FUNCTIONS OF BALLADS IN GENERATING A SENSE OF COMMUNITY
Ballads are a form of poetry or narrative songs that define the oral tradition of a given people. A ballad was made up of the community itself, individuals only contributed in the composition and performance of these songs. The performances, posters, sculptures and poetic narrations represented the whole community. It is an unlettered homogeneous practice that developed ties to bind the members of a community. They provided avenues for people to express themselves or their opinions about the current situations and experiences. Ballads revolved around the deeds of the community, description and ridicule or appreciation of the daily activities that occupied their lives. Ballads did not have musical instruments and relied mostly on emotions to create subjects (Gummere, 1970).
Community in this context refers to a homogeneous group of individuals who share common political, cultural and social activities. In the past communities were small groups of social organizations that had similar ways of life. For instance they could be belonging to the same neighbourhood, clans, towns or even ethnic tribes. The major bond between these individuals was the locality. Today, community is viewed as a place where individuals face challenges in solidarity. It is where members draw strength to approach various issues in life as one. They are bound by the experiences and activities that they carry out together. Therefore unlike the traditional setting where it was all about locality, a community is formed by structures that give people a sense of belonging and identity. This is irrespective of the different locations that they may be situated (Gummerce 1970). It is a setting where members are accountable and concerned with the well being of each other. They carry out every day activities together, and share most of the life experiences. Achievements and success is shared among these groups in form of celebrations or rewards (Block, 2008).
A community requires that people are united and concerned about the welfare of each other. Ballads serve to express this unity and the sense of belonging that defines a community (Delanty, 2003). They bring people together to work towards a common goal. This paper will discuss on how ballads have contributed towards creating a sense of community. It will further illustrate the various components of a community and how these components are strengthened by ballads.
Entertainment and humour
The human being is a social animal and this has always been the case even in the past. Ballads have been a major source of entertainment to the community. In the rural communities, ballads were supplied through the lips of villagers. The village community enjoyed humorous sessions in the evening after work. After a hard day’s work and the challenges associated with manual work. The peasants together with their masters relaxed and enjoyed a session of oral narrations to relax their minds (Houseman 1969). The sense of community was created through these evening performances because after social division during the day, the villagers relaxed together in the evening. It gave them a sense of unity despite the differences in social class. When relaxing together while enjoying entertainment, the villagers felt as one because they all stayed in the same neighbourhood and led the same lifestyles. Such sharing is what makes up a good united community.
In the past recreation was mostly based on the oral narratives, poems and songs. This was a good source of entertainment because the form of contact was personalized. The performers were real and therefore offered better entertainment. It was also involving because every member of the community could participate. The ballads were used to identify a given people thus they defined a community. The unique ways in which each community performed their ballads while spending their leisure time helped in identification. This identification with the given ballads is what created a sense of community among members of the same neighbourhood or ethnic community. Ballads offered a superior form of interaction and identity as compared to today’s electronic media. This media lacks the human touch that is evident in ballads; they make communication real and therefore more reliable .Ballads have a sense of community because each community had its own form of celebration and entertainment (Jonsson, Mitchell & Harris 1991).
Some ballads were used to engage the participants in activities. For example work songs among the African Americans helped in simplifying work. However these songs could only be performed if the work involved a group of people. This resulted into the formation of work groups who formed communities. A community consists of people who share similar experiences and challenges. The African American way of working in groups and their custom of sharing work build a community. The ballads strengthened this bond by necessitating them to form groups for them to perform as they work (Courlander, 1996).
Ballads create a feeling of the history at the present
Ballads are not historical but rather give a sense of how it was in the olden days. They give people an experience of the past. This is illustrated by the example of ballads that describe the geographical landscapes. They describe hills and streams in the past and the cultural practises carried out there. How they used to carry out their Agricultural activities in the green fields and their harvesting ceremonies (Smith 2008). Such descriptions make the listener picture how wonderful the landscape may have looked. They take back the audience to the olden days before erosion and climate changes affected the environment. It gives the audience a feel of the past. This can also be practised in celebrations that are based on the past practises although they may not be as precise as they used to be. Ballads therefore create a sense of community because people are able to identify themselves as per their origin. This makes them feel that they have similarities that bring them together to create binds that tie.
There is aestheticism in communication. What makes communication interesting is the nature in which information is transferred. Ballads bring out the beauty of communication and help the person conveying information to reach a bigger audience. If a ballad was performed during a festive season, it was more likely to reach a larger group of people as to compare with other forms of traditional communication. A community consists of individuals who are interested in the events in each others’ life. Ballads provide this link because through these narrative means, the rest of the members in the community know what is happening in one another’s life (EOL: Magrini article, 1995). In the past, community members could tell that a given family had lost a relative through death. This was communicated through the kind of songs that could be heard from that family. Since this was a community, the performance of those ballads conveyed a message that the rest of the community members should visit the bereaved family (Edwards & Mabie 1925). Therefore, ballads created a sense of community in that, once performed; the rest of the members knew what they should do in case one of them had a problem. Problems where shared and the need for attention was communicated through ballads.
Ballads united people to form communities. For example, in Cromwell there was a celebration for the ancestors of the Emerald. When these people gathered together to celebrate the common origin through ballads, they were united by the common origin. It created a sense of community in that they belong to the same ancestor. Their experiences in life revolve around the background in which they come from. These people are likely to exhibit similar social lifestyles and practises. Such similarities bind people together to form communities with social ties (Kempen 2008).
Ballads create an avenue for self expression, faith and religion
Expressing one’s opinion can be a difficult task especially if the situation is a difficulty one. Death and grieve for example are difficult situations in which people wish to express all their fears and discouragement. Ballads performers are separate from the actual message. They simply provided the right language for people in the given situations to express themselves (Buchan, 1982). Ballads made self expression possible. A bereaved person could sing a folk song or say a poem composed by another person to convey his feelings. An example is Byron Herbert Reece’s poem in which a person suffering grief from the death of a relative requests for his death bed to be made. The sorrow engulfs him that he wishes he could also die. In this poem, the effect of this person’s grief is felt and the people around him can tell that he is in great emotional pain. The ballad helps a person in such a situation to seek sympathy fro the society without stating it (Smith 2008). This ballad brings out a community as a setting in which members draw a sense of belonging. Members obtain consolation and share their problems and fears (Block, 2008).
Religion is also expressed in ballads and through this it is evident that a community is made up of people with similar beliefs and practises. Worship involved supreme beings who had a lot of power. Ballads were used to communicate the repercussions of disobedience. In this case, most of these ballads were based on false stories. However due to the naivety of the people these were interpreted as true (Smith 2008). Religion creates a sense of uniformity due to the similar religious practices. It brings members of a given society together. This was enhanced by religious ballads because people met as a group of a given religion to perform these festivities. In performing these celebrations members interacted and formed strong ties that ensured continuity of their society. Sharing happy moments and religion creates a community. There is a sense of belonging in religion (Rousseau, 1991).
Ballads are also used to express how a given society disapproves of wrong doings. For instance the French and Italian ballads on religion express how they were angered by martyrdom. The community consists of a family and they cannot afford to have one of them persecuted because of their faith. Through the religious ballads the French and Italians expressed their disapproval and the pain caused by martyrdom (Housman, 1969). These ballads show that the pain of one of the members is the pain of the whole community. This means that the community is one; they are linked by the problems that they experience and carry through them as one. Expressing the pain as one through ballads shows that there is a sense of community among them (Rousseau, 1991).
Ballads as a tool for maintaining law and managing crisis
Poetry was a form of remedy in the past. It was used to address people who were experiencing conflicts as a warning to stop opposing each other. In Mexico, young men yearned for fame and this prompted them into practising life risking activities. There were instances in which some of them could die and achieve fame after death. These were unacceptable behaviours which caused pain and suffering. Ballads were used to describe and mock these events. In a community, people are concerned about each others welfare and this is evident in the way these ballads rebuked the unacceptable behaviours in an effort to stop them (McDowell 2000). The Bedouins, through their ballads advocated for violence as part of life. On winning fights, the heroes were rewarded with celebrations that were performed to praise them. This in the end resulted to division and lack of moral authority. Religious Ballads that identified the effects of this violence were introduced. They mocked these actions and encouraged the people to live as one. They indicated that God measured the actions of men and only the good ones would be supported by the Supreme Being. Performance of these ballads helped in peace restoration and fights and murder were stopped (McDowell 2000). From this observation, it is evident that ballads served as a tool for restoring peace. Peace restoration creates a sense of community because members lived in peace and cared for each other. They all wanted to gain support from the Supreme Being. These ballads may not have been based on the truth, but they helped the communities live in peace.
Ballads were also used to define the rules and regulations to be followed. Through this law was established to protect one another from harm. Violence was prohibited when harmful and justified when considered useful. This was used as a regulatory mechanism to punish the offenders and protect the innocent people. It gave the members of the society a moral consciousness. In a community, law and order govern the members as was the case in the past. Unlike the present day where rules are stated in constitutions, Ballads were used to support or disapprove of a given practice. When members of a given society recognize the wrong deeds and caution them, they depict oneness which is only present in a community setting. Justice plays a very significant role in the community, ballads created a sense of community by defining justice through narrations and cautionary songs (McDowell, 2000).
Ballads as a form of communication
A community consists of individuals who are bound together by the experiences and situations which they go through. It means that they are bound to know what is happening in one another’s life for them to address these issues as one (Block, 2008). Communication is what binds them and helps them to know the needs of each other. In the past ballads were used as a form of communication. For instance latest developments were communicated through stories (Rousseau 1991).
Children ballads were also common among the Scott. They were used to entertain the children as well as communicating to them the dos and don’ts. Through these songs children learned what happened to their seniors when they tried to break a certain rule. These messages were mostly not true. They were meant to scare children the children from practising some special deviant behaviour. This guidance given to children suggests that the people were concerned about the good upbringing of children. These pieces of art focussed on guiding children as they grew up so as to become responsible adults in the society (Smith 2008). A community consists of people who can rely on one another for services and livelihoods. Ballads helped children to grow up with good behaviour that will support the continuity of the community.
The teenage phase is prone to rebellion. Ballads were employed at this stage of life to help in controlling the possibility of rebellion. Teenagers undergo a phase that is prone to rebellion and this was greatly influenced by ballads. This can be explained by the example of Byron Herbert Reece’s love poem in which a young man recounts to his mother how he saw his beloved with another young man. His mother acts as the elder who advices him against any uninformed decision on dealing with his jealousy. She encourages the son to be a person with a strong heart at that moment and even in future when he is an adult. This example shows that in the past people were very concerned about neighbourly relationships and encouraged peace among their communities. The young people are taught that violence is not acceptable in the community. This is not done in a forum but is communicated through poems. If a young man listened to that poem then they knew what to do in case they are betrayed by their partners. A community is a place where people are bound together by the similar experiences that they go through. Teenagers experience the same problems therefore the ballads directly communicated to them and thus brought them together to live as a family with similar issues. This brought a sense of community among these young ones. Ballads taught young people on how to approach the issue of adolescence courtship (Smith 2008).
The theme of love was common in the ballads performed in the past. Among the English and the Scott, suitors communicated to their mates through ballads to express their interest (Housman 1969). A community is supported through these practises. For a group of people to live as a community, love is a factor that should be observed. These ballads with the theme of love strengthened the bond between these people and created a sense of community. Through these ballads effects of uncontrolled emotions are also communicated. Matters of love are addressed to show that it is a good thing among the society.
Ballads as a way of teaching and obtaining opinions from the society
The English and the Scott were known to exercise religion. This was apparent in the nature of the ballads that they performed. Religion was taught through ballads, the Christians were taught the New Testament stories through ballads. These oral narrations provided religious knowledge and created bonds because the members had one thing in common; religion (Housman 1969). When a group of individuals practice the same religion, it gives them a sense of belonging to one God and therefore creates a community. Through these religious ballads the communities grew and members appreciated one another.
In the past, peasants and masters used to gather in the evening where they could spend the night singing and dancing. These ballads did not discriminate any one from attending. It is in these entertainment activities that people were able to express their joy and get to know each other. In some occasions where people were celebrating annual festivals like the case of the English, it brought them together. People shared a common goal in which they could mark the significance of these celebrations in their lives. This gave the people a sense of belonging because these affected them all despite the positions they held in the society (Housman, 1969).
Ballads were used by slaves to communicate coded messages in which only they could understand. This helped them to overcome the challenge of not being able to read and write. Through the ballads the slave community was able to fight for freedom by uniting as one through the endure ship ballads that they sang while working. To the outsiders, the songs were assumed to be harmless and merely meant to encourage each other to endure their suffering. This however was not the case because through this communication they plotted ways in which to escape without track. These ballads gave the slaves a sense of community because they brought them together and helped them to conquer. The experiences that they had were similar and they also had a similar goal of overcoming slavery. Ballads in this case helped them to communicate and learn each others opinion on the best way to overcome (Courlander, 1996).
Human beings experience joy, sorrow and challenges while growing up. This is a learning experience that applies to a group of individuals. When a group faces similar challenges and achievements, it is bound together by these events and they become homogeneous. The result is a community that has a lot in common and share experiences together as one. These events call for celebration or sharing in case of sorrow to ease the burden. Ballads are applicable in every aspect of a human being’s life. These ballads unite people together as they provide avenues for self expression and sharing. They also define the dos and don’ts of a given society. They contribute to foundation and maintenance of good relationships among the members. They have created a sense of community because they highlight the similar events that happen in people’s life. Communication through ballads made people feel that they were experiencing similar situations and therefore brought them together. Through ballads, people were able to share joy and celebrations as one. They felt equal as is the case of peasants and their bosses. They also helped them to share their burdens in grief. Ballads brought the people together; they created a sense of community.
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