An Epic of Old Mali

“Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali” is a story that is recited by Mamoudou Kouyaté, a griot from Djeliba Koro village. He is a progeny from the generation of the majestic griots. These griots acted as a vessel for the passage of Mali’s history to the coming generations. They assumed the role of “depositaries of oaths which the ancestors swore.” According to Kouyaté, the responsibilities of the griots had paramount significance thus had to be taken seriously and with immense delight. He acknowledged the essence of understanding history as it determined the present as well as future lifestyle of individuals and the society. The griot’s appearance in this narration clearly reveals the fundamental themes of fate and time. The pitch of his address is uncompromising and disillusioned. The narrator ignores the fact that humans are intolerant and as such tend to critic prominence defectively. This logic that individuals are predisposed to critic based on their urgent fears and insights and not being able to remain patient in order to see the revelation of their destiny is evident throughout the epic.

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As an “accumulator” of memory and heritage, the griot is a stature who brags of an advanced judgment of time and how a condition can turn out to be its opposite. The king illustrates an impetuous annoyance in the manner in which he exiles Sogolon. He is advised to value the probable hero’s mother by his griot and an additional supernatural practitioner, the soothsayer. Fate cannot be professed in our daily activities. As such, it requires one to be serene. Kouyaté begins by narrating the tale of King Maghan Fatta and his imperial griot, Gnankouman Doua. In this story, the King is informed by a Sangaran hunter that if he had to sire a descendant, he would have to get married to an unattractive lady and sire a child with her. The hunter’s prediction comes to pass and the King gets married to Sogolon although he is, originally, not able to consummate the matrimony on the bridal night. He confides this to his griot Doua. For one week, it was only Doua who was given the freedom to get into as well as go away from the palace. Maybe due to the King’s traits or perhaps the griot’s need to certify his importance, this freedom was apparent.

All through the story, the griot demonstrated despise for “mankind”. This would be manifested in direct lectures to his listeners. In such a case, he would despise them for their poor memories, for thinking that they are superior to the natural world, or for trying to discover secrets outside their viewpoint. A lot of the individuals knew about the divination of Sundiata. However, when his delivery appeared disappointing as he was born crippled, the population is fast to become disdainful since their latest ruler sowed the gossip seeds. They turned on their prospect hero rather easily. Nonetheless, whenever they are faced with a challenge, they readily seek after his help as he has grown strong. The griot does not portray a good picture of mankind. On the contrary, ii depicts mankind as weak and therefore requires a true leader if they are to attain their superior qualities. If this does not happen, they end up having a pitiable leader and they will follow his unconstructive qualities. This was the case before Sundiata’s reign.

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The King, Soumaoro, was an unkind leader. He wielded a lot of power and clout that the natives thought they were bound by his authority. As a result, he made his subjects to be afraid of him. Consequently, those individuals who disobeyed or were not afraid of him were brutally executed. It is brought out in the story that, “…Soumaoro was an evil demon and his reign had produced nothing but bloodshed”. The king, to a great extent, took pleasure in the public flogging of the poor old men. The king showed no sympathy with regard to his subjects as he got pleasure from seeing them suffering. His subjects were not pleased by this humiliation and mistreatment. They would promptly rebel against their ruler. In another instance, the King would acquire women from the neighboring areas and confine them in a particular place in order to pleasure himself. As brought out in the narration, “He had defiled every family and everywhere in the vast empire there were villages populated by girls whom he had forcibly abducted from their families without marrying them”. He did all this because a king was believed to be invulnerable. Therefore, he had the freedom to do whatever he wanted. King Soumaoro was never satisfied with these women. His greed led him to his own nephew’s wife. He confined her and pleasured himself with her to his satisfaction. This led to his nephew, Fakoli Koromae, being extremely furious and in the end resulted to his revolt against the King Soumaoro. Koromae tells him, “Since you are not ashamed to commit incest by taking my wife, I am freed from all ties with you from this day forward. Henceforth I shall be on the side of your enemies”. This may be the reason why individuals engage in a war against one another.

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Sundiata’s babyhood did not display the hero that every individual anticipated. Here, the habitual subject of disentanglement between what is perceived and destiny’s reality is brought out. This is because Sundiata appears to represent the opposite of the divine promise. However, various qualities including his bravery, charisma, compassion, intelligence and desire for justice contributes to his success. He employs his intelligence as a chief officer in the army by the manner in which he formulates a plan to trounce superior armies. His courage is revealed in his propensity to dash into combat himself, assassinating foes with little consideration about his own protection. His desire for justice is echoed in the manner he pardons his trespassers and in the illustration of his leadership as a fair one. His personality brings people together. This is substantiated during his exile where he impresses those he interacted with, and hence they joined his kingdom. His faithfulness assists him to trounce Soumaoro, because, when Sundiata discovered the scope of Soumaoro’s sorcery activity, he acknowledged that he needed the assistance of the spirits and the supernatural to succeed. Consequently, his strength depicts him a hero that is worthy to be remembered. Fasséké advises him to be a “man of deeds” in order for actions to be memorized, and Sundiata surely lives up to this billing. These traits contributed to him becoming the king.

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Conceivably, the most significant virtue evident in the classic is that of devotion. Devotion is seen both between the war allies that Sundiata posed against Soumaoro as well between persons and ethnic groups. The aspect that defines Sundiata as a great king who is proficient enough to construct a kingdom is that he is capable of motivating tribes to remain loyal to each other and adhere to the laid down laws. Furthermore, loyalty is the key thing that makes him victorious in his war. It is this devotion that he together with his youth associates show to each other in the process of building an army. Throughout his exile, Sundiata amazes various kings with both his might and personality. This acted as the foundation of his kingdom. On the other hand, those leaders who demonstrated minimal or no devotion either to their visitors or their own citizens, such as Soumaoro, were reprimanded harshly. The most influential devotion, which is continually stressed, was between a ruler and his reliable griot. By remaining devoted to the griot, the ruler is guaranteed that the griot’s family will also be devoted to the memory of his deeds.


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