Sundiata Essay

This essay has a total of 1261 words and 6 pages.

Sundiata




Cultural values and Sundiata

The epic of Sundiata begins with the introduction of the griot, and narrator Mamadu
Kouyate. Throughout the epic, the importance of the griot is stressed numerous times.
When speaking of griots Mamadu Kouyate states that, “we are the repositories which harbor
secrets many centuries old. The art of eloquence has no secrets for us; without us the
names of kings would vanish into oblivion, we are the memory of mankind…” (Niane). It was
through oral reciting that the epic was passed along for generations. Though in today’s
society, information has taken on new mediums, it is just as important to the culture of
today as it was to the culture of the Mandingo . Cultures change, but many of the things
that comprise them remain constant.

One of the elements of culture that has changed very little in value is religion. One can
derive from the epic the importance of religion to the people of the Keita Dynasty .
Specifically, the religions of Islam and Traditional African Religion are alluded to
throughout the epic. In one of the first references to the Islamic religion Sogolon
Kedjon, Sundiata’s mother, states that “the fortified town of Sosso was the bulwark of
fetishism against the word of Allah” (Niane 41). Previous to this statement thought, the
reader is bombarded with illusions of sorcery, witchcraft and prophets. In the culture of
old Mali, the two belief systems coincided somewhat, but both were still used. It has
been offered that, although Islam was a major component in the creation of the old Mali,
it was only used as a myth to legitimate the divine powers of the ruler . This might help
to explain why Islam is alluded to so late in the epic, whereas traditional African
religious themes are recurrent throughout the epic.

A very large part of Traditional African Religion in old Mali is predestination of fate.
The narrator does not allow one to forget the ever important role that destiny plays in
the story. The griot states in the epic that “each man finds his way already marked out
for him and he can change nothing of it” (Niane 15). It is this belief that encompasses
The Epic of Sundiata. Knowledge of his destiny gives Sundiata the strength to persevere
during hardship, and the ability to discount the confidence of his opponents as quixotic
misguidance. In doing so, Sundiata Keita sets the example for the people of his culture
to follow.

Strong nationalistic feelings flow throughout the epic, and to some degree The epic of
Sundiata “appeals to the particularized Malinke spirit” (Sullivan 204). If anything, the
epic commands that those whom read it respect the greatness of old Mali and the kings that
once ruled it. One cannot help but to be impressed with the strength of Sundiata and his
people.

The Mandingo people also marveled at Sundiata’s ability to hunt and his prowess in battle.
Most all of the characters in the epic that are hunters or warriors are viewed as
virtuous members of society. Maghan Kon Fatta and his kinsmen spoke of the hunter that
prophesized the coming of Sogolon as "righteous." Because hunting is of such importance
to the culture, hunting imagery is prevalent throughout the epic. Sundiata is referred to
as Simbon or “great hunter” when the griot wants to bring about nationalistic feelings in
the reader or listener . Within the domain of hunting and waging war, respect is given to
those whom are fearless as well. Fearlessness is the conjoining emotion between the
hunters and warriors. On the other hand, fear is also one of the separating factors of
men and women.

Gender roles play a large part in The Epic of Sundiata. Early on, the text establishes
that women in the Mandingo culture are to submit to the wishes of the men around them.
One can hardly turn the page without reading about a woman being given to a king, either
to pay homage, or to help one gain favor in the eyes of the king. However, one must be
sensitive to the era and culture in which the epic takes place. The men in the epic view
women as weak. Sundiata even goes far enough to say that, “'a woman trembles before a
man’” (Niane 32). In a civilization in which hunting and warring are so dominant, and
physical strength is looked upon very favorably, it understandable that women are looked
down upon because they are somewhat physically inept. One must also understand that the
religious beliefs of the culture influence the text. Women in the Islamic religion have
somewhat submissive roles. In the epic, the physical strength of the woman may be looked
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