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Michael Holland
History of Africa to 1800
December 11, 2005
Dr. Mary Bivins

The epic of Sunjata is an essential piece of African literature because it exemplifies the African structure and most tribal cultures as well. It most prominently illustrates the culture and order that are found within the tribes and also the amazing ability of the son of King Maghan and Sogolon; Sunjata, who was destined to be the greatest king ever in Mali. When Sunjata was born, a curse was placed on him by the king’s first wife to make him born lame. The curse worked and he turned out to be lazy, greedy and ugly as well. At three years old, Sunjata could not walk and rarely spoke. Even at seven, the boy still crawled and spent all his time eating. As a result of this, the king’s first wife made her first son the king after Maghan died. Sunjata told his mother that he would walk that day and commands the blacksmith to make for him the heaviest possible iron rod. He does so, and the rod is given to Sunjata in front of a large crowd of onlookers. Sunjata successfully lifts himself upright using the iron rod and bends it into a bow in the process. The people that live in the area where Manding oral tradition is are the people who live in the kingdom of Mali.

The king’s helper is called a jeliw or a griot, and his purpose is to basically be the king’s assistant and to record the king’s adventures and pass them down like stories. They are called “guardians of the word” because they know the original words that the king spoke and it what context and can be referred back to in case of confusion. The difference between the local African point of view and that of foreign academics is that the African point of view is a primary source whereas that of the foreign academic is a secondary or even tertiary source. European usually get their written information about Mali from primary sources from people living in that time; primarily the griots. It would be shortsighted to ignore the...
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