D. T. Niane

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Sundiata: The Words of the Griot Mamadou Kouyaté Summary & Analysis

The narrator, Djeli Mamoudou Kouyaté, introduces himself to the reader. He lists his familial lineage and says that his family has forever served the Kieta princes of Mali. He says that griots are "vessels of speech" and that without griots' stories, mankind would forget his history. Mamoudou Kouyaté says that he teaches kings their history so they can help predict the future. He states that his words are entirely truthful, as the words came from his father and his father's father. Mamoudou Kouyaté implores the reader to listen to the history of Mali and the story of Sundiata, the "man of many names," who surpassed even Alexander the Great in his greatness.
It's evident in the first sentences of the story that words, storytelling, and history are immensely important to both Mamoudou Kouyaté and to the story itself. This creates the sense that the reader is engaging with something that is almost sacred. Note the assertion that the story is entirely true. This suggests that historical truth, for this oral culture, is considered to be reflected in the stories told by griots, despite that the story may have undergone small changes as it was passed down from generation to generation.
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Family, Community, and the Mali Empire Theme Icon