Sundiata Essay, Research Paper
The epitome of oral history, this “speaking document”, that is part history and part legend, is an epic tale about Sundiata and his prophesized uniting of the twelve kingdoms of Mali into a single powerful empire. Retold by generations of griots – the guardians of African Culture – this oral tradition has been handed down from the thirteenth century and captures all the mystery and majesty of medieval African kingship. The son of
Sogolon, the hunchback princess, and Maghan, known as “the handsome”, Sundiata grew up to fulfill the prophesies of the soothsayers that he would unite the twelve kingdoms of Mali into one of the most powerful empires ever known in Africa, which at its peak stretched right across the savanna belt from the shores of the Atlantic to the dusty walls of Timbuktu.
A griot is an artist from West Africa (other areas of Africa have different types of oral artists) who preserves culture, history, music and genealogy, among other things through the performance of oral art, or what Ong would call “verbal art.” This art often involves three aspects: the telling of the story (narration), recitation of genealogies and moral proverbs, and singing of lyrics, usually to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument, sometimes called the kora. The griot goes back many centuries. Griots often were affiliated with royal families. Their function was to preserve the traditions and
history of a particular family or group of people. Their office was a peculiar one, and they were often considered a separate caste, into which succeeding lines of griots were born. Griots are still very much a part of many West African societies.
The Epic of Sundiata is an oral epic from Old Mali, which came into being around 1237 AD. The empire of Old Mali extended from the coast of modern-day Senegal to the Niger River. Djeriba was the capital. The Epic tells the story of Sundiata, the first king of Mali, who leads a revolt against the king of the empire of Ghana (350 AD – 1240 AD), which was one of the first great trading empires of medieval West Africa. Around 1464 AD, the empire of Old Mali broke up into smaller states, which were absorbed into the Songhay Empire. The Songhay Empire existed from approximately 1464 until 1640 AD, when invaders from Morocco overtook some areas of the empire. Around this time the Atlantic Slave trade had begun, and the effects of the trade on West Africa especially, were devastating.
The Epic of Sundiata may be considered representative of a genre of oral epics. The oral epic has a rich tradition in Africa, along with other oral art, such as poems, myths, and legends. Europeans and Africans who hope to preserve the richness of African traditions have written many of these forms of oral art down.
King of Mali named Maghan Kon Fatta. He was a loved king, adored by all of his people. A hunter from out of town came to Maghan, asking the king to marry a woman. The hunter replied that it was a woman, Sogolon, who would bear him a son named Sundiata. Although Sogolon had a hideous appearance, the king listened to the hunter with interest, for the Malians believed in fate and destiny. “This boy,” stated the hunter, “will have the wonderful fate of being the greatest king ever to rule Mali!” The king pondered the idea, and then accepted. “I will marry this woman who will bear me the great king Sundiata!” The marriage was held between Maghan Kon Fatta and the woman Sogolon. Sogolon was very ugly indeed yet the king knew the hunter’s words were important. Soon after, a son was born to the happy couple. He was promised a great son that would grow up one day to be a great ruler. The king agreed to this and married Sogolon and had a son named Sundiata.
As the years went by, Maghan and Sogolon grew very proud of their little Sundiata, except there was one problem– the boy could not walk! His parents became worried because surely a boy who cannot walk cannot be destined for greatness! As more years passed by and Sundiata grew to the age of seven, his father grew to be very sick. Maghan knew that his time would soon end, and so he sent for his favorite son Sundiata. Maghan was getting ill and gave his son Sundiata his kingdom to rule. As soon as Maghan died, his first wife stepped in. Her name was Sassouma, and she was a very evil woman with a devious plan. My son Dankaran Touman deserves the throne, because he is the eldest!” Sassouma did not care for her late husband’s wishes of Sundiata becoming king, and she expressed this regularly, always tearing the poor child about his unworthy legs. Because of her jealousy, she banished Sundiata and Sogolon to a small hut at the edge of the palace.
The evil wife remained a threat to Sogolon and her child until one day when Sundiata was sitting in the yard where Sassouma had banished him and his mother, and heard his mother weeping. “Mother, why are you crying?” he inquired. “Sundiata,
you must know that I love you dearly, but I am worried about your future. You are a strong boy and have a great heart, but your legs have allowed Sassouma to take control. We cannot allow her son to take the throne your father’s wishes are for you to rule his kingdom!” Sundiata felt sad because of his mother’s feelings, and he then made a decision that would change the rest of his life. I am going to walk today!” Sundiata was very determined to walk again and wanted to make his mother happy and to also fulfill his father s wishes of him becoming a King of Mali and to rule justly and fair. And with that he asked his half brother Manding Bory to go to the town blacksmith and bring back two iron rods. When he returned, Sundiata held the two rods in his hands. With all of his strength, he pulled up on the iron bars and his legs started to lengthen. Sweat trickled down his face that was wrapped in an expression of determination. Within minutes, the child was standing on his own two feet. He slowly took steps and the crowd that had gathered at the sight of Sundiata cheered thunderously, including his personal advisor and keeper of old Malian traditions, griot Balla Fasseke. Sundiata smiled with triumph. “Now it is time for me to gain my rightful throne!” From then on, Sundiata walked with strength and courage.
Sassouma was very jealous of Sundiata. She wanted to rule Mali for herself and her son Dankaran. Sundiata and Sogolon became aware of Sassouma’s growing jealousy and unfortunately, her power. They decided that there was no way that the two of them and Sundiata’s childhood friends could conquer Sassouma, so they decided to leave Mali and gain allies. Sundiata warned Sassouma and Dankaran of his return.
In exile, Sundiata, his family and friends found many allies. Unfortunately Dankaran Touman had stolen Balla Fasseke for himself, and Sundiata missed his griot terribly. Yet, the young boy now grew into a man and became well known for his strength and grace, and had many admirers. Sundiata and his family soon became aware that Sassouma and Dankaran had lost power in Mali and that an evil wizard, Soumaoro, had taken control. One day, Sundiata was pondering an attack on Soumaoro when his old griot, Balla Fasseke appeared!
Balla Fasseke told Sundiata that “You cannot conquer him with the amount of power he has because of his wizardry, but there is one special way to kill all of his power. He is a very strong and it will be a tough battle to win but If you so much as graze him with this special arrow, all of his powers will escape and he will be easy to conquer!” And with that, Balla Fasseke handed Sundiata a magical arrow that would lead him to the fate of his rightful throne. Sundiata’s plans of attack spread among his allies and they got ready to fight.
Unfortunately, throughout all of Sundiata’s preparations, his mother became sick. His father had died when he was younger so he was experiencing a similar situation. Sundiata was a very strong person he over came a lot of difficulties in his life and was able to do this due to his strong mother who guided him, His mother was his guide all of his life and now she was dying. With a proper burial for Sogolon, Sundiata marched with pride towards his home city of Niani in Mali, ready to conquer Soumaoro
and his army that awaited them.
The battle was a fierce one, especially because Soumaoro had the powers of wizardry to his advantage. Yet, Sundiatas hard work and patience paid off. Many people died on both sides and His allies fought with tremendous strength and Sundiata himself took all of Soumaoroas wizardry out of him by grazing him with the magical arrow that Balla Fasseke had provided him. Realizing that he now had no power over Sundiata, Soumaoro retreated Mali and was never to be seen again.
Now able to gain Mali, Sundiata ruled with the grace of the greatest king known to man. He expanded the Mali Empire to its peak and became known as the “Lion King of Mali” for his strength. Sundiata’s fate had now become fulfilled, and because of this, he and his kingdom lived in happiness during the reign of the “greatest king ever to rule Mali!” He became what his father hoped he would be and what his mother guided him to be. Sundiata treated his people fairly and was a smart and strong ruler. Sundiata
overcame many obstacles in his life to achieve his goals and surprised many doubters. He believed in himself and so did his parents they gave him the strength to overcome all his problems and defeat soarumo and become King of Mali.
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