The Poetics of Joking Relationships among the Borana Clans, Kenya

Fugich Wako


Joking relationships have always been studied as a social phenomenon with a view to explicating their nature and function in societies they occur. Rarely have scholars interrogated the poetry and the performance of this genre and the attendant poetic nuances with which the jokes are narrated. This paper attempts to bring together these two strands of scholarships by investigating the nature of clan joke among the Borana and the poetic imagination in which it was inscribed. Some Borana clans have a certain reverential bond that unites them under what is called sunsuma (literally, hearthstone). They accord mutual respect and politeness to one another and avoid conflict by all means. Yet there are other clans whose relationships are marked by mock antagonism, banter and terse criticisms. It is amongst these latter clans that sophisticated jokes are composed and performed. The clan joke encompasses elements of contest, competition, and aggressiveness. They are manifest through oral performances that are indicative of social engagements, defining a web of social relationships through disparate genres like poetry, narrative, satire and joke. The joking partner clans thematise unconventional marriages, greed, deformity, sexual perversion and inadequacy amongst its members and taunt their antagonistic clans with them. The paper concludes that clan joke, serves as a forum for taking stock of compliance with a generally accepted community’s code of conduct where nonconformity is ridiculed and subjected to sharp criticisms. It also provides a platform for performance of songs and poetry that are rich in eloquent metaphors and imagery as an integral part of a living oral tradition of this community.

Keywords Joking relationships, clan joke, oral poetry, Borana clans, poetics, oral genre.

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ISSN (Paper)2224-5766 ISSN (Online)2225-0484

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