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Sundiata - Essay Example

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All societies are based on some organizing principles that are essential to their functioning and to the maintenance of the social order instead of chaos, and many of those principles are grounded on myths which exist in every culture. We often tend to perceive myths in their narrow definition as fables or legends, but in their wider sense myths are a kind of verbal containers in which worldviews of the whole cultures are encoded…
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Sundiata
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Download file to see previous pages Therefore, the study of myths and their interrelationship with the real-life is of the paramount importance for the deeper understanding of the very nature of any human society. As a perfect example for this purpose we may investigate the book written by D. T. Niane "Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali", which is one of the most well-known traditional narratives of West Africa that provides an account of Sundiata Keita, a historical heroic figure renowned as the founder of the Mali Empire. This book contains important insights into the mythical component of the human perception of history, and exposes the intimate connection that the present always has with the past. Let us take a closer look at this narrative and examine the function of memory as the bridge connecting heroes of the book with the world they live in.
Among the numerous personages of the epic, the story of the relationship between the great king of Mali Sundiata and his griot Balla Fasseke takes perhaps the central place in terms of its importance for the whole narrative. Griots can be seen as professional storytellers and public speakers, but the significance of their social role was much deeper in the African societies than it could seem from this superficial description. On the most fundamental level, a griot was perceived as the vessel of historical memory of a social group. Every king had a griot beside him whose task was to instruct his patron in such a way as to procure the inheritance of traditions of ancestors. Therefore, griots role was naturally wide-ranging, as they were speaking for their kings, were tutoring their children, and in this way aimed to ". . . bring to life the deeds and exploits of kings for younger generations" (Niane, 1995, p.1). By the way, to prove that griots could rely on orally transmitted traditions we may for instance consider such a stable phenomenon as proverbs, which are referred to in the narrative in the following way: "Mens wisdom is contained in proverbs, and when children wield proverbs it is a sign that they have profited from adult company" (Niane, 1995, p.29).
In the full accordance with the elevated status of griots, Balla Fasseke becomes a close tutor of the prospective king Sundiata yet from his early childhood. Balla educates and instructs Sundiata on the rules of behavior, so that ". . . between his mother and the griot, the child got to know all that needed to be known" (Niane, 1995, p.23). Thus, from the very beginning of the story of Sundiata the role of his guardian angel is assigned to Balla. In his turn, Balla was very devoted to his patron, which can be seen from his faithfulness to Sundiata even during his exile at the court of a powerful sorcerer king Soumaoro. But for Sundiata the absence of the griot does not simply mean the loss of a counselor, but in essence signifies the disconnection of Sundiata from the memory of his ancestors. Such a deprivation of him of the link with the mythical ancestors is the sufficient reason even for war, and in the narrative one of the first signs of the imminent war between Sundiata and Soumaoro is symbolized by the proclamation of Balla Fasseke by Soumaoro as of his new griot. At the same time, the respect that Soumaoro had for Balla proves that the memory of the past is indispensable for all, including such a seemingly powerful personage as the sorcerer ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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