In the history of the world, there are different civilizations which have flourished over time. These civilizations had been the root of different cultures, traditions and beliefs however, most of these civilizations are already gone because of the changing times. In this paper, there would be 3 different civilizations highlighted: Medieval Japan, Medieval Mali and Classical Maya. The resources that would be used in this paper are The Tale of Genji written by Lady Murasaki, Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali written by D.T. Niane and Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of Maya written by Allen J. Christenson. These books would be the best sources available for analyzing the three civilizations in discussing their religious theory and practice, gender relations and family values.
The Tale of Genji is a classic novel from the Japan written by Lady Murasaki which was written in the 11th Century. The novel discusses the life of Genji, a son of an Emperor from one of his “Intimates” or other women of the Emperor. Genji as described by the author was blessed with charm and beauty and have captivated women due to the influence, power and skills that he has. The book thoroughly described his luck and many exciting adventures while he faces his daily life and trials. The literature presents the culture of Japan regarding women’s role in the society and social hierarchy.
The book “Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali” written by D.T. Niane is a compilation of works which reflects the ancient world of West Africa and its culture. The literature written by Niane narrates the epic story of the formation of the Malian Empire. Sundiata, is the main character of the book in which the story revolves. Every chapter presents the power and might of Sundiata in the adventures that he faces. Through the epic, the different factors of the African culture are being shown such as the women’s social strata, the African society prior to European invasion and West African sorcery.
The last book is the “Popol Vuh: Sacred book of Mayan” written by Allen J. Christenson is the translated version of the Mayan’s community book. The literature was formerly written in classic dialect of the Mayans which Quiché. The book is the chronological text that the Mayan’s consider as their most important literature for the reason that it contains the creation myth that they accept as true and then followed but the story of the hero twins: Hunahpu and Xblanque. The second half of the book discusses in detail the history and foundation of the Quiché Kingdom. The kingdom is being ruled by a royal family and is believed to be selected by God. The book discusses about the life of the people during the era of the book and focuses on the relation of religion in the lives of the people most especially in their government.
After discussing the different books that would be helpful in the presenting the different factors of their unique societies, I would now lay down the different societies based on the literatures used. Based on written work of Lady Muraski, Japan’s Ancient world is filled with conservative cultures and traditions. In the epic Genji is a son of an Emperor to his much beloved concubine Kiritsubo. While growing up, Genji was seen as a weak and fragile child on the other hand her mother was being envied by the other wives of the Emperor because she is his favorite. Due to the jealousy and rivalry in the courts, his mother suffered and becomes sick and later on his mother died. Due to the death of his mother, Genji lacked power in courts and eventually the emperor turned him a commoner. As Genji grew older, he became a handsome young man with looks that could get any woman that he desires. In the novel he had encountered many women. In Chapters 1-9 there are countless number of women that he had intimacy with however the scandal of his promiscuity spread in the royal courts where in he was forced to depart from the capital and live in the land of Suma.
The Tale of Genji focused on the values of family, tradition, power and gender. It is known that Genji had royal blood in which automatically gives him responsibilities. Although he was converted as a commoner by the emperor, being within the bloodline of the royal family still ties Genji as one of the royalties and brings scandals in the courts. It is evident that actions of a person are easily reflected to his family. In the Japanese culture, it is a must to take care of the pride and honor of your family which was well taken care of by ancestors.
In gender, the Japanese culture is lead by men, evidently through the positions and the responsibilities shown by the make characters in the novel. Women are provided with husbands whom they believe would fit their family and to retain or increase their social class and wealth. The feelings of women are not important however providing children, follow the elders and live silently should be obeyed. Genji had been associated with many women. In comparison to Genji’s attitude towards women, it is obvious that men have all the freedom that they want to have many women or sexual experience without considering their emotions towards the person. Unlike women, sex meant that there is emotional attachment with men. The Emperor is also a vivid example of the gender and social class inequality in Medieval Japan; he has many wives due to his position and gender, however his wives could not marry or have other husbands other than the Emperor.
In the story written by D.T. Niane, “Sundiata” presented a story in which shows mythical characters in the Medieval Mali. Sundiata is called the father of the Bright Country. He is called by other names such as Maghan Sundiata, Mari-Djata, Sogolon Dhata and the likes. He is the first king of Mali and was the youngest among eleven brothers. HE was the son of Sogolon Conde to Nare(his second wife). When Sundiata was born, he was crippled and was often mocked by the other wives of his father. However, when he became older became a leader with his age-group. The wives became jealous with Nare, which launched them to flee from their home. They escaped to Mema—the only place they have refuge. The King of Mema saw and recognized Sundiata’s bravery and assigned him great responsibilities.
As sundiata grew older, he became stronger. He ruled the kingdom of Mali while he gained power and military strength. In the following chapters, he fought Sumanguru. The legend have narrated that both of these characters were sorcerers and used magic to reveal the triumphant among them. In the end, Sumangro fought but Sundiata was stronger, “The vanquished Sumanguru looked up towards the sun a great black bird flew over above the fray… “The bird of Kirina,” [the king] muttered. Sumanguru let out a great cry and, turning his horse’s head, he took to flight.” In the later part of the story, Sundiata because of his magical powers was able to change his character that could suit the situation such that he changed in to Mansa—the emperor of mali which controls the agriculture of their lands as well as the resources available to them.
The Mayan Literature is a book that tells a story the presents the creation of the world through the Mayan’s beliefs and culture. The writing focused on the mythological characters that represented as their goods and the first people in their society as well the myth of the creation of everything in on earth. The other part of the literature was focused on the Hero twins who fought and won the battles ahead of them. The next parts are the creation of people and the sudden change of their language used which caused confusion and division in the society.
All the three civilization are geographically distant from each other however, based on the literature that each of these civilizations have, it is apparent that the themes of the stories are very similar to each other. In the Japanese Medieval epic Genji when he was younger was weak and fragile on the other hand Sundiata was also born with a deficiency because he was crippled however, both of these main characters eventually changed. In some sense or in the modern terminology they both had an “overhaul or make-over” due to the drastic change that they went through. Although these two characters changed physically, the situation could be analyzed as something both these cultures need and hoped at the moment—weak and then being strong afterwards. In connection to the Classical Mali, the concept of weak and strong was also evident through the continuous battles that The Hero Twins faced in order to defeat the enemies and gain recognition and power. The three civilizations see physical strength and power as the most important factors that an individual must have in order to be a leader. However, if closely analyzed, all these attributes are mostly are characteristic of men.
The three stories used as literary basis for this paper clearly shows that women are not seen powerful because they do not have the attributes of men. Evidently, men are the lead characters in all these stories and small portions focus on the lives of women. In the “Tale of Genji”, women are presented as a sexual material that a man could continually consume for his satisfaction or for the prosperity of their clan through the birth of children in their family. Obviously, in the medieval times, women are not considered as human beings equal to men.
Family is one has the strongest manifested values in the stories. Although not all of the characters were close to their families, they are strongly influenced by the values their parents/guardians show them just like Genji, who have been intimate with many women just like his father; Sundiata, who had may characters yet he still have a kind heart like her mother. Another value is companionship and unity which is prevalent in the stories of Popol Vuh and Sundiata. Sundiata had always been with his people. He was usually surrounded of people that could help him in his battles. The twins in contrast had each other to fight the opponent.
Although there are similarities in the literary works, differences of the civilizations are also manifested. Most of the civilizations differ in the religious beliefs that they have. The Classical Mayan culture has presented a story of creation which illustrated their religious beliefs to idols and mythological characters. The Medieval Mali on the other hand believes in the magical powers that their tribe has due to the sorcery of Sundiata. The Classical Japanese however, did not focus too much about religion instead the story focus on the traditions and practices of Japanese.
All these civilizations at first glance are not easily connected due to their obvious differences in culture, language and religious beliefs however, the stories that are used as the main sources for this analysis shows that these civilizations have more similarities than differences. The Mayan literature sets apart from the other stories because half of the literature focused on the creation story of the Classical Mayan. The “Tale of Genji” and “Sundiata” are much alike due to the historical background of the characters. The “Tale of Genji” focuses more on the individual rather than the society, “Sundiata” on the other hand is focused on the community rather than the lead character.
Christenson, A. J., Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya. Oaklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007.
Niane, D.T., Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali. Boston: Pearson Longman, 2006.
Murasaki L. S., The Tale of Genji. Singapore:Turtle Publishing, 2006.