The Epic of Sundiata
This Epic of Sundiata tells of Sundiata, the great thirteenth-century ruler of Mali. It was transcribed by D. T. Niane. The story was passed through centuries from a long line of griots. The story of Sundiata illustrates the importance of saving the words of the oral historians before the advent of literacy extinguishes their memories. This story contains many important lessons which teach us about different aspects of life. I gained a lot from reading this story because it was enjoyable and entertaining but it was also informative and make me reflect on events from my own life.
This story contains important lessons for people of all times. Appearances can be deceiving, I learned: Sundiata's physically repulsive mother becomes an honored queen, and Sundiata overcomes a severe handicap to become a great warrior. Hospitality pays, as those rulers who receive Sundiata well during his period as an outcast are rewarded under his reign. A griot also plays an important role in helping Sundiata defeat his enemy Soumaoro. The lessons not only play an important part in the story they also teach the people who listen to this story. Above all, I learned to respect my own history and ancestors, for they are the link to a glorious past.
In this book it also shows the gender culture from Africa. Having more than one wife is a part of the gender culture in their ancient society. Polygamy was practiced amongst the kings in this book. Sogolon and her children lived in an old hut outside of the palace because the queen mother Sassouma Berete kicked them out after the king died. Against the king's wishes, her son Dankaran Touman was made king instead of Sundiata. When a king has many wives it usually created a conflict when more than boy was born by more than one of the king's wives. The king's first wife was jealous and this was the reason for Sogolon and her children having to go into exile. The queen mother took on almost a male gender role in this story because she wanted her son to the king. Before reading this story I really did not know much about cultures that had more than one wife. In this story I was able to see how it affects not only the wives but also the children in the story.
The king of Mali who was named Maghan Kon Fatta was adored by all of his people. A hunter that was from out of town came to Maghan and asked the king to marry a woman. The hunter told him that it was a woman, Sogolon, who would bear him a son named Sundiata. Even though Sogolon had a hideous appearance, the king listened to the hunter with interest, because the Malians believed in fate and destiny. The hunter told him that the boy would have the wonderful fate because he would be the greatest king ever to rule Mali. The king thought about the idea, and then accepted. So there was a marriage that was held between Maghan Kon Fatta and the woman Sogolon. Sogolon was very ugly but the king knew the hunter's words were important. Even though she was ugly the king knew that she would bear him a son, so it did not matter what she looked like. Soon after the couple was wed a son was born to them. When reading this in the story I felt like the king grew as a person when he married Sogolon because he knew she would be special and her appearance did not matter.
As the years went by, Maghan and Sogolon grew very proud of Sundiata, but the only problem was that he could not walk. His parents became worried because a boy who cannot walk, could not possibly be destined for greatness. As more years passed by and Sundiata grew, his father became very sick. Maghan knew that his time would be over soon, so he sent for his favorite son Sundiata. Maghan was getting ill and gave his son Sundiata his kingdom to rule, but as soon as Maghan died, his first wife stepped in. Her name was Sassouma, and she was an evil woman with a devious plan. She wanted her son to become king and did not care about her late husband's wishes of Sundiata becoming king. She ridiculed him regularly by teasing the poor child about his unworthy legs. One day he announced he would walk and when he did he proved everyone who ridiculed him wrong. This was important to the story because he overcame his circumstances and because of that he was a better person and was able to accomplish everything he was destined for.
In addition to its celebration of the adventures and eventual triumph of Sundiata, the book also tracks the adventures of Balla Fasske Sundiata's griot. As with many oral traditions from many cultures, a king without a poet to celebrate his triumphs is not much of a king. His griot helps him defeat his enemy and become a great friend. In the book their joint adventure, and sharing of duties, is emphasized because the griot made such an impact on Sundiata's life.
In comparison to other stories of its time this book falls short for reading pleasure. But I think it is better than Gilgamesh, The Song of Roland, and The Tale of Kieu, and many another epics. I feel like the epic Sundiata is what Beowulf would be if Beowulf, the hero, had any kind of human weakness, warmth, or personality. Sundiata's conception, troubled childhood, young manhood, his dependence upon others for success, even his moment of confusion on the battlefield, this all leads me to the conclusion that greatness has less to do with one's ability to kill, and more to do with one's ability to remain hopeful in the face of adversity. Sundiata seems like a fitting hero for Africans and for anyone of any culture who is ready to see greatness drawn in human proportions.