From 1996-2001 I taught in the
Intellectual Heritage Program at Temple University in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania. This page is part of my teaching materials for Intellectual
Heritage 51, a course covering literature and ideas from Sappho through
An Outline by Dr. Janice
griot - meaning has changed. Now - one who
sells his music/ballad skills to make a living. Then - was the archivist,
recorder of customs, governmental principles of kings, "the keeper of
the culture". Tutored kings' children, were as revered as harpers in
Words of the Griot Mamadou Kouyaté:
His knowledge has been passed down through the
"I teach kings the history of their ancestors
so that the lives of the ancients might serve them as an example, for the
world is old, but the future springs from the past."
Sundiata: the son of the Buffalo, the son of the
Lion, Maghan Sundiata, Mari-Djata, Sogolon Djata, Naré Maghan Djata, the
man of many names against whom sorcery could avail nothing.
First Kings of Mali: typically,
medieval Mulsim dynasties proved conx with Mohammed: Bilali Bounama was
companion to Mohammed, and his son settled in Mali. Bilali's
great-great-grandson made pilgrimage to Mecca, but survived miraculously
and returned to Mali. Seven generations after this prince came Sundiata.
Fatta - father of
Sundiata, King of Mali
Doua: griot of the king
visitors give gift of the hunt (honor
visitor is a seer (left-handed -
superstition) - tells his future accurately
later...two hunters do exactly what the seer said they would, bring
a hunchbacked woman to the king as his wife:
in land of Do, reward was offered for
death of the wild buffalo - they met an old woman who claimed to be the
buffalo (the sister of the king who refused her her inheritance). She gave
very mysterious commands on how to kill it (herself) at a later date (draw
the bow 3X, throw an egg - it will become a mire). One condition: choose
the ugliest woman to marry ("You will choose her for she is my
wraith. She will be an extraordinary woman if you manage to possess
Kedjou, or Sogolon Kondouto (hunchback) - Sundiata's mother
wedding ceremony, but Naré Maghan cannot possess
her...he tricks her into fainting and takes her, and a son is conceived.
first wife, very jealous, tries by sorcery to prevent his birth, no dice.
Naming of the infant:
(after his father)
Djata (a name which no Mandingo prince has ever born)
"God has his mysteries which none can fathom.
You, perhaps, will be a king. You can do nothing about it. You, on the
other hand, will be unlucky, but you can do nothing about that either.
Each man finds his way already marked out for him and he can change
nothing of it." ISLAM
another wife taken by Naré Maghan
Boukari, or Manding Bory, a half-brother to Sundiata, is born.
another son, is born to Sogolon.
Gnaukouman Doua, the griot: "The Almighty has
the mysteries...the silk-cotton tree emerges from a tiny seed...when the
seed germinates growth is not always easy; great trees grow slowly but
they plunge their roots deep into the ground." (cf Matthew)
Naré Maghan gives his son a
griot, the son of his own griot,
preparing for a changing of the guard (Sundiata is still a child, though).
Lion's Awakening: King dies. Doua dies. Son of 1st wife becomes
king (Sundiata is a child), although the real ruler was his mother, who
hated Sundiata. Baobab tree story. Sundiata receives the title of Simbon,
or "master Hunter." He received a great education at the hands
of his mother (sorcery, superstition, ways of man, medicinal plants...and
Balla Fasséké (history of the kings...Alexander...).
Sassouma, 1st and jealous wife, tries to hire the
nine great witches of Mali to kill Sundiata. They need a reason to do so,
since "Life has a cause, and death as well. The one comes from the
other. Your hate has a cause and your action must have a cause. Mother of
the king, everything holds together, our action will have no effect unless
we are ourselves implicated, but Mari Djata has done us no wrong. It is,
then, difficult for us to compass his death." She sets it up so that
Sundiata will berate the old women for picking his vegetables, but he
shows benificence and earns their protection. It turns out his sister, Sogolon
Kolonkan, is a sorceress looking after him.
Sogolon convinces Djata to leave to protect his siblings from the jealousy
of Sassouma (Manding Bory has no gift for sorcery and is thus vulnerable).
King Dankaran Touman (Naré
Maghan's first son) is weak, ruled by his evil mother. He makes Djata's
griot an envoy, separating them. Djata says he will leave this place, but
return. He is 10 years old. In re Sassouma's plans: "We think we are
hurting our neighbor at the time when we are working in the very direction
of destiny. Our action is not us for it is commanded of us."
GOD'S PLAN. ISLAM
7 years pass during the exile.
#1 visit: a sorcerer king who is willing to kill
Sundiata for gold (Sassoume's attempt)
#2 visit: town whose prince was Fran
Kamara, one of Sundiata's companions. Father is afraid of Sassoume, so
suggests they go with merchants to Ghana. Sundiata promises to pick up
Fran on his way back to Mali (after they have grown up!).
#3 visit: Wagadou, Ghana, whose people are descended
from Alexander the Great - bad luck ever since man killed the snake jinn (protectress
of the city) to save his beloved, its victim. Sogolon asks for
"asylum with the Cissés of Wagadou." SUNDIATA IS NOW ELEVEN.
Laws of hospitality are in force. They are welcomed. Purpose of passage -
to show Sundiata developing leadership traits. Also, kinship between Ghana
and Mali: "The friendship which unites Mali and Ghana goes back to a
very distant age, as the elders and griots know. The people of Mali are
our cousins." They left Wagadou because of Sogolon's ill health, but
were treated royally.
#4 visit: trek to Mema with merchants by camel
(unknown in Mali). On journey, Sundiata learns much about the Arab lands
beyond Ghana and Alexander the Great...Upon arrival at Mema, are greeted
by King's sister. He is out on campaign against neighbors. Children adapt
well, go out hunting with friends...King returns. Sogolon and children are
welcome - Sundiata goes out on 1st campaign. King sees it is Sundiata's
destiny to rule; teaches him to be a warrior (Remember - King has no
heir). Sundiata becomes Viceroy and rules the country. Soldiers (sofas)
love him - he is one of them,
too. Now 18 - his destiny is not here, but in Mali.
Kanté, the Sorcerer king:
now ruling Mali (this is the sorcerer-king that made
the merchants tremble with fear).
Kanté is sorcerer, and smith (master of fire - note 37 in the back of
Sundiata's griot, Balla
Fasséké, had been taken
prisoner. One day he snuck into the tower and found the secret room (39)
and began to play the balafon. Soumaoro *knew*. He improvised: "All
hail, you who wear clothes of human skin. / I salute you, you who sit on
the skins of kings." Instead of killing him, Soumaoro took Balla as
his griot, making war between Soumaoro and Sundiata
"It is the griot who rescues the
memories of kings from oblivion..."
kingdom of Sosso - enemy of Islam
Soumaoro - an evil demon - broke every
rule of civilized people - defiled young girls, broke up families,
humiliated old men, killed kings, sat on seats made from
Soumaoro makes an enemy of his nephew, who vows
vengeance - plans to rally with others disgusted by him. Dankaran
Touman immediately joins him, but is routed by Soumaoro, and flees to
safety. He always was a coward. S. destroys Niane (Sundiata's hometown in
Mali), takes over, but nobody wants him. Seers
determine that the "rightful heir" would save Mali. Now to find
him. They go out searching. Big names include:
Manian - old griot from court of Naré Maghan
Bérété - brother of Sassouma
Mara Cissé - a divine of
Touré - another divine
- a woman
Baobab Leaves: Mandjin
Berete and retinue go from village to village trying to sell Malian
vegetables - finally, Sundiata's sister Kolonkan
leads them to Sundiata. They bring news of Mali's desperation and that
only Sundiata can save Mali. Sogolon dies and the king of Mema is angry
that Sundiata wants to leave for Mali ("after all I have done for
you!"), so he refuses him the right of burying her in Mema. Then, he
says, OK, but for a price. Sundiata brings back a bowl of broken stuff and
the remains of destruction as the price he is willing to pay - signifying
the wasteland Mema will be if the king makes him pay for the land in which
to bury his mother. The king gets the point, gives Sundiata land to bury
his mother in. Smart king.
- Sundiata leaves Mema with one-half the army,
- He also gains one-half the cavalry of
- Soumaoro tries to block Sundiata's approach to
Tabon (where his friend Fran Kamara was now king and had risen against
Soumaoro in expectation of Sundiata's heralded arrival). Sundiata attacks
and routs the enemy, narrowly missing killing Sosso Balla, Soumaoro's son.
Afterward, a reunion with Fran Kamara and joyous entry into Tabon.
- Sundiata adds to his army three tribes from
- Battle at Neguéboria - Sundiata was winning, but
when he tried to attack Soumaoro, he found his magic too great. Another
method was needed to defeat him.
- Battle of Kankigne - Sossa surprise attacked at
night, were fended off by the Wagadous firing flaming arrows into the sky
so that they fell on the enemies' backs.
Names of the Heroes: Sundiata greets
all the allies gathered at Sibi: "I have come back, and as long as I
breathe Mali will never be in thrall - rather death than slavery. We will
live free because our ancestors lived free. I am going to avenge the
indignity that Mali has undergone." EPIC CONTENT - an EPIC
Triban and Balla Fasséké:
Sundiata knew he had to overcome S's
magical power to win. Nana Triban
(Sundiata's half-sister, become Soumaoro's wife) and griot, Balla,
escape from Sossa: they got the secret to his magic power. She asked him
if he were a man or jinn...in pride, he revealed his secret to her. The
various heroes perform various deeds worthy of being retold later by a
the rest of the outline and too, notes on the epic
qualities of the Sundiata, Islamic qualities of the Sundiata,
and a student's research on the nature of Sundiata's power over Soumaoro.
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send comments to: Janice Siegel (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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