D. T. Niane

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Themes and Colors
Storytelling and Memory Theme Icon
Fate and Destiny Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
Family, Community, and the Mali Empire Theme Icon
Magic and Religion Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Sundiata, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Heroism Theme Icon

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.

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Heroism ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Heroism appears in each section of Sundiata. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Heroism Quotes in Sundiata

Below you will find the important quotes in Sundiata related to the theme of Heroism.
The Words of the Griot Mamadou Kouyaté Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Mamoudou Kouyaté (speaker)
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:
The Buffalo Woman Quotes

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.

Related Characters: The Hunter (speaker), Sundiata/Maghan Mari Djata, Gnankouman Doua, Maghan Kon Fatta
Related Symbols: Trees, Seeds, and Growing
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

The child will be the seventh star, the seventh conqueror of the earth. He will be more mighty than Alexander.

Related Characters: The Hunter (speaker), Sundiata/Maghan Mari Djata, Sogolon Kedjou, Gnankouman Doua, Maghan Kon Fatta
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
Childhood Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Mamoudou Kouyaté (speaker), Sundiata/Maghan Mari Djata
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

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.”

Related Characters: Sundiata/Maghan Mari Djata (speaker), Balla Fasséké, Gnankouman Doua, Maghan Kon Fatta
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:
The Lion's Awakening Quotes

He had already that authoritative way of speaking which belongs to those who are destined to command.

Related Characters: Mamoudou Kouyaté (speaker), Sundiata/Maghan Mari Djata
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

“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.”

Related Characters: Soumosso Konkomba (speaker), Sundiata/Maghan Mari Djata, Sassouma Bérété
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:
Exile Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Mamoudou Kouyaté (speaker), Sundiata/Maghan Mari Djata, Mansa Konkon
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

There's one that will make a great king. He forgets nobody.

Related Characters: King Soumaba Cissé of Ghana (speaker), Sundiata/Maghan Mari Djata
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Mamoudou Kouyaté (speaker), Sundiata/Maghan Mari Djata, Manding Bory/Manding Boukari
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

“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.”

Related Characters: Sogolon Kedjou (speaker), Sundiata/Maghan Mari Djata
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:
Soumaoro Kanté: The Sorcerer King Quotes

Kings are only men, and whatever iron cannot achieve against them, words can.

Related Characters: Mamoudou Kouyaté (speaker), Soumaoro Kanté, Balla Fasséké
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
The Baobab Leaves Quotes

Sundiata got up and all the envoys stood up while Djata went out. He was already king.

Related Characters: Mamoudou Kouyaté (speaker), Sundiata/Maghan Mari Djata
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:
The Return Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Mamoudou Kouyaté (speaker), Sundiata/Maghan Mari Djata, Mandjan Bérété, Singbin Mara Cissé
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:
The Names of the Heroes Quotes

In the same way as light precedes the sun, so the glory of Sundiata, overleaping the mountains, shed itself on all the Niger plain.

Related Characters: Mamoudou Kouyaté (speaker), Sundiata/Maghan Mari Djata
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

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?

Related Characters: Mamoudou Kouyaté (speaker), Sundiata/Maghan Mari Djata, Fran Kamara/Tabon Wana, Kamandjan, Siara Kouman Konaté, Faony Diarra
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:
Krina Quotes

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?

Related Characters: Balla Fasséké (speaker), Sundiata/Maghan Mari Djata
Related Symbols: Trees, Seeds, and Growing
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:
Niani Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Mamoudou Kouyaté (speaker), Sundiata/Maghan Mari Djata
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis: