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SUNDIATAan epic of old MaliD. T. NianeTranslated by G. D. PickettWith extra material byDavid Chappell, University of HawaiiJames A Jones, West Chester University of PennsylvaniaP E ARSO NLongman

ContentsIntroduction to the Revised Edition viiBackground Information ixWho's Who of Characters/Glossary of PlacesOral Tradition, Pronunciation and SpellingPreface xxiiiThe Words of the Griot Mamadou KouyateThe First Kings of Mali24The Buffalo WomanThe Lion Child 12Childhood 15The Lion's AwakeningPearson Education Limited,Edinburgh Gate, Harlow,Essex CM20 2JE, Englandand Associated Companies throughout the world.C Prdsence Africaine 1960 (original French version:Soundjata, ou l Epopofe Mandingue)C Longman Group Ltd (English Version) 1965All rights reserved. No part of this publication may bereproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmittedin any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,photocopying, recording, or otherwise, withoutthe prior written permission of the Publishers.First published as Longman African Classic 1986First published as Longman African Writers 1994Revised edition 2006ISBN-10: 1-4058-4942-8ISBN-13: 978-1-4058-4942-5Exile26Soumaoro Kante: The Sorcerer KingHistory 40The Baobab LeavesThe Return4347The Names of the Heroes 54Nana Triban and Balla FassekeKrina5659The Empire70Kouroukan Fougan or The Divisionof the World 73Niani79Eternal MaliPrinted in ChinaEPC/0118Notes858338xviixvI

village of traditionists to each province, thus: Fadama for Hamanaprovince (Kouroussa, Guinea); Djd6la (Droma, Siguiri); Keyla(Republic of Mali), etc.Unfortunately the West has taught us to scorn oral sources inmatters of history, all that is not written in black and white beingconsidered without foundation. Thus, even among African intellectuals, there are those who are sufficiently narrow-minded toregard speaking documents', which the griots are, with disdain,and to believe that we know nothing of our past for want ofwritten documents. These men simply prove that they do notknow their country except through the eyes of Whites.The words of traditionist griots deserve anything but scorn.The griot who occupies the chair of history of a village and whobears the title of Belen-Tigui' is a very respectable gentlemanand has toured Mali. He has gone from village to village to hearthe teaching of great masters; he has learnt the art of historicaloratory through long years; he is, moreover, bound by an oathand does not teach anything except what his guild stipulates, for,say the griots, All true learning should be a secret.' Also thetraditionist is a master in the art of circumlocution, he speaks inarchaic formulas, or else he turns facts into amusing legends forthe public, which legends have, however, a secret sense which thevulgar little suspect.My eyes have only just opened on these mysteries of eternalAfrica and more than once, in my thirst to know, I have had togive up my little claim as an armchair intellectual before thesilences of tradition just as my over-impertinent questions wereabout to uncover a mystery.This book is, then, the fruit of an initial contact with the mostauthentic traditionists of Mali. I am nothing more thau a translator, I owe everything to the masters of Fadama, Djeliba Koroand Keyla and more particularly to Djeli Mamoudou Kouyatd ofthe village of Djeliba Koro (Siguiri) in Guinea.May this book open -the eyes of more than one African andinduce him to come and sit humbly beside the ancients and hearthe words of the griots who teach wisdom and history.D. T. NIANExxivThe Words of the GriotMamadou KouyateI am a griot. It is I, Djeli Mamoudou Kouyat6, son of BintouKouyatd and Djeli Kedian Kouyatd, master in the art of eloquence. Since time immemorial the Kouyatds have been in theservice of the Keita princes of Mali; we are vessels of speech, weare the repositories which harbour secrets many centuries old. Theart of eloquence has no secrets for us; without us the names ofkings would vanish into oblivion, we are the memory of mankind;by the spoken word we bring to life the deeds and exploits of kingsfor younger generations.I derive my knowledge from my father Djeli Kedian, who alsogot it from his father; history holds no mystery for us; we teachto the vulgar just as much as we want to teach them, for it is wewho keep the keys to the twelve doors of Mali.'I know the list of all the sovereigns who succeeded to the thronefor myof Mali. I know how the black people divided into tribes,father bequeathed to me all his learning; I know why such andsuch is called Kamara, another Keita, and yet another Sibibd orTraord; every name has a meaning, a secret import.I teach kings the history of their ancestors so that the lives ofthe ancients might serve them as an example, for the world is old,but the future springs from the past.My word is pure and free of all untruth; it is the word of myfather; it is the word of my father's father. I will give you myfather's words just as I received them; royal griots do not knowwhat lying is. When a quarrel breaks out between tribes it is wewho settle the difference, for we are the depositaries of oathswhich the ancestors swore.Listen to my word, you who want to know; by my mouth youwill learn the history of Mali.By my mouth you will get to know the story of the ancestor ofgreat Mali, the story of him who, by his exploits, surpassed even1

Alexander the Great; he who, from the East, shed his rays uponall the countries of the West.Listen to the story of the son of the Buffalo, the son of theLion.' I am going to tell you of Maghan Sundiata, of Mari-Djata,of Sogolon Djata, of Nard Maghan Djata; the man of many namesagainst whom sorcery could avail nothing.The First Kings of MaliListen then, sons of Mali, children of the black people, listen tomy word, for I am going to tell you of Sundiata, the father of theBright Country, of the savanna land, the ancestor of those whodraw the bow, the master of a hundred vanquished kings.I am going to talk of Sundiata, Manding Diara, Lion of Mali,Sogolon Djata, son of Sogolon, Nare Maghan Djata, son of Nar6Maghan, Sogo Sogo Simbon Salaba, hero of many names.I am going to tell you of Sundiata, he whose exploits willastonish men for a long time yet. He was great among kings, hewas peerless among men; he was beloved of God because he wasthe last of the great conquerors.Right at the beginning then, Mali was a province of the Bambara kings; those who are today called Mandingo, inhabitants ofMali, are not indigenous; they come from the East. Bilali Bounama, ancestor of the Keitas, was the faithful servant of theProphet Muhammad 4 (may the peace of God be upon him).Bilali Bounama had seven sons of whom the eldest, Lawalo, leftthe Holy City and came to settle in Mali; Lawalo had LatalKalabi for a son, Latal Kalabi had Damul Kalabi who then hadLahilatoul Kalabi.Lahilatoul Kalabi was the first black prince to make the Pilgrimage to Mecca. On his return he was robbed by brigands in thedesert; his men were scattered and some died of thirst, but Godsaved Lahilatoul Kalabi, for he was a righteous man. He calledupon the Almighty and jinn appeared and recognized him asking. After seven years' absence Lahilatoul was able to return, bythe grace of Allah the Almighty, to Mali where none expected tosee him any more.2Lahilatoul Kalabi had two sons, the elder being called KalabiBomba and the younger Kalabi Dauman; the elder chose royalpower and reigned, while the younger preferred fortune andwealth and became the ancestor of those who go from country tocountry seeking their fortune.Kalabi Bomba had Mamadi Kani for a son. Mamadi Kani was ahunter king like the first kings of Mali. It was he who inventedthe hunter's whistle;b he communicated with the jinn of theforest and bush. These spirits had no secrets from him and he wasloved by Kondolon Ni San,4.e His followers were so numerous thathe formed them into an army which became formidable; he oftengathered them together in the bush and taught them the art ofhunting. It was he who revealed to hunters the medicinal leaveswhich heal wounds and cure diseases. Thanks to the strength ofhis followers, he became king of a vast country; with themMamadi Kani conquered all the lands which stretch from theSankarani to the Bourd. Mamadi Kani had four sons-Kani Simbon, Kamignogo Simbon, Kabala Simbon and Simbon Tagnogokelin. They were all initiated into the art of hunting anddeserved the title of Simbon. It was the lineage of Bamari Tagnogokelin which held on to the power; his son was M'Bali N nbwhose son was Bello. Bello's son was called Bello Bakon and hehad a son called Maghan Kon Fatta, also called Frako MaghanKeigu, Maghan the handsome.Maghan Kon Fatta was the father of the great Sundiata andhad three wives and six children-three boys and three girls. Hisfirst wife was called Sassouma Bdr4t4, daughter of a great divine;she was the mother of King Dankaran Touman and PrincessNana Triban. The second wife, Sogolon Kedjou, was the motherof Sundiata and the two princesses Sogolon Kolonkan and Sogolon Djamarou. The third wife was one of the Kamaras and wascalled Namandj4; she was the mother of Manding Bory (orManding Bakary), who was the best friend of his half-brotherSundiata.3

The Buffalo WomanMaghan Kon Fatta, the father of Sundiata, was renowned for hisbeauty in every land; but he was also a good king loved by all thepeople. In his capital of Nianiba 7 he loved to sit often at the footof the great silk-cotton tree 8 which dominated his palace ofCanco. Maghan Kon Fatta had been reigning a long time and hiseldest son Dankaran Touman was already eight years old and oftencame to sit on the ox-hide beside his father.Well now, one day when the king had taken up his usualposition under the silk-cotton tree surrounded by his kinsmen hesaw a man dressed like a hunter coming towards him; he worethe tight-fitting trousers of the favourites of Kondolon Ni Sane,and his blouse oversewn with cowries showed that he was amaster of the hunting art. All present turned towards the unknown man whose bow, polished with frequent usage, shone inthe sun. The man walked up in front of the king, whom he recognized in the midst of his courtiers. He bowed and said, 'I saluteyou, king of Mali, greetings all you of Mali. I am a hunter chasinggame and come from Sangaran; a fearless doe has guided me tothe walls of Nianiba. By the graces of my master the greatSimbon'O my arrows have hit her and now she lies not far fromyour walls. As is fitting, oh king, I have come to bring you yourportion'. He took a leg from his leather sack whereupon the king'sgriot, Gnankouman Doua, seized upon the leg and said, 'Stranger, whoever you may be you will be the king's guest becauseyou respect custom; come and take your place on the mat besideus. The king is pleased because he loves righteous men.' Theking nodded his approval and all the courtiers agreed. The griotcontinued in a more familiar tone, 'Oh you who come from theSangaran, land of the favourites of Kondolon Ni Sane, you whohave doubtless had an expert master, will you open your pouchof knowledge for us and instruct us with your conversation, foryou have no doubt visited several lands.'The king, still silent, gave a nod of approval and a courtieradded, 'The hunters of Sangaran are the best soothsayers; if thestranger wishes we could learn a lot from him.'The hunter came and sat down near Gnankouman Doua whovacated one end of the mat to him. Then he said, 'Griot of the4king, I am not one of these hunters whose tongues are more dexterous than their arms; I am no spinner of adventure yarns, nordo I like playing upon the credulity of worthy folk; but, thanksto the lore which my master has imparted to me, I can boast ofbeing a seer among seers.'He took out of his hunter's bagel twelve cowries which hethrew on the mat. The king and all his entourage now turnedtowards the stranger who was jumbling up the twelve shinyshells with his bare hand. Gnankouman Doua discreetly broughtto the king's notice that the soothsayer was left-handed. The lefthand is the hand of evil, but in the divining art it is said thatleft-handed people are the best. The hunter muttered some incomprehensible words in a low voice while he shuffled andjumbled the twelve cowries into different positions which hemused on at length. All of a sudden he looked up at the king andsaid, 'Oh king, the world is full of mystery, all is hidden and weknow nothing but what we can see. The silk-cotton tree springsfrom a tiny seed-that which defies the tempest weighs in itsgerm no more than a grain of rice. Kingdoms are like trees; somewill be silk-cotton trees, others will remain dwarf palms and thepowerful silk-cotton tree will cover them with its shade. Oh, whocan recognize in the little child the great king to come? The greatcomes from the small; truth and falsehood have both suckledat the same breast. Nothing is certain, but, sire, I can see twostrangers over there coming towards your city.'He fell silent and looked in the direction of the city gates for ashort while. All present silently turned towards the gates. Thesoothsayer returned to his cowries. He shook them in his palmwith a skilled hand and then threw them out.' King of Mali, destiny marches with great strides, Mali is aboutto emerge from the night. Nianiba is lighting up, but what is thislight that comes from the east?'' Hunter,' said Gnankouman Doua, 'your words are obscure.Make your speech comprehensible to us, speak in the dearlanguage of your savanna.'la'I am coming to that now, griot. Listen to my message. Listen,sire. You have ruled over the kingdom which your ancestorsbequeathed to you and you have no other ambition but to passon this realm, intact if not increased, to your descendants; but,fine king, your successor is not yet born. I see two hunters5

coming to your city; they have come from afar and a womanaccompanies them. Oh, that woman! She is ugly, she is hideous,she bears on her back a disfigur