The Epic of Sundiata
The Epic of Sundiata is about the founding of the Empire of Mali.
The tale has been told by griots, who are historians, performers and story tellers from West Africa.
The story starts off with a man called Naré Maghan Konaté who was a handsome Mandinka King also known as Maghan the handsome.
One fine day, a hunter came to his court to give him a prediction for the future and some advice. This is called a prophecy (a prediction of the future).
He told Maghan the handsome that if he married an ugly woman, Maghan would have a son who would rule a huge Kingdom that stretched far and wide!
Two more hunters came by one day from the neighbouring Kingdom of Do. They brought with them a hunchbacked woman called Sogolon.
Even though Maghan already had a wife and a son, he remembered that the other hunter had told him to marry a woman he did not find attractive.
He decided to marry this woman who was called Sogolon. She did give birth to a son, who was called Sundiata.
At first, it did not seem Sundiata was going to be so great. Sassouma, Maghan’s other wife, was jealous of little Sundiata and used to pick on him quite terribly.
You see, when Sundiata was a child, legend says he could not walk. Sassouma, his stepmother, laughed at him for his disability.
Even though Maghan thought his son was quite weak for not being able to walk, he gave him his own griot (storyteller) because he knew deep down he would do great things.
This historian taught Sundiata all he knew, that was his job. He gave Sundiata lots of wisdom and guidance as he was growing up.
All of this knowledge and these lessons were to help him later on.
Related: Facts about famous kings & famous child kings
Sundiata’s greatness did not shine through at first and he did not take the throne, even though Maghan believed in this prophecy. Instead, Dankaran Toumani Keita, his other son, took the throne.
Sassouma and her son, the new King, forced Sundiata and his mother into exile. They both fled.
None of the neighbouring kingdoms wanted the King and his mother apart from the Mema people, who accepted them and took them in.
Sundiata really wanted to walk. He asked the blacksmith for an iron rod to stand up right. When this didn’t work, he used a branch of S’ra (or the African Boabab).
Miraculously, this worked. In another version of this story, Sundiata was able to walk when his father died.
Something then happened. Sundiata grew stronger and stronger. He became a great warrior and an heir to the throne of the Mema people.
Nonetheless, his mother told him he should fulfil his destiny and that he should go back to the Kingdom of Mali to get his throne back.
Meanwhile, his step-brother, the King Dankaran Toumani (who was a bit of a coward), had run away when he came under attack by King Sosso.
King Sosso had already taken over nine Kingdoms from the Empire of Ghana.
Sundiata worked with his neighbouring Kingdoms to fight off King Sosso. Sundiata became Mansa, which means “King of Kings”. He ruled the whole empire.
This is how the start of the Empire of Mali is remembered. Sundiata may be myth or legend but his story teaches people to this day about certain beliefs.
What do you think the messages in this story are? What can you learn about the Empire of Mali from this?