November 15, 2022
The narrator proclaims the great events of Sundiata‘s life are about to begin. He then embarks on a description of the griot’s role in preserving the great deeds of kings “from oblivion, as men have short memories.” He also takes a swipe at the written word, stating that “the prophets did not write and their words have been all the more vivid as a result.”
The narrator establishes the wickedness of Soumaoro, a demon whose evil reign has created only bloodshed as he preys upon the people he rules. This wickedness and belief in his own power will prove Soumaoro’s downfall. His main general, his nephew, Fakoli Koroma, has a beautiful wife, Keleya, who is a tremendous cook. Soumaoro abducts Keleya and takes her as his own. This causes Fakoli Koroma to rise in revolt and begins a tide of mutinies against Soumaoro.
Dankaran Touman, king of Mali, attempts to support the revolt but is defeated, and Soumaoro proclaims himself king of Mali. The savior of Mali is divined by the soothsayers as “the man with two names,” Sundiata. A mission is sent out to find where Sundiata is and bring him back.
The main events of Sundiata‘s life begin, with all the foregoing providing necessary background to the main events. To this chapter of Sundiata’s life, the narrator has appended another brief introduction that recapitulates themes about the griot’s life and the nature of history expressed earlier. Again, these are reminders to the audience of the story’s importance as a repository of ancient history. The griot’s swipe at written history is amusing but heartfelt. To one trained in memorization and oral performance, with musical accompaniment and moral instruction intermixed, the dead words on the page seem a poor substitute for living history.
Soumaoro’s villainy is established beyond doubt in this episode. Not only has he stolen Sundiata’s griot, but he also is a thoroughly wicked man, a tyrant, and a predator on his own family’s wives. Here is an important indicator of the true source of Soumaoro’s wickedness: he thinks nothing is sacred, not even the bonds of family and kinship that tie his society together. As a result, he begins his own downfall by causing the series of rebellions Sundiata will eventually come to lead.
The mention of Keleya allows the audience to look closely at the role of women in this story. She is desirable not only because she is beautiful, but also because she is a very talented cook. In the world of Sundiata, women feature as agents in the story, possessed of cleverness and other qualities. It is, however, a very strictly gendered world. The woman’s role in this society is clear, associated heavily with domestic duties like cooking, gathering herbs, shopping, and so on.
Dankaran Touman, Sundiata’s elder half-brother, proves himself a weak king. But this, too, was destined, and only creates an opportunity to fill a vacuum Sundiata must take.
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