discuss the importance of kinship and supernatural powers in Manding culture. These are extremely important pages to read.
2 discussions and Homework on Sunjata
before your read Sunjata teacher ones us to read this below:
It is very important that you read the Introduction (pp xi-xxxii) to “Sunjata” prior to reading the text. Students who do not read the Introduction often misinterpret many descriptions and events in the story. Below I mention some important points in the Introduction that you need to pay attention to.
Pp xi-xvii discuss the importance of the jeliw/jelilu (‘griots’ / storytellers) in Manding culture.
Pp xvii-xxxii discuss the importance of kinship and supernatural powers in Manding culture. These are extremely important pages to read. In particular, note the discussion on the “hardships involved in conceiving the hero [=Sunjata] who will launch the Mali Empire” (p xviii). This discussion also indicates the importance of Sogolon Conde (Sunjata’s mother). In this section, you’ll also read about the importance of a mother’s role as the source of her son’s greatness and also the importance of both the mother and the son enduring great hardships.
Also in this section (pp xvii-xxxii) you’ll read about the importance of dalilu/magic in this culture (and also see where we get the word ‘genie’) and also how the “Mande epic discourse revels in the power of women in general, expressed on one level through their command of metaphysical processes like sorcery” in addition to their courage and “traditional areas of female influence [i.e., the home/hearth]” (p xxi). (Pages xxviii and forward also discuss the importance of women and their political power in reference to the kinship and siblings.) The link between males and magic is then discussed on pages xxii and xxiii.
The link between magic and Islam and the conversion of the Mandi people is discussed on pages xxiii-xxiv.
Skin tone/color is mentioned often in the story and what this means in Mandi culture (and in “Sunjata”) is discussed beginning on page xxxii. Students need to read these terms through the lens of the Mandi culture and not through a modern-day lens. For example, it states on page xxvii: “Regarding the references to skin color, one of the Maninka terms is translated as “light-skinned” and another is “mulatto,” because Manding social consciousness recognizes a variety of light and dark skin shades ranging from “white” to “yellow” and “red” (e.g., one of the standard names for Sunjata’s mother is Sogolon Wulen, or “Red Sogolon).”
So, remember this when you move into the story. For example, on page 10 you’ll read that Konfara is told to marry “a black woman who has a white heart.” This description must be understood as the Mandi people would have understood it and as described in the above paragraph. Likewise, on page 13, when Karamogo says, “We can’t go from white to black,” he means from Arab to African (not Caucasian/European descent to African). This is again referenced on page 15, when Manjan Berete says, “They too will come from the land of the white-skins.” This is referring to the 2 brothers who will come (in the next section that begins on page 16). Here, two Arab brothers of the Muslim faith, Abdu Karimi and Abdu Kassimu, arrive in Manden from Morocco. (Morocco is in North Africa by the Strait of Gibraltar.)
Finally, regarding the birth of Sunjata. On page 47, we learn that the co-wives make “miscarriage medicine” for Sogolon to drink. For 7 years, Sogolon drank the ‘medicine’. Then the narrator says, “And each time she drank it, her belly would shrink away” (48). This has 2 possible interpretations: (1) she had 1 pregnancy that lasted for 7 years but her belly grew and shrank until she left town and stopped drinking the medicine or (2) she had 7 miscarriages and her 8th pregnancy, once she left town and stopped drinking the medicine, resulted in Sunjata’s birth. The next section jumps to Sunjata’s birth.
If you do not read the “Sunjata” version that is required for our class (see syllabus for required text/ISBN), it will show in your responses to DB posts and the homework (which will be wrong). There are many versions of this story out there (including what is online) and some of these versions have significant differences than our version. Our DB prompts and homework are based on the required text for this class which is the
Sunjata. A New Prose Version. Trans. by David C. Conrad. ISBN: 978-162-466-494
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