By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  1. say what constitutes  folklore.
  2. identify  aspects of folklore  within  your society.
  3. discuss aspects of culture that constitutes  folklore.

What is folklore?

In our interactions with our environment,  we have come to accept some things to  be good, and others bad.  The  way we perceive these things in the environment are captured in many ways by the culture.  These things are often captured  in popular beliefs,  proverbs,  stories,  myths, legends, music, our history, and so on. All these are what is usually named folklore. Thus, folklore can be said  to  be all the knowledge,  beliefs and  experiences of a group  of people. According to Elliot Oring:

“Folklore is that part of culture  that lives happily  ever after.”

How  will  you  say  this  in  your  language?  This  suggests  that  folklore  has  been  there  and  will always be there.

Folklore is usually passed  on by word  of mouth.  This is to  say that your great grandfather told your  grandfather  a  story,  your grandfather tells your father the same story,  your father,  in turn, tells you the story. Now, you are also likely to tell your child, and the passing on goes on. Thus, folklore  is said to be part of the oral literature  of a people.

As we have seen,  folklore constitutes the totality of the knowledge, beliefs, and experiences of a people. In today‟s lesson, we shall only look at one aspect of folklore:  the folk tale.

Divisions of Folklore

Folklore  can  be  divided  into  four areas of study.  These are artefact,  oral tradition,  culture and rituals.

a.   Artefacts 

These  include  objects  such  as  dolls,  decorative items used  in religious rituals,  hand-built houses and  barns,  and  handmade clothing.  In addition, figures that depict characters from folklore  may  be  considered  to  be  folklore  artefacts, depending  on  how  they  are  used within a culture.

b.   Oral tradition

Although  folklore  sometimes  contains  religious  or  mystical  elements,  it  also  concerns itself with the worldly  activities of everyday life.

c.   Culture

 It is believed that folklore has many cultural aspects. It helps to validate a culture as well as transmit its morals and values. It can also be the root of many cultural types of music. Folklore can be used either to assert social pressures, or relieve them.

d.   Rituals

Many rituals can be considered  folklore,  be it formalized  in a cultural or religious system or practised within  a family  or secular context.

Specific kinds and examples of folklore

Genres or the kinds of folklore  include  material culture, such as folk art, music, such as folk songs, narratives, such as legends,  sayings, such as proverbs, beliefs, such as folk religion,  and food; for example,  traditional  cooking.

We  have  put folklore into  six categories.  Now,  we shall look  at these categories,  especially as they apply to our culture.

Material Culture

Our  material culture includes our buildings and  such things as decorations that we make to  our buildings  and  other  things  in  our  environment.  Have  you  seen  a  picture  of the round  thatched buildings that we still have in parts of,  especially,  the northern parts of Ghana. Today, what has come  to  be  called  summer  huts  are  often  built  following this pattern.  Why? They are beautiful and are built to keep out the heat.

Also,  in  many  parts  of  the  country,  people  use  colours  to  paint  beautiful  patterns  on  their doorways.  Others use such other things as shells to, literally, tile their rooms or the forecourts of their houses.

Our material culture refers also to the instruments we use the creation of other things.  In cultures where  traditional  cloth weaving,  for  example,  kente  weaving,  is  done,  the  instruments  for  the weaving are often carved  and  decorated beautifully. In addition, where pottery is done, the pots, earthenware   bowls   and   the   instruments   used   in   grinding   or   milling   are   often   intricately decorated.  I am sure that you know that instrument that  looks like the hourglass that is used in grinding  such  vegetables  as  pepper,  tomatoes,  „kontomire‟  and  others  when  we  prepare  our delicious  meals.  In  parts  of the  country,  it  is  call the  „tapoli‟  or  simple  as  the  „ta‟.  Is  it  not beautiful?

All the tools we have mentioned  constitute  what we are referring  to as our material culture.

Think  about  the  material things  in  our environment that are not imported  from another country. Which of them can you say for certainty that were passed on from one generation to another, and to the next, until it has come to us today? That is the kind we are referring to as constituting our material culture, our folklore.


Music is an important element of our culture. It is one of the elements the fall under the folklore of our  culture.  There are some pieces of music that,  as Oring puts it,  „live  happily ever after‟. Take some of our lullaby, for example.  You know that a lullaby is that song that a mother will sing for a baby to lull the baby to sleep, don‟t you? Now these are songs that are an integral part of our folklore.

Have you watched  men doing really hard  work,  such as slash the bush to prepare the land for cultivation?  Perhaps  you  were at the beach when the fishermen have arrived  in their boats and are pulling in the catch. What do they do? Yes, they sing. Such songs are called work songs. The song goes rhythmically  with the slashing  or the pulling  at the ropes the nets are attached to.

These are songs that were passed on from generation to generation. We have them today, a nd we shall pass them on. They belong to what we are calling  our folklore.

There  are  other  songs,  such  as  the  dirge  which  someone  sings  when someone beloved  to  the singer  dies.  The English  also  have  a  similar  song  called  the  ballad.  It  was also  originally  sung when a loved one died or something terrible happened to someone who the singer loved. Today, all ballads are written.  But then,  originally,  they were orally performed.  Like the dirge, they had belonged  to the folklore of the English.

Think about the traditional songs that you know. They may be sung on a happy occasion or on a sad  occasion.  Have  they  been passed  on from generation to  generation before they got to  us? Such a song belongs to the folklore  of the culture.


 The  narratives  refer  primarily  to  the  folk  tale.  The  folk  tales  are  common  especially  in  our cultures.

 What is a folk tale?

 A  folk  tale  is  a  story.  This  kind  of  story  is  told  in  a  traditional  setting.  Here  are  three characteristics  of a folk tale:

  1.  A  folk  tale  comes  from  a  particular  cultural  background,  so  the  folk  tale  will reflect the culture  of the people.
  2. The   folk   tale   usually   has  animal  characters.   Many  cultures  often  have  one particular animal that features as the main character in these tales. In most parts of Ghana, it is Ananse, the spider. In some parts of the country,  it is the tortoise.
  3. A folk tale usually  teaches a moral or a lesson on right or wrong behaviour.

Why do we have folk tales?

Firstly,  the  telling  of  folk  tales  was  part  of  the  process  of  bringing  up  young  people  in  the society.  We  have  said that  a  folk  tale  will  teach  a  moral.  Folk  tales,  therefore,  are  told  to especially young people to  make them learn what behaviour is acceptable and what behaviour is unacceptable.

Folk tales do not educate only the young. The elderly in the society are also rebuked or corrected by  the  morals  in the folk  tale.  When an elderly person is made aware of the results of wrong behaviour from the folk  tale,  he or she is likely to  change for the better. Perhaps, that was the reason  why  animal characters  were used  in these stories.  The story will speak  indirectly to  the elderly person and then he or she may change. The story is about an animal, but if you, a human being,  is behaving  like that animal,  then, you must change your behaviour.

Secondly,  folk  tales  are a source of entertainment.  For example,  most folk tales have interludes. These  are  short  breaks during which a song is sung.  Anybody present during the telling of the story  can  start  the  song.  Then  all  others  will  join in  singing  the  song.  After  the  song,  the storyteller  continues  telling  the story.

Fairy Tales

In some parts of the world the folk tales are called fairy tales. The fairy is usually a creature very much like a human being but with wings and so small that it can actually stand in your hand. The fairy  has  magical  powers  and  can  do  many  things  that  are  impossible  to  human  beings.  It  is usually pictured with a wand, a little stick that is used when it performs the magic. Fairy tales are usually  for little  children.  Fairy tales belong to the folklore  of those cultures.

Who told these stories? 

Today,  it  is  almost  impossible  to  say who  first told  these stories.  These stories are said  to  be anonymous.  This  is  to say  that their creators are unknown.  However,  in a few cultures,  a few individuals have been identified  as creators of some aspects of the folklore. For example, among the Anlo Ewes, Akpalu has been credited with the composition  of many beautiful poems.

Do  you remember any folk tale that you have been told, or that you have read? Remember that originally,  these tales were passed  on by word  of mouth.  Today,  you may write them down so that we do  not forget them. Do not forget, however, that folk tales belong to the folklore of the culture from which it is taken.

 Narratives are not always folk tales. There are also the myths  and the legends.


 A  myth  is  a  narrative  or  something  said  in  order to  explain an event that,  at the time,  it was impossible  to explain.  Here is an example:

Long long ago, God was very very close to human beings. He was in the sky. One could just reach out and touch the sky and talk to God. Then human being invented „fufu‟. You know,  in pounding the boiled  cassava,  plantain,  or yams to  get the smooth paste that is the „fufu‟ a pestle is used. This will be raised to pound the „fufu‟. And God was so close. Men had  no  mercy.  Anytime the pestle was raised  it hit God  on the nose. God went a little  farther  away.  As  men  ate  the  „fufu‟  and grew  taller  and  taller  God  had  to  move farther and farther away. Then, in order not to be disturbed any longer, God moved as far away as the sky has. That is why the sky is so far from us.

Have I explained  why the sky is so far away? That is the kind of thing  that the myth will do.Some  myths  are  about  people.  They  attribute  certain  very  mystical events  to  those  people  to explain  why  they  are  so  great.  Here  is  one  such  myth  about  the first president of Ghana,  Dr Kwame Nkrumah.

One account has it that, one day, when Nkrumah was a little child, his mother was carrying him at her back  as they were coming home from the farm. They had to cross a little stream. In the middle  of the  stream,  Nkrumah  told  her  mother that she  was  standing  on  a  fish.  Her mother reached  under her feet and  caught the fish.  They made a good  meal of the fish when they got home.

 Well! What do you think?


Legends  are  narratives  about  people  who  had  really  lived.  That is why we can refer to  some people as living legends. The legends could be legendary for doing very good things or very bad things.  There is the legend  of the Ewe king named  Agokoli.  He was so wicked that his people had to run away from him. Of course, there is the legend of Okomfo Anokye, who is the one who united  the Ashantis.

Most importantly,  remember that myths and legends are part of the folklore  of our culture.


Listen to the following:

  1. From afar,  the forest look  like one solid  mass,  but when you are in it,  you realize that every tree stands on its own.
  2. You do not ignore the head and let the knee wear the hat.
  3. The beard does not recount history  for the eyelash.
  4. No one grows teeth because someone else‟s  maize has matured.
  5. The chameleon  says walking  positively  means moving  backward and moving  forward. Have you heard any of the sayings  above before?

Repeat them to yourself.

Think  about them, one at a time. What does each mean?

Take the first one, for example:

From afar, the forest look like one solid mass, when you are in it, you realize that every tree stands on its own.

When you look at a forest a few miles away from it, you may think it will be impossible to walk through  it.  But  then,  when you are close to  it,  you find  that there are spaces,  at least,  spaces enough for you to  go  through the forest. This is telling us to be careful not to depend too much on others. Everybody must know that he or she will, at one time or another, have to depend on himself.  Even in families where we think  all is well because there is the impression that there is no problem, if you get close enough to such a family,  you will find  that this is not the case at all.

There are lots of such sayings  in all cultures. What is their use?

They serve as good  advice for especially the young ones in the community. Often, your parents will „recite‟  them.  They will then be reminding you of something that you have to  do,  or some things  that you should  not do.

 When are they used?

 You  will agree  that these sayings are used  at any time at all.  However,  you will find  that it  is during  formal functions,  such as at a durbar of the chiefs and  people of a culture that you are likely  to  hear  more  of these.  In fact,  in many cultures,  the chief will usually speak  through the “okyeame‟  or  a  special spokesperson.  This  spokesperson  will re-echo  what the chief has said. Often, even if the chief does not capture what he intends to  say using such sayings, the linguist will capture it in the wise-saying.

Sayings can be called proverbs or wise-sayings. They carry a message that is often true and this message is meant to offer advice.


Our beliefs are part of our folklore. For example, in most of our cultures, we engage in ancestral worship.  We  believe  that our  ancestors  intercede  for  us  and  can  prevent  bad  things  from happening to us. We also believe that if a person works hard in this life and leads an honest life he will enjoy in the next life.  This belief determines  what we do or will not do


Our  food  and  how we prepare it,  and  also  how we eat it forms part of our culture.  In some cultures,   when  there  has  been  division  and   a  reconciliation  or  coming  together  has  been achieved,  a special meal is prepared.  This is often served  in one bowl and  all to be reconciled will eat from that bowl. I am sure you are also aware that some special meals are prepared and shared during  certain festivals.

I am sure you have learnt a few things that we can refer to as folklore. There are more things to learn  in  our  literature lessons.  Look  around  you  and  identify  aspects  of the  folklore  of your culture.  We shall be talking  more about this in subsequent lessons.


In this lesson, we have learnt that:

  1. folklore  captures all the knowledge,  beliefs,  and experiences of a people.
  2. folklore  is passed on orally or by word of mouth.
  3. one form of folklore is the folk tale.
  4. the folk tale is told to entertain.
  5. the folk tale is also told to teach young people to behave well.
  6. the folk tale can also make elderly  people change their behaviour.



Prosper Kwesi Agordjor, M.Phil.

Peer Reviewers 

John Tetteh Agor, Ph.D. 

Modestus Fosu, Ph.D.

William Foli Garr, (Rev.) M.Phil.