The Epic Of Sundiata Keita

The Epic Of Sundiata Keita

Pre-Colonial Africa was a place of many Epics, and one of the most well known is the Epic Of Sundiata Keita, the Founding Epic of Ancient Mali which has been transmitted for centuries through the Ancient Griot Oral Tradition.

The Epic Of Sundiata Keita & The Griot Oral Tradition

Unlike the Sumerian and Greek Epics like Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey which were written, in Africa, an Oral Tradition was used to preserve Epics like the Epic Of Sundiata Keita.

The choice of an Oral Tradition was deliberate because writing was already in use in Mali at the time the Epic of Sundiata originated in the 13th Century.

It was thought the use of the Oral Tradition as told by the Ancient Griots or Keepers of History was a more effective means of preserving and communicating the national mythos such as the Epic Of Sundiata Keita because it kept the story more alive  than if it was transmitted in written form.

For this reason, the Epic Of Sundiata was transmitted by Oral Tradition.

The Story Of The Epic Of Sundiata Keita

In the Epic Of Sundiata Keita, Sundiata Keita was the Son of Maghan Kon Fatta, King of the City of Niani.

The Epic of Sundiata begins with Sundiata Keita’s Father received a Prophecy foretelling that he will one day father a Great Ruler by conceiving a Child with an ugly woman. Soon after, two hunters brought him an offering of an ugly woman to take as his Wife.

Recognizing her as the woman from the Prophecy, the King accepts the offering of the maiden Sogolon as his Wife he would give birth to Sundiata Keita.

Sundiata Keita is conceived from this union, is born crippled and only manages to walk at the age of 7.

The Epic Of Sundiata continues with Sundiata Keita’s Father’s first Wife doing her best to undermine Sundiata Keita’s claims to the Throne in favour of her own Son.

The King then dies in the Epic Of Sundiata Keita, and the eldest Son Dankaran Touman, is installed King, sending Sundiata Keita and Sogolon into exile for seven years.

While in exile Sundiata Keita is raised by Moussa Tounkara who inaugurates him in the Art of War and prepares Sundiata Keita to take the throne further along in the Epic of Sundiata Keita.

In the meantime, the evil King Soumaoro Kante is besieging the Cities of Mali and the City of Nani falls to him in the Epic of Sundiata Keita, a search party is dispatched to find Sundiata Keita.

Sundiata Keita then forms alliances with all the cities Sundiata Keita had sojourned during his exile, and the Epic of Sundiata continues as Sundiata Keita raises an army that defeats Soumaoro Kante, and founds the Mali Empire as the climax to the Epic of Sundiata Keita.

Sundiata Keita’s reign is regarded is the beginning of the Golden Age of Mali as told in the Epic of Sundiata Keita.


The Epic Of Sundiata follows the mould of the mythological Hero’s journey who goes through trials and tribulations until his moment of triumph found in Joseph Cambell’s ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’.

It’s a Mythological Archetype that has found expression throughout history from the Epic Of Gilgamesh right through to Luke Skywalker In Star Wars, the modern mythological Epic of our era which follows the same template and finds expression once again The Epic of Sundiata Keita.

The fact that The Epic Of Sundiata Keita was preserved Orally is perhaps why The Epic Of Sundiata Keita is not so widely known and as well preserved.

Nevertheless, it should be remembered that preserving The Epic Of Sundiata Keita Orally was a deliberate choice based on what was understood as the most effective means of transmitting the story told in The Epic Of Sundiata Keita without losing the meaning and vitality of the Epic of Sundiata Keita in translation.

The Oral History Of The Mali Empire lecture provides great insight into the Griot Oral Tradition of Ancient Mali  as well as more detail on The Epic Of Sundiata Keita.


Download Our Android App Get it on Google Play
0 replies on “The Epic Of Sundiata Keita”