Sundiata

Summary
Analysis
Sogolon is wise, and one evening she calls her children together. She suggests to Sundiata that they leave Niani, as she knows that Sassouma will try to harm Manding Bory and Djamarou (who possess no aptitude for protective witchcraft) now that she knows she can't hurt Sundiata. Sogolon tells Sundiata that he'll return to rule when he's an adult, as he must fulfill his destiny in Mali. The narrator explains that following the death of his mother Namandjé, Manding Bory had been living with Sogolon. As Sundiata is very close to Manding Bory, he agrees to the plan to save him.
This passage shows that Sundiata is also motivated by familial love (for Manding Bory). This motivation further differentiates Sundiata and his allies from Sassouma and other antagonists. Sassouma is willing to participate in the destruction of families by killing Manding Bory and Djamarou. Notice, too, that Sogolon justifies her suggestion by reminding Sundiata that it's foretold that he'll return to Mali anyway. Therefore, leaving seems like an obstacle, but actually it will have no negative consequences.
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Balla Fasséké plans for the family's departure, but one morning, Dankaran Touman announces that he wants Balla Fasséké to lead an embassy to the king of Sosso, Soumaoro Kanté. Sundiata is out hunting and doesn't find out that his griot is gone until he returns that evening. Sundiata is filled with rage, but Sogolon counsels Sundiata that it's part of a "higher order." Sundiata and Manding Bory confront Dankaran Touman. Manding Bory addresses his king brother and announces that they're leaving Mali. Sundiata promises to return, which scares Dankaran Touman. The young boys leave.
In this moment, Sundiata is allowed to be fully human and experience negative emotions like anger. Sogolon again comforts Sundiata by reminding him of his destiny. This in turn reminds the reader that Sundiata is guaranteed to be successful in spite of these setbacks. Manding Bory already exhibits qualities of a "right hand man" when he takes over speaking with Dankaran Touman. Even now, he's wholly supportive of Sundiata.
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Sassouma enters and finds Dankaran Touman collapsed. The young king says that he doesn't understand why Sundiata is leaving, and he adds that he fully intends to give Balla Fasséké back to Sundiata. Sassouma berates her son for being scared of threats from a boy, and says she will need to go to her parents' village if Sundiata assumes power so she doesn't have to live with his tyranny. Dankaran Touman decides he wants his brothers to die, and he vows to kill them if they ever return to Mali.
This turn of events illustrates the power dynamic between Dankaran Touman and Sassouma. Dankaran Touman is not a naturally cruel or vindictive person, but he has no power to act on his honorable intentions. Instead, he's manipulated by his mother into behavior that is a cruel and misguided attempt to thwart destiny.
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The narrator says that people often think they're doing harm to someone when, in actuality, they're only assisting destiny. Sassouma thinks she's victorious, but the miseries that Sogolon and her family experience on the road are simply part of Sundiata's destiny. Over the next seven years Sundiata grows up and becomes strong, sturdy, and wise, while Sogolon begins to feel old.
The narrator alludes again to the necessity of time. Remember the symbol of the tree. During his time in exile, Sundiata is essentially growing his roots. Exile won't keep him from his destiny; rather, exile prepares him for his foretold victorious return to Mali.
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Sogolon, Sundiata, Manding Bory, and their sisters find refuge first in Djeba with Mansa Konkon. One night, the king's daughter approaches Manding Bory and tells him that her father is a great sorcerer whose power lies in the game of wori (a game similar to Mancala). Manding Bory replies that Sundiata is also a great sorcerer, but Sogolon calls the children inside.
As Sundiata spends his time in exile wandering the lands that will soon become his empire, he makes many important connections and alliances, and he also faces obstacles that help him to grow. This passage foreshadows a conflict between Sundiata and a great sorcerer, which will come to pass later on.
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Sundiata teases Manding Bory about liking Mansa Konkon's daughter, and the two swap proverbs. The narrator says that when children use proverbs, it's indicative that they've experienced adult company. Early the next afternoon, Mansa Konkon orders Sundiata to come to his palace. Sundiata isn't afraid, because he knows he's working towards his great destiny. Sundiata notices fantastic weapons on the walls. He compliments the weapons, and begins fencing with a sword.
The narrator indicates that Sundiata and Manding Bory are growing up and essentially practicing being adults by using proverbs in this manner. Sundiata's lack of fear is indicative both of his belief in destiny, as well as his heroism. Sundiata already behaves like a hero and as such, he doesn't experience fear in front of a powerful king.
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Mansa Konkon is shocked. Sundiata puts the sword back and asks why he's been summoned. The king says that they're going to play wori, and if he wins, he gets to kill Sundiata. Sundiata, unconcerned, asks what happens if he wins, and the king replies that he'll grant Sundiata whatever he wants. Sundiata asks for the sword and Mansa Konkon sets up the board. The king goes first and recites a poem as he moves pebbles around the board. When it's Sundiata's turn, he recites a poem that indicates he knows the king is being bribed to kill him.
Sundiata continues to seem undaunted by this sudden turn of events. He knows that Mansa Konkon cannot kill him, as the prophecy states that he's going to return to Mali as an adult. Furthermore, local custom states that guests are protected from harm by their hosts no matter what, and Mansa Konkon’s obvious intention to break this custom leads Sundiata to reason that Mansa Konkon is being bribed to kill him.
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Mansa Konkon is angry that someone betrayed him, but Sundiata explains that he speaks the truth because he's a guest. The narrator explains what's actually happening: Sassouma sent gold to Mansa Konkon to kill Sundiata. The king deems Sundiata the winner of the game, but refuses him the sword and turns him out of the city, instructing him to never return. Sundiata says he'll return anyway.
However, once Sundiata acknowledges that he knows about the bribe, Mansa Konkon is once again bound to custom, and thus man's customs work in tandem with Sundiata’s destiny.
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Sogolon, Sundiata, Manding Bory, and their sisters head for Tabon, where Sundiata's friend Fran Kamara lives. The king of Tabon, however, is old and doesn't want to anger his superiors in Niani, so he helps Sogolon join a band of merchants headed for the court of Ghana. Before their departure, Fran Kamara shows his friends around Tabon. Sundiata promises that on his way back to Mali, he'll stop in Tabon to pick up Fran Kamara. Fran Kamara says that he'll be king by that time and have a great army.
As Sundiata and his family travel through the countryside, the reader begins to piece together a map of Sundiata's eventual empire. This also works in the oral tradition to provide points of personal connection to individuals who might be from Tabon, or who may be descended from Fran Kamara. Sundiata, and the oral storyteller, are both working to build their connections and communities.
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The merchants try to make the long journey to Ghana as comfortable for Sogolon as possible. They tell Sundiata and Manding Bory stories about the past. They also tell them about Soumaoro Kanté of Sosso, where Balla Fasséké is still being kept. Soumaoro is a powerful and cruel king, and even the king of Ghana pays the kingdom of Sosso tribute. The narrator explains that Ghana used to be extremely powerful, as its kings were descended from Alexander the Great, but their power had been declining.
Within the story itself, other stories and legends function as teaching tools much in the same way that the story of Sundiata functions as a teaching tool today. The narrator begins to build the understanding that Sosso is an immensely powerful kingdom, and directly at odds with Sundiata because that kingdom holds Balla Fasséké.
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Finally, the caravan reaches Wagadou, Ghana's capital city. Nobody here speaks Mandingo, Sundiata's language, and the architecture is very different. Sundiata also notices many mosques. The king's brother acts as an interpreter and receives Sogolon and her children at the palace. Sogolon explains her circumstances and asks for asylum in Wagadou. The king arrives and surprises the assembly by addressing Sogolon in Mandingo. He warmly welcomes Sogolon and her children.
Sundiata is beginning to build his fluency and comfort with different belief systems as he encounters the primarily Muslim city. This will later allow him to connect with more people (and higher powers), since he can use both Islam and local religion as needed. Exile evidently isn't turning out to be a bad thing, which shows that Sassouma’s cruelty has only aided Sundiata in building his alliances.
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The king of Ghana asks Sundiata to approach. Sundiata introduces himself and all his siblings. The king says that Sundiata will make a great king, as he didn't forget any of his family members in the introduction.
Sundiata shows that he recognizes and honors his family by mentioning all of them by name. This recognition shows that Sundiata believes in their importance. Recognizing individuals in this way will be something required of him later as a great leader.
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At Wagadou, Sogolon is treated like a queen. The children receive clothes in Wagadou fashion and Manding Bory and Sundiata especially are showered with attention. Manding Bory is embarrassed, but Sundiata acts as though the attention is normal and natural. He soon becomes exacting, and the king thinks very highly of him.
The reader is asked to compare Sundiata and Manding Bory here. Sundiata is set apart from his brother by his belief that his royal treatment is entirely natural, indicating that he's a born ruler. Manding Bory's role as a helper is reinforced, as he's obviously not a born ruler like Sundiata.
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After a year, Sogolon becomes very sick. King Soumaba Cissé decides to send Sogolon and the children to Mema to live with his cousin, Tounkara, reasoning that the fresh air off the Niger River would help Sogolon's health. The king sends Sogolon and her family with another group of merchants. Sundiata again peppers the merchants with questions.
The king's decision begins to point to the fact that families can and do exist on a larger scale, and that the greater community of Sundiata's future empire is connected by blood as much as anything else. This creates the sense that everyone that Sundiata meets is somehow connected and part of the same community.
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At Mema, Sogolon and her children are met with a grand reception. The king's sister, Massiran, receives the travelers and talks with Sogolon as if they're old friends. She tells Sogolon that the king has no children of his own. She continues that the king is currently on a campaign against mountain tribes. Sundiata and Manding Bory keep busy hunting with their new friends, who are the sons of vassal kings.
Massiran indicates that there's a space in Mema that needs to be filled, as the king has no sons. This opens the door for Sundiata to go on to fill that role, particularly since he's currently fatherless. Sundiata will begin to amass his chosen family of sorts as he builds these relationships.
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Moussa Tounkara returns when the rainy season starts. He receives Sogolon and her children, and welcomes them formally to his court. Moussa Tounkara is a great warrior and takes Sundiata and Manding Bory on their first campaign. Sundiata performs magnificently for only being 15. The king's sofas (soldiers) say that Sundiata will make a great king. Moussa Tounkara embraces Sundiata and tells him that he'll make Sundiata a great warrior.
Again, Sundiata performs beyond all expectations for a normal 15-year-old, indicating that he's a born warrior. He's already able to inspire trust and awe in soldiers who might one day serve him, indicating that he's not just technically skilled—he has people skills, too. Having both technical and interpersonal skills is what will make him a great ruler.
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Sundiata doesn't leave Moussa Tounkara's side. People in Mema begin to suggest that Sundiata was sent to them because the king has no heir. After three years, the king appoints Sundiata his viceroy to rule in his absence. At 18 years old, Sundiata is tall, strong, and powerful. Everyone loves him. The soothsayers reveal Sundiata's destiny to unite Mali, and the soldiers think that anything is possible with Sundiata's leadership.
It's suggested here that Mema will eventually become part of Mali once Sundiata sets out to truly fulfill his destiny. Notice that he's loved and adored by his subjects and (maybe more importantly) by his soldiers. This provides evidence that Sundiata will accomplish his destiny with a great deal of support.
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Now that he's a man, though, Sundiata knows that it's time to fulfill his destiny. Sogolon knows that she has performed her duty. One day she reminds Sundiata that his destiny lies in Mali, not Mema, and counsels him to wait for the right time.
Now that Sogolon has raised Sundiata to adulthood, she has fulfilled her role in the prophecy. However, the reader is asked to recall the symbol of trees and the time they take to grow—she implies that the proverbial tree hasn't yet grown big enough to unite Mali.
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