By Ilesanmi Augustine
Communication is a human activity dated as far back as the beginning of human interaction itself. In other words, men learnt to communicate with one another right from the time that interaction of any kind started between at least two human beings. One, however, should concede that the means of communication among the people of ancient time would be different from those of contemporary society. Whatever those means were, they must have served the purpose of exchanging thoughts and feelings which occur in every human group.
Communication simply refers to the sharing of thoughts, feeling, wishes or information between two or more people, using sound or symbols. Since the beginning of time, man’s basic means of communicating with his fellow man has been through body and facial contacts. The use of signs like body movements, moods and facial expressions has always been employed to send across particular messages, when both the sender and the receiver are in face to face contact.
When messages were to be carried to a great distance between two people or persons the use of objects as meaningful signs was common before the emergence of modern means of communication. This existed not only among people of the same community but also among people living in different communities, but with similar or common culture. An example is “AROKO” among the Yoruba people.
These ancient traditional means of communication are channels through which members of traditional societies shared information, ideas and attitudes that can help members of such groups to solve their problems and to be happy with each other.
There was also the use of implicit means of communication like talking drums, bush–burning (fire) and gun-shots. In most–traditonal societies, drums are used to communicate messages and ideas among members of a social group. For instance, when a big chief dies, the expert drummers usually climb tall trees or roots of houses to deliver their messages.
When the drum beats change, the dancers also change the style of the dance. There were other functions performed by drums in communicating information and ideas in the olden days. The talking drum for example was used among the Yoruba to praise, to motivate soldiers at the battle front, to incite during civil strife, to greet or to abuse, as well as to pass on information to a receiver who naturally understands what is being transmitted.
The use of flutes, drums and songs promote social interaction. This is so because during festivals and other ceremonies drums and flutes are used to talk to the dancers, who will respond in a particular way.
Besides, the forum provided opportunities for dancers to exchange ideas about the skills in dancing and drum as well as, developing friendship.
Bush–burning during a period of emergency could indicate the commencement of a war, while gun-shots would indicate that a ritual or an installation ceremony was going on. The use of animals e.g dogs, horses, and birds e.g parrot, as informant and messenger was also common in the traditional societies.
There was also communication by signs and symbols. Before the art of writing was invented, many people used various ways to communicate either by action as well as by words.
The face and body communicate what is in the heart. For example, a smiling face might communicate happiness, while a frowning or tearful face might mean unhappiness or discomfort. Hence the saying “actions speak louder than words; that is, actions communicate.
The use of signs and symbols emphasizes oral and written communication. All observable acts communicate something to the observer, whether it is intentional or not.
There are a breed of pigeons which are trained to fly straight home from wherever they are taken. Written messages are tied to the bird’s leg and it would then fly home with it. Road signs, advertisement posters, traffic lights, trade marks, pictures, cartoons etc are all symbols which communicate specific messages.
In some instances, silence might communicate a message. For example, when a request is made by a son to his father and the dad keeps silent, it means a number of things. It could mean disapproval or approval. So, silence is a language that communicates information that can be interpreted.
Another salient ancient means of transmitting messages in the traditional societies is the use of town criers. The town criers were messengers within the traditional ruler’s domain who were used to convey messages to the people in general or ward leaders in particular. Once a message got to the community, the head of the community sent for the town crier and informed him either to announce the message directly to the people or to summon some specific individuals that were needed. The town crier would go round the community to announce it by words of mouth or beating a metal gong at every spot, before making the announcement.
The use of town criers made the information real because members of the social group could see and hear the town crier. Besides, it was a sure way of getting messages across to the people without any alteration. For instance, the community leader could hear and see the town –crier deliver the message to the people.
More often than not, the use of smoke as a means of communication in traditional societies was limited to messages that were to be communicated to long distance places. Usually, a hill, a mountain or even trees were used as places where such fire was prepared. In such situations, wet leaves were used to cover the fire to give good smoke that could be seen from far places.
The use of smoke did assist in guiding members of the community back home. For instance, during wars, a captured member who had escaped from enemy custody could be guided by smoke to trace his way back home. This was very common during inter-ethnic wars.
However, it is important to note that there were various channels through which traditional societies communicated. These channels were used during specific occasions. For instance, the face and body were used to indicate a particular mood. A smiling face and relaxed body indicated happiness and well-being, where as a weeping face and tensed body were clean indications of unhappiness. When a woman shaved her hair or wore black clothes, the mood that was created was that of sadness. The use of flutes was limited to some specific festivals and ceremonies that were organized at different times of the year.