Sundiata

Sundiata The Lion's Awakening Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Maghan Kon Fatta dies soon after giving Balla Fasséké to Mari Djata. The council of elders refuses to follow the dead king's wishes to reserve the throne for Mari Djata. Sassouma makes sure that Dankaran Touman is crowned king, and she herself becomes an all-powerful queen mother. Doua dies not long after.
Here, man's laws are enacted specifically to oppose someone's destiny. Further, Sundiata is no longer protected by individuals who believed in his destiny (Maghan and Doua), which creates tension as the conflict between Sassouma and Sundiata grows.
Themes
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People speak of Mari Djata with scorn, which the narrator attributes to man's short memory. People say that nobody can rule with powerless legs. All the gossip stems from Sassouma, and she uses her newfound power to banish Sogolon to a small hut at the back of the palace. Sassouma allows everyone who wants to gawk at Mari Djata to do so, and Sogolon cries about the public ridicule. Sogolon does take comfort in Kolonkan who seems wise beyond her years.
The narrator provides some assurance to the reader/listener that characters like Sassouma are simply forgetful, and will be reminded later that they cannot truly thwart destiny. Sassouma shows herself to be extremely cruel now that she has power. This begins to indicate that power corrupts, and specifically that power obtained through brute force isn't a good thing.
Themes
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Sogolon plants a small garden behind the village. The garden grows well, but one day she finds she must go to Sassouma to ask for some baobab leaf (a condiment). While Sassouma freely gives Sogolon the baobab leaf, she maliciously says that her own son could walk by seven, he consistently fetches her baobab leaf, and he is better than Mari Djata. Sogolon can barely comprehend Sassouma's hatred.
Sassouma's continued jealousy and cruelty suggests that she might place more stock in Sundiata's destiny than she leads us to believe. Additionally, her cruel and petty behavior can be understood as a result of her fear for her own son, who will become useless if Sundiata fulfills his destiny. In that way, her cruelty can be slightly humanized.
Themes
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Family, Community, and the Mali Empire Theme Icon
At her hut, Sogolon sees Mari Djata sitting outside eating. Sogolon begins sobbing and she hits Mari Djata with a piece of wood. She asks him if he'll ever walk, and asks God why she's being punished. Mari Djata asks her what's wrong, and Sogolon relates what happened with Sassouma. Mari Djata tries to cheer her up. When he's unsuccessful, he informs his mother that he's going to walk. He requests a heavy iron rod and asks Sogolon if she wants just baobab leaves or the entire tree. Sogolon says she wants the tree, roots and all.
Mari Djata makes his first promise of the story, though it seems unlikely that he'll be able to fulfill it. This creates a sense of tension, particularly considering that Mari Djata seems to regard the situation with no special emotion or feelings. However, the fact that this event revolves around a baobab tree suggests that the "seed" is certainly growing and is soon to flourish.
Themes
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Balla Fasséké goes to the master smith and orders an iron rod. Sogolon cries while Mari Djata keeps eating as though nothing happened. Suddenly, they hear laughter behind the hut—Sassouma is telling a serving woman how she humiliated Sogolon. Sogolon hides in her hut where Djamarou tries to comfort her.
When Sassouma relates the story, she's using it to control Sogolon and further cement her power as queen mother. Mari Djata's indifference can be read as a steadfast belief in his own destiny—he never questions his ability to fulfill his promise.
Themes
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Balla Fasséké tells the master smith, Farakourou, that this day is a normal day, but it will see something entirely new. Farakourou is a soothsayer, and in his workshop sits a huge iron bar. He instructs six apprentices to carry the bar to Sogolon's house. They drop the bar in front of Sogolon's house and the noise frightens Sogolon. Balla Fasséké addresses Mari Djata and instructs the "young lion" to roar.
The lead-up to Mari Djata's first steps continues to build tension. Everything seems entirely fantastical and improbable, since a seven-year-old who can’t walk couldn’t possibly use a bar that can only be carried by six men.
Themes
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Everyone watches Mari Djata crawl towards the bar. He effortlessly lifts the bar, holds it vertically, and rises to his knees. Mari Djata, sweating profusely, straightens himself; in doing so, he twists the bar of iron into the form of a bow. Balla Fasséké sings the “Hymn to the Bow” and Sogolon sings thanks to God. The entire palace hears Balla Fasséké's song and runs to see. Sassouma's whole body trembles.
Mari Djata is obviously a hero as he demonstrates this great feat of strength. When the bar takes on the shape of a bow, it foreshadows Mari Djata's later proficiency using bows as weapons. The song "Hymn to the Bow" is composed specifically for this occasion, and will remind the reader and the characters of Mari Djata's heroics as he moves through the story.
Themes
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Heroism Theme Icon
After he catches his breath, Mari Djata drops his iron bar and takes giant steps. He walks to a young baobab tree, rips it out of the ground, and carries it back to Sogolon. He tosses it in front of the hut and informs his mother that everyone will have to come here to pick baobab leaves now.
By giving his mother the tree, Mari Djata ensures that he and his mother become the epicenter of Niani, as they now possess something that everyone needs. With this act, the growth of the empire begins with Sundiata at its heart.
Themes
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The narrator says that from that day forward, Sassouma had no peace of mind, but man can do nothing against destiny and her efforts to thwart Mari Djata were futile. He becomes immediately popular and the town speaks of nothing but Mari Djata. Mothers want their sons to play and hunt with him. Sogolon gains respect, and people compare her favorably to Sassouma; these people reason that because Sogolon has always been modest, a good wife, and a good mother, her son was granted use of his legs, while Dankaran Touman is "colorless" because of his mother's spite and malice.
Here it starts to become apparent that those people who try to stand in the way of destiny tend to accidentally wind up serving destiny’s purpose. This allows the reader an all-knowing perspective, as it's becoming clear that nothing that comes in Mari Djata/Sundiata's way will actually be able to derail him. Note too how the role of a mother is developed: a child's worth is directly influenced by their mother. This again supports Sundiata's destiny and discredits Dankaran Touman.
Themes
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Mari Djata spends his time with princes whose fathers sent them to Niani's court. Among them are Fran Kamara from Tabon and Kamandjan from Sibi, and Manding Bory joins in the boys' games. Balla Fasséké instructs Mari Djata on proper conduct whenever possible. Mari Djata soon proves himself an exceptional hunter. He and his friends hunt often and he receives the title of Simbon (master hunter) before the age of ten.
Already, Mari Djata shows that he has immense strength and maturity to receive the title of Simbon at such a young age. This essentially proves the prophecy to be correct, and continues to suggest that heroes do not have to learn to behave heroically—it is a trait with which they are born.
Themes
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Sogolon makes a habit of telling stories to Mari Djata and his friends every evening. She tells them about the animals and family history. She also teaches her son about medicinal plants. Balla Fasséké tells the boys about kings of old, including Alexander the Great.
Stories teach Mari Djata about his place in the world. They allow him to situate himself in the line of Bambara kings similarly to the way the narrator situated Sundiata in the beginning of the epic.
Themes
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By the age of ten, Mari Djata is known by the name Sundiata. He already possesses commanding authority. Manding Bory is his best friend, along with Fran Kamara and Kamandjan. Dankaran Touman, on the other hand, possesses no authoritative qualities and Sassouma fears for his reign. She summons nine great witches and asks them for help killing Sundiata, as his destiny contradicts her son's. She offers the witches cows and grain in return for their services.
Again, Sundiata exhibits the qualities of a leader and a hero at a very young age, and he's already gathered the young men who will later help him unite Mali. While Dankaran Touman is officially king, the narrator never mentions any of his affiliations or friendships, except for his bond with his mother. This marks a major difference between a true hero and someone who is a king only in name: the ability to earn loyalty and build community.
Themes
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Soumosso Konkomba, the oldest and most dangerous witch, explains that the witches can't justify killing Sundiata, as he's done nothing bad to them. Sassouma instructs them to go to Sogolon's garden tomorrow and pick from it. She says that Sundiata will beat the old women. The witches decide they must go twice to prove Sundiata's meanness.
Sassouma's behavior here seems silly from what the reader knows of Sundiata's character. This helps to discredit her attempts and cast her as even less deserving of power. Notice too that the witches must prove that Sundiata is deserving of death before they can kill him; they cannot simply do as Sassouma asks, despite the fact that she has power. This underlines that magic must be used righteously.
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The next day, Sundiata and his friends decide to spend the day hunting elephants. They return home late and Sundiata insists they check on Sogolon's vegetables. He sees the nine witches picking from the garden, and the witches act like thieves and run away. Sundiata calls after them to stop, tells them the garden belongs to everyone, and he and his friends fill the women's gourds with vegetables and condiments.
Sassouma's plan backfires spectacularly as Sundiata shows the witches how kind and generous he is (hearkening back to the incident with the Buffalo of Do). Notice too that his friends are equally generous. This begins to suggest that Sundiata has allies who embody the same ideals that he does.
Themes
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The witches are shocked. Soumosso Konkomba tells Sundiata that they came to the garden to test him, as they were sent by Sassouma to provoke him. She asks for his forgiveness. Sundiata offers each woman one of the elephants he and his companions killed that day. They thank him for his generosity, and Soumosso Konkomba says the witches will watch over Sundiata.
Sundiata didn't just prove that he was worthy of life—he's also worthy of protection and oversight from these powerful women. These early lessons teach Sundiata that protection like this must be earned, and specifically must be earned through kindness and offerings.
Themes
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After Sundiata returns home, Kolonkan asks Sundiata if he was scared of the witches. Sundiata is shocked she knew about the incident, and Kolonkan explains that she saw the witches planning this trick and knew Sundiata wasn't in danger. The narrator says that Kolankan is well versed in witchcraft and she watches over Sundiata.
Once again, the reader is reminded that Sundiata cannot be harmed. This again reinforces the weight of his destiny. We also see that Sundiata is amassing a number of magical individuals to protect him and provide guidance.
Themes
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