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 humans for attempting to outsmart destiny. He asserts that everyone's destiny is already decided, and any attempt to escape or go against fate is still a foretold action. This logic serves to create a sense of certainty for the reader, even when the characters themselves attempt to escape their fate. In this way, readers and Sundiata have a similar sense of the story unfolding: both Sundiata and the reader have been told by reputable sources (soothsayers and the narrator Mamoudou Kouyaté, respectively) what the outcome of the story is. Thus, the story is not propelled by suspense. Even when misfortune befalls Sundiata, both the reader and Sundiata know that this misfortune only provides him tools or knowledge to use as he continues to fulfill his destiny. This is most apparent when Sassouma exiles Sundiata, Sogolon, and Sundiata’s sisters. While Sassouma is intending to beat fate by forcing Sundiata out of Mali, Sundiata knows that this is part of his destiny, since he uses his seven years in exile to gather friends and allies who will be instrumental to his inevitably victorious return to Mali.
Despite the fact that Sundiata's destiny is well known throughout Niani and his father's lands, many people in the story are quick to doubt that Sundiata is the foretold future ruler of Mali. This allows the story to study how individuals handle destiny when they are displeased or confused by its specifics. Sassouma is a perfect case study. As soon as it becomes clear that Maghan Kon Fatta doesn't intend for his first son (with Sassouma) to rule, Sassouma decides to make life miserable or impossible for Sogolon and Sundiata, thereby promoting her own son’s power. Ultimately, however, the power of prophecy and destiny is far more powerful than Sassouma or any of the people she enlists to help her. The sorceresses she asks to kill Sundiata, for example, refuse to help because they see that Sassouma is driven by greed and a desire for power, not righteousness, and therefore they cannot justify an attempt to subvert destiny.
The outcome of the novel, then, indicates that destiny is a stronger force than any law set down by people, or any whim of an individual. Sundiata is told throughout his life that he is destined to unite and expand Mali, and he never doubts the truth of the prophecy. On the other hand, those characters that do doubt Sundiata's foretold success are punished when they are conquered, or they simply vanish from the story. They pay for their doubt with subjugation and erasure.
Fate and Destiny ThemeTracker
Fate and Destiny Quotes in Sundiata
The silk-cotton tree springs from a tiny seed—that which defies the tempest weighs in its germ no more than a grain of rice. Kingdoms are like trees; some will be silk-cotton trees, others will remain dwarf palms and the powerful silk-cotton tree will cover them with its shade.
The child will be the seventh star, the seventh conqueror of the earth. He will be more mighty than Alexander.
Soothsayers see far ahead, their words are not always for the immediate present; man is in a hurry but time is tardy and everything has its season.
God has his mysteries which none can fathom. You, perhaps, will be a king. You can do nothing about it. You, on the other hand, will be unlucky, but you can do nothing about that either. Each man finds his way already marked out for him and he can change nothing of it.
The child, as if he had understood the whole meaning of the king's words, beckoned Balla Fasséké to approach. He made room for him on the hide he was sitting on and then said, “Balla, you will be my griot.”
You will return to reign when you are a man, for it is in Mali that your destiny must be fulfilled.
Fear enters the heart of him who does not know his destiny, whereas Sundiata knew that he was striding towards a great destiny. He did not know what fear was.
There's one that will make a great king. He forgets nobody.
“Do not deceive yourself. Your destiny lies not here but in Mali. The moment has come. I have finished my task and it is yours that is going to begin, my son. But you must be able to wait. Everything in its own good time.”
In the same way as light precedes the sun, so the glory of Sundiata, overleaping the mountains, shed itself on all the Niger plain.
There they were, the valorous sons of Mali, awaiting what destiny had promised them. Pennants of all colours fluttered above the sofas divided up by tribes.
With whom should I begin; with whom end?
You are the outgrowth of Mali just as the silk-cotton tree is the growth of the earth, born of deep and mighty roots. To face the tempest the tree must have long roots and gnarled branches. Maghan Sundiata, has not the tree grown?