African oral epic tradition emphasizes the human nature of the hero. The hero, like ordinary men, feel uneasy about the unknown, fear to be defeated, and hesitate about how to die. However, their patience is never worn out. They struggle against the adversity and finally surmount them with the help of magic power. The hero here is not an owner of supernatural power himself since the magic power does not constitute the intrinsic feature of the hero. Thus, the human nature of the hero is preserved. The primary aim of this paper is to show and to discuss how this human image is represented in African heroic epics.
Although Ruth Finnegan, a pioneering scholar of African oral literatures, denied the existence of the epic in Africa, recent studies show that the continent also has the tradition like elsewhere. Four major characteristics of African oral epics are ‘heroic’, ‘narrative’, ‘poetic’, and ‘legendary’. An epic is a poetic narrative about a hero. Very often, the hero is a historical figure recognized by a people or peoples scattered around a place. In spite of the difference in the cultural and historical background, the hero appearing in African oral epics share certain features in common, several of which can be presented as follows: a descendant of noble lineage; mysterious events surrounding birth; prematurity; supernatural power; struggle against gods; self‐admiration; courage and wisdom; perseverance; human nature, etc. In summary, the epic is an orchestra of heroic images.