Sundiata

Sundiata Soumaoro Kanté: The Sorcerer King Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mamoudou Kouyaté explains that while Sundiata was in exile, Mali fell to Soumaoro Kanté of Sosso. Upon Balla Fasséké's arrival in Sosso, Soumaoro demanded that Mali pay tribute to Sosso. Soumaoro is a great sorcerer with many powerful fetishes (magical objects) who terrifies all other kings.
Soumaoro is described as absolutely terrifying and extremely powerful. Unlike Sundiata, who inspires love and trust, Soumaoro inspires terror. Keep in mind that even the powerful King Soumaba Cissé of Ghana has submitted to Soumaoro—Soumaoro's physical reach extends as far as Sundiata's travels.
Themes
Family, Community, and the Mali Empire Theme Icon
Magic and Religion Theme Icon
Soumaoro kept Balla Fasséké but let the rest of his embassy return to Niani, bearing a threat that Soumaoro would destroy Niani if Dankaran Touman didn't submit. The king submitted and sent his sister, Nana Triban, to Soumaoro.
Dankaran Touman shows himself to be cowardly when faced with this threat. He gives up not only his griot, but also his sister in order to protect his own life.
Themes
Heroism Theme Icon
Family, Community, and the Mali Empire Theme Icon
One day while Soumaoro is out hunting, Balla Fasséké sneaks into Soumaoro's secret chamber. The walls are covered in human skin, while nine human heads form a circle in the center of the room. A massive snake stirs at Balla Fasséké's arrival, but Balla Fasséké himself is a sorcerer and recites a formula to quiet the room. He inspects the strange weapons on the walls, notices three sleeping owls, and realizes the skulls are those of nine kings that Soumaoro killed.
The extent of Soumaoro's power is illustrated through his display of the heads and skins of his conquests, which he uses as magical objects. Soumaoro’s clear evil calls into question this use of this magic, since the rules governing the use of magic require righteousness. This hints at Soumaoro’s inevitable fall.
Themes
Family, Community, and the Mali Empire Theme Icon
Magic and Religion Theme Icon
Balla Fasséké notices a huge balafon (a type of xylophone) and sits down to play. The balafon is extremely beautiful. The creatures in the room stir and seem to listen to the music. Balla Fasséké realizes that the balafon has never been touched by anyone but Soumaoro, who comes after his victories to sing his own praises. Further, Soumaoro is connected to the balafon and knows that someone is in his chamber.
Notice here that Soumaoro is a truly solo player. He doesn't need a griot to memorialize his exploits in song and story, because he does that himself. In this way, Soumaoro chooses not to participate in the community aspect of songs and stories, which—in contrast Sundiata’s interpersonal skills—spells Soumaoro’s demise.
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Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Family, Community, and the Mali Empire Theme Icon
Magic and Religion Theme Icon
Get the entire Sundiata LitChart as a printable PDF.
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Soumaoro bursts into the chamber in a rage, but Balla Fasséké improvises a song to honor Soumaoro. The narrator says that kings are men like any other and are subject to flattery. As such, Soumaoro listens to the music joyfully. When Balla Fasséké finishes his tune, Soumaoro claims him as his own griot. The narrator states that this act makes war between Sundiata and Soumaoro inevitable.
Here, flattery is powerful enough to push Soumaoro towards making his exploits public in the form of obtaining a true griot. However, Balla Fasséké is necessary to Sundiata's success, as Sundiata's memory won't live on if he cannot retrieve his griot to tell his story. This indicates that Sundiata’s goal isn't just the conquest of Mali, it's earning a place in memory.
Themes
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Fate and Destiny Theme Icon
Family, Community, and the Mali Empire Theme Icon
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