Wednesday , July 6 2022

Traditional Communication Forms In Nigeria Categorised By Prof Des Wilson

The traditional media are Culture specific channels of communication common among people in a given society. They are people oriented, folk-driven communication channels. They include the instruments (wooden and metal gongs, flute, and drums), use of plants (for instance fresh palm fronds), and animals (such as white pigeon, white cock and others, in passing across meanings), festivals, ceremonies, secret societies, among others.

It is difficult to get an exact classification of the indigenous communication channels but attempts have been made towards this direction. One of such classic classifications is the one done by Professor Des Wilson of Nigeria. Professor Wilson is one of the vintage scholars in Africa with specialty in traditional communication studies. He had one of the first major attempts at classifying traditional forms of communication, based on what obtained in Nigeria’s old Calabar province. According to him, these are the various forms which the fabled town crier employed in his different communication roles. They can be broadly divided into eleven classes, namely (Wilson, 1987):

(i) Idiophones

(ii) Membranophones

(iii) Aerophone

(iv) Symbolography

(v) Signals

(vi) Signs

(vii) Objectifies

(viii) Colour Schemes

(ix) Music

(x) Extra-mundane communication

(xi) Symbolic displays



They are self-sounding instruments or technical wares which are used to express meanings by producing sound without the additional or use of an intermediary medium. Examples are the gong, woodlock, wooden drum, bell and rattle.



They are media on which sound is produced through the vibration of membranes. These include drums beaten or struck with well-carved sticks. Among the various Nigerian groups, skin drums of various sizes and shapes abound. This is where you have the Yoruba talking drum, locally called ‘dundun’. It is used to express meanings in various ways.



They are instruments which produce sound as a result of the vibration of a column of air. This category is comprises media of the flute family, whistle reed pipes, horns and trumpets.



This refers to symbolic writing or representation. Communication takes place when an encorder uses graphic representations to convey a message which is understood within the context of a known social event and an accompanying verbal message. It is a descriptive representational device for conveying meaning.



These are the physical embodiments of a message. Many ancient signals are still being used for modern communication today. Some of the signals include fire, gunshots, canon shots, drum (wooden or skin). Signals are still essential modes  of communication in modern times.



This consists of marks which are meaningful, or objects or symbols used to represent something are signs. While signs are more likely to be symbolic in certain contexts, symbols are not signs. Signs are associated with specific denotative meanings while symbols usually carry along with them connotative meanings as well.



Media presented in concrete forms which may have significance for a specific society only or may be universal through their traditional association with specific contextual meanings. These include: kola nut, the young unopened bud of the palm frond, charcoal, White Pigeon or fowl, white egg, feather, cowries, mimosa, flowers, sculptures, pictures, drawing, the flag etc.


Colour schemes:

This refers to the use of colours to express meanings. Colour uses the advantages of pictorial communication by combining the speed of its impact and freedom from linguistic boundaries to achieve instant and effective communication. Examples include red, white black, green, yellow, brown and turquoise. These colours are also combined to express meanings.



Music is a major form of communication in traditional African societies. Itinerant musical entertainment groups sing satirical songs, praise songs, and generally criticise wrong doings of individuals in society. Grapevine stories concerning events that are being planned for the society may be featured as a way of alerting the generality of the people.


Extra-mundane communication:

This is the mode of communication between the living and the dead, the supernatural or supreme being. This communication pattern is expressed through incantation, spiritual chants, ritual, prayers, sacrifice, invocation, seance, trance, hysterics or liberation. According toWilson (1987), cultural ritual performance evokes intensity of emotion which may lead to a temporary spiritual transmigration of the participants as in religious or spiritual ceremonies.


Symbolic displays:

These would be cultural-specific or may have universal significance and some of their characteristics are shared even with primates e.g. smiling, sticking out the tongue, expression of anger, disgust, happiness, and fear, the way we walk, or sit, gestures we use, voice qualities and other facial expression.


(This is part of an article written by Professor Des Wilson, first published in Africa Media Review, Vol. 1, No 2, 1987; pp. 87-104)

About Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a writer with passion for cutting-edge news

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