A critical analysis of conformity and subvertion in Gikuyu children's oral poetry
Children's oral poetry is an important genre in the way it uses verse to inculcate social values and conditions the child's mind to conform to social expectations. It is potent in lodging in the child's memory social lessons through stylistic presentation of social expectations. It is not only a pedagogical tool but also a commentary on the society from which it emerges. While one would expect the poetry to make the children conform to social norms designed by adults, the poems stage stylistic, thematic and performative moments of subversion against certain values embraced by the privileged especially adults. Children are not passive recipients of the message, but are active participants in the creation of an ideal society. Looking at themes, performance, stylistic devices and the social background against which the poetry is created, the thesis analyses the tension between conformity and subversion engendered in the children's oral poetry. The agency of children performers has not been systematically analysed. Most studies of children's literature seem to see children as passive objects that need to be moulded into whole subjects through literature. The study attempts to fill this gap in scholarship by investigating whether Gikuyu children's oral poetry exhibits patterns that express subversion and conformity at the same time. It also analyses how the conflicting issues of conformity and subversion are reconciled into an aesthetic and thematic unity. It examines whether the songs' themes, style, and the artists' performance provide reconciliation of the conflicting elements. The study uses library research, preliminary field survey, actual collection of data and finally processes and analysis. The study investigates whether children's oral poetry expresses the gender, philosophical and moral consciousness subject to their composition, performance and reception. The overriding question is whether stylistic devices employed in the composition and performance are appropriate for the content of the poetry. The study is anchored on ethnopoetics theory which is complemented by deconstruction, hermeneutics and psychoanalysis as theoretical tools to probe the dialectical relationship between conformity and subversion. The study critically investigates and analyses how the tension between conformity - and subversion in Gikuyu children's oral poetry impacts on composition, performance and reception of that poetry against a backdrop of adult values. We make the assumption that Gikuyu children's oral poetry uses thematic, stylistic and performative patterns that bring together subversion and conformity, and that the conflict between conformity and subversion is an expression of the social consciousness of the Gikuyu children. This study is justified by its pertinent concern for and contribution to the understanding of contemporary children's art. This study makes a contribution to an area that is gaining popularity not only in Kenya but other parts of the world. It stimulates further research into the area. By association, the study illuminates our lives as products of our childhood.