Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

Selif Keita

Posted: September 29, 2022 in Chat
Tags: , , , , ,

Those joyous Malian-beats. That voice.
Rejoice.

His elegant, minimalist and wholly practical solutions need to be widely appreciated.
This is a start.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-60764585

‘SUNDIATA, AN EPIC OF OLD MALI’ by D T Niane. Translation by G D Pickett

1
This Mali epic as we have it now is the summation of a collection of oral legends. The legends are based around King Sundiata Keita, who consolidated and expanded the Mali Empire. His period of governance was 1217 to 1255.

The role of the griot is central to the story. The Preface describes the functions. Furthermore the opening commentary to the tale is entitled Words of the Griot Mamadou Kouyate, and he explains his functions and status. The griot is the King’s counsellor; he keeps the tribal customs, histories, and musical and oral traditions. His role may be similar to what we at the present time understand by the role of what we take to be the traditional Welsh bard. To be granted a griot is to be accorded great status. Sundiata was given Balla Fassekeas as his griot. Balla was later captured by the sorcerer King Soumaoro Kante’, however, before Sundiata came into his power.

On one level it is a straight forward story of a king growing to greatness, overcoming a formidable enemy, and consolidating a mighty empire. The telling of the story, however, reveals many levels and complexities. To give an example of the complexity of storytelling let me show you the finding of Sogolon, Sundiata’s mother: 

                          ‘(…) a soothsayer turned up at the village of Niani and prophesied to King Nare`that the would father a great warrior king. Some time later two hunters and a young woman came across King Nare’ and company as they were out hunting. They approached the king and told him this tale: as they were hunting they came across an old woman weeping, she begged them for food, which they shared with her. For their kindness she informed them that she was the spirit of the Buffalo of Do, no warrior could kill her; and she had already killed seventy-seven warriors. There was only one way to kill her, which she told to the hunters, and gave them the requisite tools. They were to take the body to the local king who would be overjoyed and grant the one who killed the buffalo a choice of a wife amongst the women-folk of his town. But, the old woman said, they must only choose the ugly one with the hunchback; she also was an aspect of the buffalo woman. This woman would give birth to a warrior king. After telling the King this they presented him with the woman, Sogolon Conde. She was the one the old woman said; the king married her.

As you can see from this we have a story within a story within a story: three levels of story. Add onto this the symbolic level: the Lion king who marries the Buffalo woman. This also has its own chiasmus, a sequence based on the all-important binding of Sogolon to King Nare’.

2

Sundiata grew up unable to walk; the King desperate for a healthy heir married another wife. This set up all sorts of jealousy and supremacy problems between the wives. Sundiata was seven before he could stand and walk. This is a variation on the standard hero presentation.
Just before this time the King had died, and Sundiata, who was supposed to be his choice successor due to prophecy, was judged physically incapable, and he and his family relegated, ridiculed, and subjected to mockery and increasing hostility.

As soon as Sundiata could walk he quickly learned hunting skills, warrior skills. All along his mental acuity had been high, his kindness supreme. The old kings’ new wife plotted against him: she hired nine witches to catch him out and curse him; his kindness towards them, not knowing who they were, won them over. He was warned of the plot.

His mother Sogolon took her family away for safety. She found however that many tribal kings had been bribed to turn them away. They were forced therefore to travel out of Mali and into Ghana. There they met kindness. It was when they travelled to Mema that the old King, Mansa Tounkara, took them in. He had no children himself, and warmed greatly to Sundiata. In all they spent six years with him. Sundiata grew into a strong and tactical warrior.

While in exile, however, the sorcerer King Soumaoro Kante had grown strong, attracted many followers, and moved in on the Mali tribes, and capital Niani. 

Representatives from old Niani travelled around in search of Sundiata. When they found him at Mema they told of what had befallen Mali. Sundiata vowed to return and destroy Soumaoro. The old king however refused to let him go.
It is at this time that Sundiata’s mother, Sogolon; died. The old king accused Sundiata of being ungrateful, and a turncoat. Sundiata, a very powerful warrior by this time was able to command most of the old king’s men. He had to let him go back. He took half the king’s men with him.

As he returned many tribal people who resisted Soumaoro joined with Sundiata. There were three main battles (and one night sortie), each time Sundiata was victorious, but Soumaoro escaped using sorcery. The pursuit of Soumaoro was long and bloody. It is only when Nana Triban, Sundiata’s half sister by his father’s new queen, along with his own griot, joined him, that he learned the way to defeat Soumaoro’s sorcery.

Soumaoro was defeated, but not captured.
Sundiata levelled Soumaoro’s city of Sosso; he re-entered Mali a victor; he granted land and livings to all loyal tribes, showed mercy to the defeated, and rebuilt Niani on a greater, grander scale.

3

The whole movement of the epic is based on two arcs superimposed and conflicting with each other, one where we see the build up to Sundiata’s eminence, is contrasted with his unfortunate beginnings: we have the auspiciousness of his prophecy and the inauspiciousness of his childhood.
There are three interpolations by the writer into the narrative; these are
Chapter 1, The First Kings of Mali;
Chapter 8, History; and
18, Eternal Mali

: that is the first, middle, and last.

Each of these chapters has the same structure of author’s assessment of the story, followed by a précis of the following events. These three chapters differ from all others, in that the others consist of direct and engaged narrative of the story. The first and last chapters also are connected in the ways they begin and end the tale.
The First Kings gives a brief history of the Mandingo people and of Sundiata’s genealogy, before introducing us to the story.
The last chapter Eternal Mali, sums up the ending of the tale, and in the latter half gives a brief history of Mali after the time of Sundiata.
The central chapter, History, begins by reverting to the same objective tone of the first and last authorial interpolations; it tells how the story of Sundiata has reached its central point, and how all the auspicious signs of his childhood will now come to fruition. This is followed by a brief précis of the preceding chapter, and introduces us to the proceeding events of the story.M