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).