The narrator is frequently concerned with what qualities make a hero, and, as Sundiata is the iconic hero of the story who was destined for greatness from birth, Sundiata comes to stand in for the ideal hero, with his characteristics defining heroism in general. According to the narrator, among the many qualities that make Sundiata a hero are his physical strength, his virtues, his emotional intelligence, and his ability to form lasting alliances.
What initially sets Sundiata apart from his counterparts is his strength. Even as a "stiff-legged" child who cannot walk, he possesses great strength in his arms. Notably, once he does finally walk at age seven, he retrieves Sogolon an entire baobab tree—a heroic and impressive feat for anyone, let alone a child. Sundiata’s displays of immense strength continue into adulthood and make it clear to his friends and allies that he's going to be a successful conqueror. However, while his strength is the first indication of his greatness, Sundiata’s power does not rely entirely on strength; he understands that strength has limits, so he is willing to seek power in other forms. For example, Sundiata turns to magic when he realizes that Soumaoro is evading Sundiata's military advances. Rather than simply doubling down on his military strength, Sundiata accepts his limits and tries a new strategy. This indicates that a hero and a good ruler must have flexibility and humility.
In addition to Sundiata's physical strength, his integrity and kindness set him apart from his peers and enemies; it's his virtues, more than anything else, that make him a beloved ruler and a great hero. As a child, Sundiata is exceptionally mature and generous, and this behavior continues throughout his childhood and adolescence, allowing him to fulfill his destiny. For example, when the sorceresses raid Sogolon’s garden hoping to infuriate Sundiata and then kill him, Sundiata defies their expectations by offering them produce. This saves his life and earns him powerful protectors. Later, during his battles against Soumaoro, Sundiata succeeds because he has earned the loyalty of the kings and soldiers who support him. This loyalty is particularly fierce because his followers believe in his virtue and know that, as king, Sundiata will restore order and justice to Mali. Thus, Sundiata’s legitimacy as a ruler comes, in part, from destiny—but in order for this destiny to be fulfilled, Sundiata must be kind and just enough to be a hero to those who fight for him. Virtue, then, is essential to heroism.
It’s important to note that Sundiata, from birth, carries himself as a hero. He doesn’t evolve into one—he always knows himself to be a hero, and he acts like a hero and is naturally treated as a hero by others. Sundiata is set apart from the other characters, including his allies like Manding Bory, because he behaves like a hero without having to learn how to be one. Because of this, Sundiata can be seen as a representation of perfect, ideal heroism, as preordained by the gods.
Heroism Quotes in Sundiata
The art of eloquence has no secrets for us; without us the names of kings would vanish into oblivion, we are the memory of mankind; by the spoken word we bring to life the deeds and exploits of kings for younger generations.
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.
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.”
He had already that authoritative way of speaking which belongs to those who are destined to command.
“Listen, Djata,” said Soumosso Konkomba, “we had come here to test you. We have no need of condiments but your generosity disarms us. We were sent here by the queen mother to provoke you and draw the anger of the nocturnal powers upon you. But nothing can be done against a heart full of kindness.”
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.
They were showered with so many attentions that Manding Bory was embarrassed by them, but Sundiata found it quite natural to be treated like this. Modesty is the portion of the average man, but superior men are ignorant of humility.
“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.”
It was a forced march and during the halts the divines, Singbin Mara Cissé and Mandjan Bérété, related to Sundiata the history of Alexander the Great and several other heroes, but of all of them Sundiata preferred Alexander, the king of gold and silver, who crossed the world from west to east. He wanted to outdo his prototype both in the extent of his territory and the wealth of his treasury.
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?
There are some kings who are powerful through their military strength. Everybody trembles before them, but when they die nothing but ill is spoken of them. Others do neither good nor ill and when they die they are forgotten. Others are feared because they have power, but they know how to use it and they are loved because they love justice. Sundiata belonged to this group. He was feared, but loved as well. He was the father of Mali and gave the world peace. After him the world has not seen a greater conqueror, for he was the seventh and last conqueror.