Epic of Sundiata: the Lion King of Mali - a West African prince
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Epic of Sundiata


Traditional music for the story of Sundiata

Nobody knows exactly how long the storytellers of West Africa have been telling stories about Sundiata, the prince of Mali. We can be pretty sure that Sundiata was a real person, and really a ruler of Mali, because Ibn Khaldun mentions Sundiata, only about 150 years after his reign. But nobody knows how old these stories are. The oldest written record of the story of Sundiata goes back about 100 years, to about 1895 AD, but the story is probably much older than that.

The story begins before Sundiata was born, when King Maghan of Mali heard a prophecy that he must marry an ugly woman, and their son would be Mali's greatest king ever. Sure enough, two hunters came by after a while with a very ugly woman. Her name was Sogolon. So King Maghan married Sogolon, and soon they had a son, and that was Sundiata.

Now King Maghan already had a son, with a different wife, and his first wife, Sassouma, was very jealous when she saw that King Maghan intended Sundiata to be the next king, instead of his older brother, Dankaran Touman. How happy Sassouma was when the little boy, Sundiata, turned out to be no good at all! He was ugly like his mother, and slow - even when he was three years old, he still couldn't walk and he could hardly talk at all.

King Maghan was worried too, but even so he respected the prophecy, and so when he was dying he gave his best griot - his advisor - to Sundiata to help him become king.

More about Sundiata

Bibliography and further reading:



Xhosa
!Kung
Yoruba
Swahili
African languages and literature
Ancient Africa
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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