It's important to remember that the story of Sundiata is a transcription of an epic poem that is part of West African oral tradition—it was intended to be heard, rather than read. Furthermore, the original poem was told in verse, while the written English translation is in prose, and the poem was traditionally accompanied by a balafon, a type of wooden xylophone. Thus, the English translation of Sundiata is far from the story’s traditional—and intended—form…(read full theme analysis)
Seers, witches, and soothsayers who can tell the future drive the action of the story, and destiny becomes one of Sundiata’s most powerful forces. No character can escape destiny, and every action has already been foretold. Thus, the role of destiny, and how individual characters interact with what they've been told of the future, becomes a study of power, human nature, and desire.
Djeli Mamoudou Kouyaté, in telling Sundiata's story, continually scorns…(read full theme analysis)
Sundiata is not only the story of Sundiata’s life—it is equally concerned with the Mali Empire and how Sundiata built, conquered, and unified that empire. It's a story about creating community and forming alliances, both on a small scale (through marriage and having children), and on the broad scale of creating a vast empire. In fact, Sundiata’s skill at forging personal relationships enables his success at empire building, which implies that the cultivation of…(read full theme analysis)
Sundiata was an actual historical figure, and while his story is considered to be reasonably factual, it's also extremely fantastical. The fantastical and magical elements of the story serve several purposes. First, they paint a picture of the relationship between local spirituality (in the form of jinn and nature spirits) and Islam, which greatly influenced the cultures of West Africa, even when most West Africans weren't actually Muslim in practice. The elements of magic and…(read full theme analysis)