SUNDJATA, THE LION KING, History Assignment help – writinghub.net

SUNDJATA, THE LION KING[1]

The following is an oral history told by a legendary Mandingo griot named Djeli Mamadou Kouyate.[2] This version recounts the origin and rise of the great Emperor Sundjata Keita, a Mandingo prince who founded the Mali Empire in the 13th century.

Once upon a time, there lived a king in Niani, a kingdom in ancient Mali. The king’s name was Maghan Kon Fatta although he was also known as Nare Maghan.  One day, an itinerant oracle, one of the leading hunters in the region, came to King Maghan Kon Fatta’s palace, and informed the king that the time would soon come when the king would produce a son who would grow to become a great ruler who would unite all the kingdoms of Mali into one great empire and rule over it.

The oracle went on to inform the king that the yet to be born future emperor would have to be the son of an ugly woman who the king would have to marry. Shortly after this revelation by the oracle, two hunters came through town accompanied by a very ugly woman with a hunchback whose name was Sogolon. Her ugliness caused a stir and the news of her presence in the city reached the king’s ear.

The two hunters gained an audience with the king and explained to him how they came to be in possession of such an ugly woman. The hunters told the king that they had been working in Do, a neighboring kingdom that was being devastated by attacks on farmers and their crops by vicious buffaloes. The two hunters had gone there in response to a call for help by the King of Do who was offering a big prize to any hunter who could kill the menacing buffaloes.

While there, the two hunters came across an old woman who the hunters treated with much kindness and respect. She then told them the secret to killing the buffalo but she made them promise her that when the King of Do offered them the pick of all the maidens of his kingdom, they would choose the ugliest. The hunters killed the buffaloes and kept their promise to the old woman and that was how Sogolon came into their possession.

King Maghan Kon Fatta interpreted the hunters’ story and their presence in Niani as the fulfillment of the oracle’s prophesy and therefore he made Sogolon one of his wives. Sogolon initially resisted the king’s advances and after much tribulation, Sundjata was conceived.

Sundjata had a very difficult childhood although he grew up in his father’s palace. The first problem both Sundjata and Sogolon faced throughout Sundjata’s childhood was the relentless hostility of Sassouma Berete, the king’s first wife or ‘Queen Mother.’  Sassouma was aware of the prophecy and wanted her own son, Prince Dankaran Touman, to succeed to the throne. She therefore made Sogolon’s and Sundjata’s lives a living hell, always spreading vicious gossip and rumors about them which people believed.

The second obstacle young Sundjata faced was the fact that he was born crippled and did not walk until he was seven years old. Therefore he was a sensitive child and did not speak much. However, Sundjata’s father saw the greatness and innate wisdom in the little boy and decided to give him Balla Fasseke to serve as Sundjata’s griot. Balla Fasseke was the son of King Maghan Kon Fatta’s own griot. When the king died shortly afterwards, the Royal Council decided to support Prince Dankaran Touman’s claim to the throne. They saw no future in Sundjata who was seen by the Council as a useless cripple.

One day, the Queen Mother, Sassouma, went on one of her usual tirades against Sogolon and embarrassed and humiliated Sogolon in a very public manner in the general market, in front of her son. Suddenly, Sundjata, to the shock and surprise of everyone, pulled himself up on his rod and stood up on his two legs to defend his mother. From that day forward, his strength was unmistakable.

Sassouma became frightened of Sundjata and the threat he represented to her and her son, the new King Dankara Touman. Fearing that they could lose power, Sassouma and the new king hatched a plot to send Sogolon and Sundjata into exile far away from Niani. For a period of seven years, Sogolon and Sundjata wandered from kingdom to kingdom seeking asylum. Some of their hosts were hospitable while others mistreated them. This experience also gave Sundjata an opportunity to learn first-hand about the kingdoms and peoples of Mali, their customs and their systems of government.

While in exile, Sundjata impressed most everyone he met with his wisdom and brilliance. During that period, he spent a considerable amount of time with King Moussa Tounkara of Mena kingdom in old Ghana. King Moussa Tounkara took Sundjata under his wing like a son and schooled Sundjata in the ways of war and statecraft.

When the evil Soumaoru Konteh, King of the Sousous, brought his war of conquest to Niani, a delegation from Niani fled to Ghana to find Sundjata and bring him back to claim his throne and lead the fight against Soumaoru, who had by this time successfully employed a series of cruel tactics in conquering a wide swath of smaller Mande kingdoms. Initially, King Moussa Tounkara was not happy to hear that Sundjata was leaving Mena and going back to Mali but he was ultimately convinced that Sundjata was doing the right thing in fulfilling his destiny and he gave Sundjata his blessing and the services of several battalions of his army.

On his way back to Niani, Sundjata passed through many of the cities and kingdoms he had visited during his period of exile. Now, as he travelled home, going back through those places, he kept recruiting soldiers for his army, building it up into a powerful force. Once in Mali, Sundjata’s armies finally confronted the armies of Soumaoro in several battles. Soumaoro’s armies were defeated but Soumaoro himself escaped. It was believed that the reason Soumaoro was able to avoid capture was because he was protected by magic. Sundjata therefore made the decision that he too would have to turn to magic for help in finally capturing Soumaoro.

Sundjata consulted his wizards who advised him to perform an animal sacrifice and have a magical arrow made specifically for Soumaoro, who had by then regrouped and raised another army. In the Battle of Kirina, the last and largest battle of the war, Sundjata is able to come up close to Soumaoro and nicks him with the tip of the magical arrow. Soumaoro loses the battle but escaped again. This time however, Sundjata has at his side Prince Fakoli, Soumaoro’s nephew, who defected with his troops to Sundjata after his uncle betrayed him. Together, they pursued Soumaoro for several days, finally trapping him in a cave and killing him.

Sundjata then turned his attention to quickly defeating the other Mandingo kings who had remained allies of the defeated Soumaoro. After his final victory, Sundjata returned to Niani triumphant, and proceeded to establish the Mali Empire.  There he was crowned the Mansa of Mali. The first thing he did was to divide the empire into 12 new kingdoms, appointing as kings his supporters from the various regions of Mali. He held an annual assembly with the kings to review the administration of the empire. He also served as the final court of appeal in judicial cases.

After peace returned to Mali, vast fields of sorghum, rice, millet, cotton, and indigo sprang up and surrounded the towns and villages, and Mali knew prosperity again while the taxes filled the king’s warehouses. Niani became a center of the gold and salt trade for the trans-Sahara caravans. New cities grew alongside silk-cotton and baobab trees and people could travel from town to town without fearing bandits. The body of Sundjata, remembered as a man of action, and for his compassion, his charisma and his sense of justice, rests in the valley of Balandougou, near Niani, where he met his death in the waters of the Sankarani River. But his spirit lives on and today the Keitas still come and bow before the tombstone under which lies the father of Mali.

Please answer the following:

1. Who is Sundjata Keita? What was the basis of his claim to the throne of Niani? What is his historical significance?

2. Where is ancient Mali? What is the difference between ancient Mali the place and ancient Mali the empire?

3. Who are the Mande speaking peoples of West Africa?

4. Are the Mandingo speaking people a tribe? Why or why not?

5. What is the role of magic in ancient Mandingo culture?

6. Is belief in magic similar to religious belief?

7. According to the story, what type of economy did ancient Mali have?

8. In Mandingo culture, who is a griot, and what role does he play (and he’s always a man) in the government?

9. How reliable is the griot’s version of the history of Mali? Is the griot a storyteller or a historian?

10. How are the women portrayed in this story?

11. In ancient Mali, hunters were either members of a special guild or a secret fraternity. What specific knowledge did hunters in ancient Mali possess that gave them that special status and privilege? (THE ANSWER IS NOT THAT THEY KILL ANIMALS)

12. Based on the information in this story, are you able to identify some of the social classes in ancient Mali? What are they?


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