Pre-Colonial Africa was a place of many Epics, and one of the most well known is the Epic Of Sundiata Keita: The Lion King, which is the Founding Epic of Ancient Mali transmitted for centuries through the Ancient Griot Oral Tradition.
The Epic Of Sundiata Keita The Lion King
The story of the Lion King begins when Sundiata Keita’s Father receives 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 the Wife who would give birth to Sundiata Keita.
Sundiata Keita is conceived from this union and his name Sundiata was derived from the combination of his mother’s name ‘Sogolon’ and the word ‘Jata’, which means Lion.
The Lion King was born crippled and only managed to walk at the age of 7.
Life was not easy for the Lion King as Sundiata Keita’s Father’s first Wife always attemptedm to undermine Sundiata’s claim to the Throne in favour of her own Son.
After the death of Sundiata’s Father, the former King’s eldest Son Dankaran Touman, is installed King which sends Sundiata Keita and his mother 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 and realise his destiny as the Lion King.
In the meantime, his brother King Soumaoro Kante besieges the Cities of Mali and when the City of Nani falls to him, a search party is dispatched to find Sundiata Keita in exile.
Once Sundiata is found, he forms alliances with all the cities he had sojourned during his exile, and Sundiata Keita is able to raises an army that defeats Soumaoro Kante.
Sundiata Keita then founds the Nation of Mali where he assumes the title of Lion King.
The Epic Of Sundiata Keita the Lion King follows the mould of the mythological Hero’s journey who goes through trials and tribulations until his moment of triumph which originated in the Ancient Egyptian story of Heru.
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.
The fact that The Epic Of Sundiata Keita the Lion King was preserved Orally is perhaps why Sundiata’s version of the Lion King Epic is not so widely known.
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 the Lion King.