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3.57  ·  Rating Details ·  1,658 Ratings  ·  124 Reviews
This is a revision of Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali, a best seller for 30 years.

Retold by griots, the guardians of African Culture, this oral tradition has been handed down from the thirteenth century and captures all the mystery and majesty of medieval African kingship. It is the epic tale, based on an actual figure, of Sundiata (Sunjata). Part history and part legend, it
Paperback, 2nd Edition (Longman African Writers Series), 120 pages
Published August 17th 2006 by Pearson (first published April 23rd 1965)
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Community Reviews

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Nov 30, 2015 Alex rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa, rth-lifetime, 2015
Other peoples use writing to record the past, but this invention has killed the faculty of memory among them. They do not feel the past any more, for writing lacks the warmth of the human voice. With them everybody thinks he knows, whereas learning should be a secret. The prophets did not write and their words have been all the more vivid as a result. What paltry learning is that which is congealed in dumb books!
says Mamadou Kouyaté, the griot, or oral storyteller, who's reciting this story. It'
Jan 01, 2011 M rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I find this book of the griot storytelling style fascinating. It is set in 12th century Mali. What you learn in this saga is how important the carriers of history are considered in these pre-literate societies. The knowledge of the towns, the history of the families, feuds and births and deaths. Living history. It is pleasant reading, yet historical. I learned that baraka means gifted one in the Mandingo language. It references Hannibal -I am disturbed by the treatment of women and their jealous ...more
Jul 23, 2014 Aimen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although The Lion King has been said to be derived from such a book, it appeared that this book was mainly mystical and spiritual. The story was discussed in my literature class and we spoke about the uniqueness of African cultured stories. It mentions the history of Old Mali, kings, relationships of kings to animals, and ugly women who get pregnant while fainted... It's weird.
If it wasn't for that class, I would have never known that African culture is really super unknown to us.
It's not my st
Read it for school, but I have to say that I wish to have a griot in my own home.
We forget or lose touch on our humanity. We forget where we began and what significance our name, our selves, our history has. We saw the film after having read the book and looking at these people you who culture should be important.... but the mother is so modern she has someone else to clean her home. Modernity has taken the place of tradition, of values, of what has been passed by our ancestors. It is kind of s
Jul 04, 2015 Nicholas rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This African epic follows the rise of the Mande people and their leader Sunjata. The narrative itself is extremely repetitious, and the lack of any background in West African traditions complicates my understanding of the plot.
Jun 08, 2017 Derek rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 11, 2016 Mo rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
I really wanted to like this book because of friend of mine recommended it, but I just couldn't get into it. I've read books in the past in the oral history format and didn't like them then, so I guess there wasn't any reason to assume that I'd like this one any better. Just not my style.
Kelly W.
Another book on my picks for “globalizing medieval studies,” Sunjata intrigued me for its focus on the supernatural and the establishment of an empire. Once I got into it, there were many themes and narrative devices that were familiar to me (a hero’s supernatural origin, etc.), which made the text feel like part of a greater network of tales. The main drawbacks, I found, were not due to the text itself, but the translation and edition, which made the experience of this book a bit hard to apprec ...more
Mar 01, 2014 Kyle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Splendor of Sundiata

The tale of Sundiata is an ancient story about a glorious African king with humble beginnings. Even though it is part fact and part fiction and based on events that occurred thousands of years ago, the story of Sundiata’s legacy is still popular today and has even been compared to the Iliad and the Odyssey. Full of rich, traditional folklore, witty lessons and proverbs, and an epic conquest to save the kingdom of Mali from the grasp of a tyrannical king, the epic of Su
Gracie Conn
Sundiata: An Epic of Mali, written by D.T. Niane and translated by G. D. Pickett, is a historical fiction epic that will take you through how the Mali Empire came to be. Niane states in his introduction, “My eyes have only just opened on these mysteries of eternal Africa and more than once, in my thirst to know, I have had to give up my little claim as an armchair intellectual before the silences of tradition just as my over-impertinent questions were about to uncover a mystery.”(pg xxiv) He cra ...more
Grady McCallie
Dec 22, 2015 Grady McCallie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Designed for an undergraduate and perhaps a general audience, this is essentially an abridged (but published before the full) version of the West African epic of Sunjata, as recounted by a master bard, Djanka Tassey Conde. Conde passed in 1997, but translator David Conrad recorded his performance in 1994. The full-length scholarly version would probably be fascinating, but according to Conrad, includes lots and lots of genealogical details and tangential local histories. This 197 page version st ...more
James F
Feb 04, 2015 James F rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature, africa
Bamba Susa and Banna Kanute, Sunjata: Gambian versions of the Mande Epic (translated by Gordon Innes and Bakari Sidibe, ed. by Lucy Dur��n and Graham Furniss) {1999] 117 pages

David C. Conrad, tr., Sunjata: A West African Epic of the Mande Peoples (narrated by Djanka Tassey Cond��) [2004] 206 pages

Between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries, three major empires rose and fell in the West African savannah, approximately in what are now the countries of Senegal, Guinea and Mali: the Empires of Ghan
Joseph F.
Feb 21, 2016 Joseph F. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can add yet another fine national epic to my library.
Sundiata is an epic of Mali, told by a griot (a singer of the culture's lore ). The eponymous hero, like others, has unusual beginnings: his mom is a buffalo spirit, and it was foretold that he would be a great leader. Strangely, his young life is not so promising: he walks on all fours for many years. But when he sees his mother's exasperation, the lion awakes, and he fells a tree while standing on two legs.
Sadly, his stepmom is evil and w
Peyton Del Toro
Jan 27, 2016 Peyton Del Toro rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps before reading this book I may have dismissed this "myth" as an unnecessary social text; however; as one of my professors told me, myth is a social text, and you have no right to dismiss, only the right to know.

This epic reveals various political and religious aspects of Old Mali and offers a legitimate perspective of its history, prosperity, and culture from the word of the griot Djeli Mamoudou Koyaté. Basically, griotes are intermediary sources between ancestors and current rulers. Th
I enjoyed some aspects of the book, such as the magic/folktales. I was most interested in the first half of the book, when Sogolon (Sundiata's mother) is first introduced and the sections that talked about Sundiata's childhood. When Sogolon and her son are exiled, though, I thought the story became kind of complicated and there were too many people being introduced all at once (most of them being rather inconsequential). It was especially difficult keeping up because I was really just skimming t ...more
This book was kind of hard to get through - it's written in a very old, epic style. I give it two stars not because it's a bad story or because it was poorly written, but because I personally was kind of bored by it. It's kind of like a Greek or Roman heroic epic set in Mali. The original story was told by a griot (an African bard), and the book is a Malian professor's translation of the griot's words. Many pages are devoted to the characters' ancestry and praises of their valor in battle and wh ...more
Mar 21, 2013 Melanti rated it liked it
I read this because I've been told that it was the basis for Disney's "The Lion King". I really am not buying it.

There are some superficial similarities, but I think that has more to do with it being the same type of story. Stories about disposed and exiled royal heirs aren't uncommon in literature or oral tradition and they, generally, follow the same pattern. I can name a couple of dozen stories of similar structure that the folks at Disney were far more likely to know.

Part of the belief, I'
Jan 09, 2011 Edith rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: textbook, africa
This epic of Ghana was required reading for our World Civilizations course. Sundiata was a real king who ruled the empire of Mali in west Africa from 1235-55. His kingdom profited from desert trade with north Africans which brought Muslim influence with it.

This tale, however, is in epic form which means it is full of magic and unrealistic feats...could be compared with American folk tales about Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, etc. It is full of action, betrayals, battles, alliances,and did I say, m
Robert Browning
Jul 11, 2011 Robert Browning rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty interesting stuff. The tale is meant to be somewhat fluid and dynamic, with each recitation aloud having whatever changes or flourishes the griot (the bard, or teller of the tale) wishes to add. Just the act of writing this version of Son Jara down basically "locks it in place" and makes this version more authoritative than others by simply being the most accessible, since it's in print. I'm not sure how I feel about that, since no one spoken variation of the tale is meant to be more "off ...more
A translation of a transcription of an oral performance of the epic of the ancient empire of Mali (how many more ofs can you put in one opening sentence naturally?), this book will give you a combination of works by various individuals. The oral performance is by Fa Digi Sissoko, a jeli (or a member of the oral artist "caste" in Mande society) in 1968. The recording was done by Prof. Charles S. Bird, a scholar of Folklore from Indiana. As for the transcription, translation, introduction and anno ...more
Abdul Tabel
Dec 09, 2015 Abdul Tabel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed reading this classic tale of a humble hero. Sundiata had all odds stacked against him from the very beginning, but faces fortune in an unfortunate circumstance. While living in exile, Sundiata makes many friends and learns many things that eventually lead him to his heroic killing of a tyrant king with magical powers. I couldn't help but think of the movie 300 while reading this, with the God king Xerxes as Soumaroro. There was even a part of the movie where Gerard Butler barely ...more
Sep 22, 2007 M.C. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who can read--- Might be of particular interest to Antrhopologists/Historians/Educators
Shelves: 2007-2008
Parallel to The Epic of Gilgamesh, this dramatic text tells a journey that suits Joseph Campbell's "heroic-cycle." While readers read about the protagonist's strive to fulfill his destiny as the heir to the lands of Mali, they become exposed to several key aspects of humanity: compassion, tolerance, and wisdom.

Aside from its literary richness, this text sheds light upon the elaborate clans of West Africa.

In terms of its length, Sundiata An Epic of Old Mali falls short in comparison to texts su
May 28, 2011 Vasha7 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the introduction, D. T. Niane explains that he got this story largely from the telling of an old griot in a village in Guinea.

I love traditional wonder tales, and this is a fine one, and enticingly told. It's full of rivalries, sorceries both for and against the hero, clever negotiation of politics as well as magic, heroic speeches (and plenty of proverbs, a distinctive aspect of its style). Also wily women, although this particular storyteller downplays the role of women so much that some p
Jan 22, 2010 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting book to read because the main character , Sundiata , had to go through a heroic journey to save the people of Mali. From this book, I learned about their culture and the story telling of griots and how it is important to their society. Griots tell and pass down stories to younger generations so the history of their country wont be forgotten. This is a story that griots in Mali are proud of because it is about how one of their great kings saved his country and made it bett ...more
Sep 24, 2013 Brandt rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book is only good in the context of literature from this geographical area. Most of the history and knowledge seems to be committed to the retelling of stories passed from generation to generation. The important thing is that the history is actually written this time. It is important that you can at least get a glimpse of the geo-political and social situations that gave rise to the way society formed in this region of the world. This book highlights how those systems worked and how the soc ...more
D Fisher
Dec 13, 2014 D Fisher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is awesome on so many levels that would take too much time to elaborate. But one thing that makes it very special for me is its richness in the African culture of storytelling devoid of the skeptical elements sometimes found in modern African literature. This book doesn't try to explain the unknown, it simply tells it like it is and leaves it to the readers to believe whatever they want to believe. Sure, reading this story requires a certain suspension of belief in the way the world as ...more
Adam Sprague
Dec 13, 2011 Adam Sprague rated it it was ok
I liked the beginning of the story a lot -- then it got bad in a hurry.

The problem with this is that is meant to be told orally. So there is a lot of "and then this happened, and then this happened, and then these people showed up, and then Person A killed Person B".

In fact, 2/3 of the book is exactly that. And then they killed these people, then these, and then these.

There were also WAY too many characters to follow. In addition, each of the numerous characters had multiple names. For America
May 18, 2012 Vaibhav rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"...for, it was said, the more a wife loves and respects her husband and the more she suffers for a child, the more valorous will the child be one day. Each is the child of his mother; the child is worth no more than the mother is worth..."

This is an english translation of Djeli Mamadou Kouyate's gift to the reader. We inherit the story of Sundiata from an exponent of the oral tradition of the old Malian empire. Historian D.T. Naine who heard the story from him translated it into french and this
Apr 02, 2016 Dusty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
This is probably the oldest story from the African continent that I have read--not that I have read that many, I guess. The text is adapted from an ancient oral narrative that has been kept alive and undoubtedly modified by generations of storytellers, or griots. Personally, I was surprised by the number of ways the story prefigures modern stories that are set in Africa, like The Lion King, or depict magical villains, like the Harry Potter series. These newer tales are not adaptations of the Sun ...more
Aug 30, 2009 Megan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fabulous, short epic of Mali. Traditional West African story telling is oral and often with music. This version was actually translated from the French. A djeli (Malian professional musician who keeps the oral histories) sang the story for the author who then translated it. It's very readable--don't be thrown by the many names and places. It's much easier to follow than you may first think. For those who have no idea, Sundiata was a real person who helped form the Malian empire. Unfortunately, ...more
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