The Functions of Griots - Sundiata

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Djeli Mamoudo Kouyate is a griot in the country of Guinea, West Africa; he lives in the village of Djeliba Koro, on the Niger River, and is the main source of information for the book Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali. The book focuses on the trials and tribulations of Sundiata, a legendary warrior, king, and founder of the Mali Empire; and the functions of griots in serving their king. Sundiata is born to Sogolon, and is supposed to become the king of Mali, but Sundiata cannot walk until he turns 11 years old, and his half brother, Dankaran Touman, becomes the king. Dankaran exiles Sundiata and his family, and Balla Fasseke, Sundiata's griot, prepares the family for exile. During exile, Sundiata gathered a very strong army, with dreams of taking his rightful place as king of Mali. Griots have many functions and to attribute a griot with a main purpose would be to under-estimate their importance to their culture. Of all their duties, a few are more important than others. Of these, the most important jobs include keeping Mandinka tradition through word of mouth, the use of song, and being the right-hand man and best friend of their king.

First of all, griots are very important to African culture; they are the keepers of tradition and are responsible for making sure things are done according to the customs of their ancestors. This is a very painstaking task because these customs are not written down; they are passed down by word of mouth. Their father teaches each griot, the knowledge griots possess is remembered through song and story, and is passed on with amazing accuracy. This system would not work well if it were not for the griots being extremely honest and proud, the stories are not touched in any way in the transition from generation to generation, something I find to be unbelievable. The griot Mamadou Kouyate explains it well when he says, "…royal griots do not know what lying is."(1) This is a simple statement but is the essence of a griot; it...
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