typical and some interviewees might have bad memories.
  • Interviewees might present selected information to outsiders. This could be offset by having a group interview.

Oral history project 7 : Conducting oral history with large classes in a disadvantaged school

Phase: Further education and training (FET) - Grade 10

Developer: Dr. Johan Wassermann

Why this topic? The reality of the educational context of South Africa is that most schools have large classes with few resources. If, against this backdrop, Oral History is viewed as being about technology and electronic equipment it will never be done. In reality doing Oral History does not need any electronic equipment. What it do need is sound skills. Below I will, by means of examples, explain how an Oral History project could be conducted in a large class without any electronic equipment.

The context:

  • Class of 50 learners – co-ed
  • Grade 10
  • 50 desks and chairs
  • Lessons are 90 minutes
  • Learners have notebooks
  • Blackboard and chalk
  • Disadvantaged school
  • You have just completed the section on apartheid
  • You are about to start an Oral History Project

Key question 1 - what is oral history? (90 minutes)

During the first stage learners will be exposed, in a construtivist learner-centred manner, to the notion of Oral History:

  • Create 10 workstations with 5 seats each = 50
  • At each station place a laminated/plastic covered source which deals with the nature of Oral History (in plastic means it can be re-used)
  • Learners are given the key question: “What is Oral History?”
  • The learners, in groups of 5, will rotate, on your command, from one station to the next - spending roughly 5 minutes at each station (they will thus work with 10 different sources)
  • At each station they have to analyze the source and make notes on the nature of Oral History using the split page method (divide the page in ½ )
  • After 50 minutes they will return to their seats and in a group list 5 aspects they regard as central to Oral History – this will take 10 minutes
  • For the last 20 minutes use the question and asnwer method to elicit responses from the class on what they regard as Oral History – write these on the blackboard
  • For homework they must construct a working definition/description on Oral History in their workbooks under the topic: “Our Oral History Project”   

Key question 2 - what is the value of oral history? (90 minutes)

  • The next step is for the learners to get to grips with the value of Oral History
  • This will again be done in groups – groups 1 & 2 (A), 3 & 4 (B), 5 & 6 (C), 7 & 8 (D), 9 & 10 (E) (clusters) will each received the same laminated/plastic covered document on “Value of Oral History” – 5 different documents will thus be in circulation
  • Each group must familiarize themselves with their document and think of ways in which they can teach it to other groups – 30 minutes
  • On your command learners move so that each group have a rep (expert) from cluster A,B,C,D,E
  • Each expert then teach the other members (jigsaw method) his/her document – (50 minutes)
  • Throughout learners must make notes
  • During the last 10 minutes consolidate the topic by means of a discussion session using the blackboard
  • For homework learners must list 10 reasons why Oral History is valauble to students of History

Key question 3 - how to conduct an interview? (90 minutes)

  • For this exercise learners will work in 2 pairs = 4 learners
  • Each pair will receive a plastic covered card with 5 questions related to an event during apartheid
  • One person from the first pair will pose the questions to the other pair who must pretend they are figures from the era – they must then answer the questions
  • The second person must take notes of the answers
  • After 20 minutes the interviewer/scribe and interviewees swop and the process is repeated (40 minutes in total)
  • For the remainder of the lesson debrief the learners on “How they conducted their semi-structured interviews”
  • During the next lesson interview a colleague/member of the community in front of the class (fishbowl) while the learner observe the interview – and write their observations down. This will form the basis of further discussions on: “How to conduct an interview?”
  • For homework learners must write a 15-20 point policy – “The do’s and don'ts of conducting Oral History interviews.

Doing the oral history project

  • The learners were given the following topic: “Our families and apartheid” – emphasis will be on services such as schooling and health and entertainment – remind them to be sensitive
  • This topic was given to the Grade 10 learners sidestep some logistical and administrative pitfalls. This is also their first Oral History project and as such will be experiential and developmental in nature and will serve to ease them into the Oral History process, get them to talk History to their families – a source they are partially familiar with.
  • The learners will work in a group of 4 and they must interview one person from each of their families = 4 interviews
  • Each pair must act as interviewers on 2 occasions and as scribes on 2 occasions – they are not allowed to use recorders. In the end they will have 8 sets of data and all of them would have acted as scribes and nterviewes.
  • The interview schedule will consist of only 5 questions – these will be negotiated with the whole class – all groups will ask the same questions – as a class we want to make comparisons and determine patterns therefore the same questions were asked. This could be done because of the conflicting nature of the data thrown-up by the interviews.
  • Once agreed upon the groups practice asking the questions in their groups – NOTE: this will be semi-structured interviews – they must therefore learn to probe.

The final product

Learners will receive rubrics on how their project will be assessed: planning, preparation, interview, analysis of interview, presentation of end product  will be looked at. To achieve tto the assessment standards the following need to be done:

  1. keep a logbook in their workbooks (2 inscriptions a week) – assessed by teacher
  2. poster on their findings (also photos and documents) – assessed by teacher
  3. creative oral presentation linking Oral History and their posters – peer assessed
  4. Have a family/community evening/afternoon where the posters are showcased
  5. The teacher must draw it all together in class – compare and interrogate the results and debrief the Oral History Project
  6. Learners are now ready to go to the next level in Grade 11.

Further suggested readings

  • Cutler, William W. III. “Oral History. Its nature and uses for Educational History”, in JSTOR - History of Education Quarterly. Vol. 11, No.2. (Summer, 1971), pp. 184-194.
  • Du Bruyn, Derek. “Teaching Oral History: A South African perspective”, in Denis, Philippe and Worthington, James (eds). The power of oral history: memory, healing and development. Volume 3. Sinomlando Project, 2002.
  • Dunaway, David and Baum, Willa (eds). Oral History: an interdisciplinary anthology. Altamira Press, 1996.
  • Hamilton, Carolyn. “Living by Fluidity: Oral Histories, Material Custodies and the Politics of Archiving”, in Carolyn Hamilton, Verne Harris, et al) (eds). Refiguring the Archives. Cape Town: David Phillip, 2002.
  • Henige, David. Oral Historiography. Longman Publishers, 1982.
  • Lerner, Gerda. Why History matters: life and thought. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Perks, Robert and Thomson Alistair (eds). The Oral History reader. Routledge: London and New York, 1996.
  • Thompson Paul. The voice of the past: Oral History. Oxford University Press, 1978.
  • Ritchie, Donald. Doing Oral History: a practical guide. Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Vansina, Jan. Oral Tradition as History. James Currey Ltd, 1985.

Last updated : 11-Aug-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 06-Sep-2011