Public speaking is the art of designing and delivering a message to an audience. This involves understanding the audience and speaking goals, selecting elements for the speech that will engage the audience with the topic, and delivering the message skilfully (Wrench, Goding, Johnson & Attias, 2016). Public speaking is based on the use of rhetoric to persuade an audience through effective debate and argumentation. Through persuasive skill, public speakers engage audiences on behalf of clients. Public speakers can be found during ceremonies and events.
In African traditional settings, public speaking is used in many situations including negotiation, ceremonies and events. Public speakers are often held in high esteem due to their great passion for persuasive speech and the skilfulness with which they deliver their speeches. From the linguist in the chief’s palace to traditional wedding ceremonies and naming of children, oratory is quite strong. Finnegan (2012, pp.431), for instance makes the following comment:
The art of oratory is in West Africa carried to a remarkable pitch of perfection. At the public palavers, each linguists (official spokesman) stands up in turn and pours forth a flood of speech the readiness and exuberance of which strikes the stranger with amazement, and accompanies his words with gestures so various, graceful and appropriate it is a pleasure to look on. The oratorical displays appear to afford great pleasure to the audience, for every African native is a born orator and connoisseur of oratory.
The statement clearly shows the dexterity with which the Africans use language and symbols, which are key elements of public rhetoric, to persuade their audiences. What is interesting though is that rhetoric or public speaking in the traditional African setup is mostly unwritten and hardly explored even though they are very well known (Finnegan, 1970 quoted in Yankah 1995).
In the Akan Society of Ghana, the skilful control of language is highly valued although there is no formal training in the art. Such skills come naturally due to constant exposure to traditional speaking situations (Yankah, 1995). However, the nature of rhetoric in African societies, and for that matter Ghana, is something that is largely unexplored and unwritten (Finnegan, 2012). In the words of Finnegan (quoted in Yankah, 1995) “for all the passing references to the significance of oratory, there seems to be little detailed documentation on the actual practice of public speaking as a skill in its own right.” Finnegan argues that “even though the line between rhetorical and informal speech is not easy to draw, oratory in many African societies would seem to deserve further consideration than it has yet received.”
One such events where rhetoric is profound is the Akan customary marriage. The customary marriage is conducted through terms of negotiation using persuasive language and the enactments of linguistic etiquette such as greetings, requests, and honorifics and thanks (Owurasha, 2015). This can, however, not be achieved without the use of a skilful public speaker. The two families therefore contract the services of a professional spokesperson popularly known as the okyeame (linguist) to engage in the contract negotiations. The okyeame in Ghana is usually the spokesperson for the chief of the community. The name is therefore derived from the activities of the chief’s linguist. In a marriage ceremony, each okyeame tries to outdo the other in order to gain the advantage. What is significant is that the activities of these okyeame and the skilfulness of their language including the use of humour, songs etc have not been investigated much. There is no known documentation on the linguistic features in the oratory of these spokespersons. Although there are a number of research works on marriages in general (including Van der Vliet, 1991; McKinney, 1992; Agyekum, 2008; and Smith, 2001) not much emphasis appears to be placed on the okyeame as a public speaker. Owurasha’s (2015) research on “language of customary marriage among Akans” appears to be the closest. The paper therefore intends to use a content analysis to determine the public speaking skills of the okyeame in the Akan traditional marriage system.
The overall objective of this paper is to do a content analysis of customary marriages among Akans in respect of the use of rhetorics. Specifically, the paper seeks to: Determine the key elements of the language of the Akan customary marriage spokesperson Identify stylistics devices in the language of customary marriage
Public speaking uses some persuasive strategies to support claims and respond to opposing arguments. Rhetoricians use three main strategies advocated by Aristotle, namely; logos, ethos, pathos. Ethos appeals to logic using facts and figures to support the speaker’s claims. Ethos appeals to morality or trust. It is based on the character, credibility or reliability of the speaker while pathos which appeals to the emotions to convince the audience of something. Bartolomei (2015) denotes that although each appeal can stand on their own, they are generally much more effective when combined into a single persuasive argument.
The earlier statement by Finnegan (quote in introduction) attempts to demonstrate the oratorical abilities of many African cultures. Doke (quoted in Finnegan, 2012:431) for example, describes the Bantu people as ‘born orators’ who “reveal very little reticence or difficulty about expression in public. They like talking. They like hearing themselves in an assembly.” Achebe, also speaking of the Ibo tribe in Nigeria state, “ the finest examples of prose occur not in those forms (folktales, legends, proverbs, and riddles) but in oratory and even in the art of good conversation….. Serious conversation and oratory…..call for an original and individual talent and at their best belong to a higher order (Finnegan, 2012:432). The use of oral skill of public speaking to perform functions is quite profound in African societies.
In the Akan communication system, orators are expected to be eloquent and speak without fear. Yankah (1995) note that the conditions of wet and dry are important metaphors in the understanding of the perception of fluency among the Akan. Wetness of the organs of speech is a reflection of immaturity, dullness and slurred-ness of speech, whereas dryness is a reflection of phonetic clarity and precision. Eloquence is therefore associated with dryness of lips among the Akans. When a person is described as n’ano awo (his/her lips are dried up) it means the person is crisp, smooth, concise and has controlled speech.
Nartey and Yankson (2014) note that language can be used for tranquillity, persuasion and progression or uproar, anarchy and retrogression. Within the traditional marriage system, language plays a critical role in the outcome. Language is used skilfully in the negotiation process, often spearheaded by the okyeame. Carnevale and Pruitt (1992) posit that negotiation involves discussions between parties with opposing preferences with the aim of reaching agreement. The okyeame from both families are the ones who lead the negotiations and they are required to show excellent negotiation skills and a great command of the language. Ubong (2010:336) notes that items the “bride’s family takes into the house in terms of quantity and quality ultimately depends on the skill of the chief negotiators on either side rather than on the “List” earlier submitted and even discussed in private by the two families.”
The Akan traditional marriage is mostly held between two families and it is done in the house of the bride to be. Pleasantries are exchanged and then the negotiation process begins, without the presence of the couple to be. Each family has a professional spokesperson, usually women. The use of women is very common in such ceremonies. This is probably due to their rhetorical dexterity which influences the outcome of these events. Yankah (1995) notes that the existence of gender specific genres in Akan ensures that women are able to assert their verbal wit in art forms for which they are traditionally considered to be good at. Once the okyeame for the groom has finished presenting the list of things the bride’s family requested, the negotiation then begins as the two okyeames’ start a banter. Where conflict arises, they try to find an amicable solution. The process ends when the couple are finally brought in and introduced to each family. The pastor prays with them while members of each family gives them advice.
The paper uses a content analysis of two traditional marriage ceremonies. Content analysis is a technique that uses behavioural observations to measure the occurrence of specific events in literature, movies, television programmes, or similar media that presents replicas of behaviour (Gravetter and Forzano, 2012). Two videos of Akan marriages were viewed. The focus was on the stages of negotiation between the two spokespersons and not the entire marriage. The analysis was based on the rhetorical strategies used earlier. The purpose is to determine if the negotiation process is influenced by the strategies or it includes something unique to the Ghanaian, and for that matter, Akan culture.
In the two videos, it was noticed that the ceremonies were characterised by various stylistic devices such as proverbs, metaphors, humour, symbols and hyperbole. Stylistic devices deal with a “branch of linguistics which deals with expressive resources and functional styles of a language,” (Yefimov, 2005:5). According to Agyekum (2013), stylistic devices focus on the linguistic techniques and strategies that a speaker adapts to present his/her communication aesthetically. Stylistics were used by the spokespersons to demonstrate their negotiation and persuasive skills. It must be emphasised that the language of negotiation was mostly in the Akan language, interspersed with bits of English.
Humour in particular was used as a form of entertainment to keep the audience in a happy mood. Martin (2007) identifies humour as a positive emotion of mirth invoked in a social context by the perception of playful incongruity and expressed through laughter-related behaviours. In one of the video, since the bride’s family were Fantes, the okyeame use this as an opportunity to show how Fantes cannot seem to speak the dialect without English by stating: awo dɜm dogi ɜ crossi car kwan na sɜ a cause accidentaaa nka ɔyɜ whana ni fault (you this dog, if you cross the road and cause an accident, whose fault will it be). This sent the audience into prolonged laughter. Within the traditional Akan marriage, humour is used as an essential part of the rhetoric process to engender an exciting atmosphere and make the negotiation a bit easier.
Proverbs were also used to drive home a point and show mastery of the language. Agyekum (2010b) argues that proverbs are commonly used to spice up talk in conversation and communicative interaction. Proverbs are used in Akan marriages to demonstrate communicative competence. Example is: mpaninfuɔ ka asɜm bi kyerɜ yɜ sɜ ‘sasabɔnsam a wuabu akyakya no ɜnyɜ motia asa nyonko no,’ (our elders have told us that if the devil has a huncback it is still not a friend of the dwarf). This was stated to emphasis the point that the groom’s family submitted only three envelops instead of four, hence the bride’s family cannot tell which one is for the brides parents, knocking, akunta sikan and extended family.
A significant stylistic device often used by the speakers is hyperbolism (the use of exaggeration) to give spice to the ceremony. Hyperbole is used to create rhetorical effect by blowing a particular situation out of proportion so as to highlight the its importance or urgency. In one of the videos the groom’s okyeame used the following statement to emphasis how they really value the lady and the extent to which they have gone to please her family: na adzi-a yɜdzi bra besia ni maami no, yɜwhɜ de way-a maame no nohu yɜ fiewu-a, yɜdzi kente. Na dɜm kente no yɜn kegina Kumasi na yɜkotɔi. kente made in Bonyire. Ohene-a ɔwɔ hɔ no, onu na ɔyɜ dɜm kente no mayɜn….oyɜ designer kente a Bonyire hene dzi mayhɜn (for the woman’s mother, when we looked at how beautiful she was we got her kente. But we did not just go to Kumasi to buy it. This kente was made in Bonyire. The king of the town himself made it for us. This is a designer kente that the Bonyire king gave us), and yɜ dzi lace ebian na yɜdzi bra awuraba-no. na dɜm lace yi queen Elizabeth nkutii na ɔshyɜ. Lace-no nifɜ nti mifa plane me kor London kɔshia queen Elizabeth. Na bias no dɜ onkyirɜ bɜbia ni designer no wɔ. Na ɔma designer no yɜ lace no bi dzi bram. Nti dɜm lace yi oyɜ one of a kind lace (we also brought two lace. But this is no ordinary lace. Only queen Elizabeth wears this lace. So I took a plane to London and asked the queen to show me her designer. She obliged and made her designer do some for us. So this lace is one of a kind). This was to demonstrate that the groom’s family hold the bride in high esteem and will go to any extent to ensure her family agrees to the marriage.
Metaphor is also greatly used particularly to describe the bride. The use of ‘flower’ in particular is very popular among spokespersons of the groom. flowers symbolises beauty and this is used to show the irresistible nature of the bride hence the need for the groom to marry her. The following statement from one of the videos portrays this: na yɜbɜ fie hɔ no, ye bɜto flowers bi-a ɔwɔ ɜnim. Flowers no ye fɜfɜɜɜfɜ. flowers bi-a yɜfrɜ no rose flower, ɜna ye hu flowers bi-a yɜ frɜ no forget me not, ena I love you so… (when we got to the house, we met a flower in front of the house. The flower was very beautiful. We met a rose flower and a flower called forget me not and I love you so…). The allusion to flower represents quality, beauty and value and this is used by speakers to show the quality of the bride. However, it is not only the bride who fits into this. The groom is also described using terms that describe manliness, elegance and boldness
Indeed these are few of the many stylistic devices that tends to be used by rhetoricians popularly known as okyeame during Akan traditional marriages. In relating this to the strategies of persuasion as postulated by Aristotle, rhetoricians in Akan traditional marriages appear to follow the Pathos element more than Ethos and Logos. It attempts to appeal to the emotions of the audience, especially the bride’s family by using various stylistics through the negotiation process. Through their passionate deliveries, using various devices, they are able to get the best out of the negotiations and also engage her audience.
Rhetoric in Akan traditional marriage shows that much can be learnt from systematically studying how public speaking works with regards to unwritten oral literature. Again, these rhetoricians are not formally trained in the art of public speaking yet are able to demonstrate extreme dexterity in language use to persuade. Studies on this phenomenon will contribute much to the issue of public speaking, especially from a traditional African perspective.
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