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Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali

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Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali

The novel Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali was translated from Manlinke to French by D.T. Niane and from French to English by G.D. Pickett. The story is narrated by Mamoudou Kouyaté, a griot from the village of Djeliba Koro, Guinea. Kouyaté is descendant from generations of royal griots. The history of Mali was passed on throughout the generations through this line of griots.

Kouyaté considered his role of royal griot to be invaluable. According to him, they were "the vessels of speech."(pg1) Their words were "pure and free of all untruths". The griots were the "depositaries of oaths which the ancestors swore." To Kouyaté, the role of griot was one to be taken seriously and with great pride. He knew the importance of knowing history for living in the present and moving into the future.

Kouyaté first tells the story of King Maghan Kon Fatta and his royal griot Gnankouman Doua. In this tale, the King is approached by a Sangaran hunter who tells the King that if he is to produce a successor he will have to marry an ugly woman and produce a son with her. The hunter's prophecy comes true and the King marries Sogolon but he is initially unable to consummate the marriage on the wedding night. It is his griot Doua that he confides in. For a week Doua was the only one allowed to enter and leave the palace.

When Sogolon was in labor, Doua was the only person allowed to stay at the king's side. During the labor, when Maghan was nervous and agitated, Doua attempted to soothe the king by playing music on his guitar. (13) When it became time to announce the child's name, Djata, Doua made the declaration to the waiting crowd while at the king's side. Even when the king became discouraged with Djata's slow development, Doua reminded him of the prophecy from the hunter. The hunter's words, "the silk-cotton tree emerges from a tiny seed" was a reminder that the strongest and most powerful objects start off small and weak.

After the king's death, Doua continued to work in his service. To no avail Doua tried to have the king's wish for Djata to be given the throne honored but the council of elders appointed Dankaran Touman, Maghan's son with his first wife, king.

Doua's son Balla Fasséké was the griot given to Djata when he was a child by Maghan. When Balla was sent to Sosso, Djata left Mali too.

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