Oral tradition refers to verbal information as a source of recording history. Oral sources can be divided into two main broad groups i.e. Oral tradition and Oral history.
Oral tradition simply refers to very long past events of say over 200 or more years ago such that there are no possible living witnesses to such events to transfer the information as it happened. Rather, these events have become traditions, which are passed from one generation to another. For example, historical events of 17th and 18th centuries have become oral traditions, which are being transferred from one generation to another without necessarily depending on the accounts from possible eye witness report.
In Oral history, we get eye witness account of what happened, and this is recorded from the accounts of that person.
Oral tradition is a very important source of history particularly in Africa because a lot of events had taken place before the people were literate enough to record the events in writing.
LIMITATIONS OF ORAL TRADITION
In spite of the importance of oral tradition as a source of reconstructing history, there are some limitations or weaknesses in it as a source of information in writing history.
The most common limitation (of oral tradition) is that the history might be distorted. This means, the true story might not be told as it really was. Some information might have been added or taken away by the person telling the story.
Some oral traditions are often expressed in myths, legends and folktales such that they are hard to belief. Again, it is very challenging separating the main truths from myths, legends and stories.
The use of oral tradition in recording historical events requires the understanding of the culture, traditions of the people being studied. This may not always be easy.
Most times, oral traditions are encoded in native languages and would require a good understanding of the language of the area to decode such information contained in oral traditions. In the process of trying to transfer what is being said in the local language to English especially when an interpreter is involved, there is the possibility of altering the intended message or facts.