In my studying of oral traditions for my work on the Tap Legacy Foundation’s Digital Archive Project I came across an interesting phenomenon. In oral traditions only the most important things are past along intact.
Communities are okay with their communal memory’s natural attrition. It allows for a kind of continual renewal of the forms. Like the snake shedding its skin seasonally, the outward form may renew themselves over time as the people of the community change across generations, but the core of the tradition, just as the snake itself, remains the same. Oral traditions inevitably have a lot of variance in their expression, but the forms’ roots, intentions, and core remain constant.
Without the attrition of the community’s memory, this renewal becomes harder. Instead of renewal, calcification happens, and traditions begin to feel disconnected from their current context. Exercises from a distant land or time – forced endeavors.
Sometimes remembering the most important thing is enough. Sometime forgetting can be good – even allowing for renewal.