Throughout the centuries, numerous oral traditions have been regularly passed down from generation to generation, providing unique perspectives in regards as to what certain cultures were like in terms of how society was run and how people behaved. One of the particular oral traditions that have been consistently discussed is the epic tale Sundiata. In regards to its main character, Sundiata, there has been skepticism as to whether or not the figure is a true hero or not, for debates have arisen that the only reason he was viewed as heroic was because of his utilization of magic.
However, I do not believe that this statement is very accurate, for there are various other characteristics about Sundiata that are perceivable in the text that validate himself being labeled as a genuine hero.
One of the reasons Sundiata can be seen as heroic is because he is rather unselfish and full of compassion for others. Early on in his life, Sundiata showed great levels of concern for others when he realized that his mother was distraught and not in the best state.
When Sundiata makes up his mind to overcome his major problem of not walking, one would think that he would feel triumphant and boastful about the milestone, but instead he immediately thinks of his mother Sogolon, saying ““Mother, do you want just the leaves of the baobab or would you rather I brought you the whole tree?” (Niane 19). Later on, when the malicious being Sassouma attempts to set Sundiata up by having several old witches commit theft by stealing goods from Sogolon’s garden, Sundiata detects them while they are in the midst of doing so and calls out “stop, stop, poor old women…what is the matter with you to run away like this. This garden belongs to all. Each time that you run short of condiments come to stock up here without fear” (Niane 25). Instead of taking vile acts of witchcraft against the fellow, the witches discern that nothing bad could be done against an individual that was as warmhearted and generous as Sundiata.
As the epic moves on, the reader discovers his selflessness yet again when speaks with a ruler named Fakoli Koroma, one who has experienced much bad luck and misfortune at the evil hands of the sorcerer king Soumauro, telling Fakoli that “I defend the weak, I defend the innocent Fakoli. You have suffered an injustice so I will render you justice…” (Niane 61). Sundiata was fully committed to the act of help another fellow human being and ended up adding Fakoli among his other war chiefs after hearing about the adversity that the being endured, demonstrating his courteous demeanor. Nonetheless, as a result of his good heart, he ends up being scrutinized as hero in the eyes of anyone that he crosses paths with.
Sundiata was also a great hero since he displayed strong leadership abilities no matter what company he was in. To prove my point, early on in Sundiata, the text explicitly reveals the following about the lad: “he was great among kings, he was peerless among men; he was beloved of God because he was the last of the great conquerors” (Niane 2). The sense of leadership and supremacy that is anticipated for Sundiata is further lived up to in the statement in which the individual commands “Arise, young lion, roar, and may the bush know that from henceforth it has a master,” (Niane 20) thenceforth verifying that he occupies natural leadership skills. On that note, one can tell that, in a sense, it appears as if it is his only calling to be a leader in some sort of way down the road because certain virtues are innately part of him that make the cut for such a position. Furthermore, a good leader exhibits strength and the author discloses that Sundiata “was a lad full of strength; his arms had the strength of ten and his biceps inspired fear in his companions” (Niane 23).
However, he expressed certain areas of strength beyond his impressive physique, for even at a young age he had “that authoritative way of speaking which belongs to those who are destined to command” (Niane 23). He also showcases loyalty to a great childhood friend of his named Fran, when he promises that he would help to make his chum a respectable general, who along with Sundiata, would travel extensively and strike fear into others. Sundiata even goes on to say that other kings would tremble at the sight and would subsequently surrender as a result of what they had seen. Moreover, people also admired the figure for the conventional formality of his mind since “he had an answer to everything and the most puzzling situations resolved themselves in the presence,” (Niane 37) and also due to the fact that they slowly understood that “his voice carried authority, his eyes were live coals, his arm was iron…,” (Niane 47) attesting that his imposing appearance and prowess as a speaker were looked upon as noble qualities at the time period. Thus, it is certainly apparent that Sundiata was heroic beyond the rationalizing of his mere use of magic for he intuitively exemplified a multitude of natural leadership capabilities from the very start.
Sundiata’s heroic character is also pretty noticeable in the courage that he promulgates in the story. Part of his bravery laid in the fact that he was absolutely fearless and to support this, the book reveals that “He did not know what fear was,” (Niane 29) further confirming this notion of him being courageous and hinting that he was aware that he was gradually marching his way toward a destiny that would be teeming with favorable results. Eventually, the reader observes that his courage was on full display “when Sundiata astonished the whole army with his strength and with his dash in the charge,” (Niane 36) again providing solid evidence of his dauntlessness. The average person would likely be afflicted with fear in the midst of intense combat, but Sundiata deeply engrossed in the battle, managing to not show any signs of uneasiness. As the epic progresses, as Sundiata and his antagonist Soumaoro are engaged against one another one-on-one, Sundiata charged viciously at his counterpart with his weapon, but unexpectedly, Soumaoro disappeared by taking advantage of his craftiness in happening to be a sorcerer.
At this point, a typical warrior would likely be rather puzzled and possibly grow afraid, “but on this evening it was not yet doubt which assailed Djata,” (Niane 53) giving Sundiata additional authenticity to the claim that he was surely one of valor, thus proving his heroic qualifications. In spite of the fact that he comprehended that his enemy was quite powerful, he never relented, and alternately remained unyielding in Soumaoro’s extermination. Sundiata took on an exorbitantly difficult challenge that very few people would even dare to accept, and everyone who fought alongside him clearly acknowledged that without any hesitation. When Sundiata is being cheered for due to the uncompromising determination and bravery he exerted in the battle, the people acquainted with him let out a huge sigh of relief full of gratitude in saying that “We are at peace. May God be praised. But we owe this peace to one man, by his courage and his valiance, was able to lead our troops to victory” (Niane 74). After they made it evident that Sundiata was basically their savior so to speak, they go on to convey that none of them would have ever possessed the guts to face Soumaoro and, as a matter of fact, all agree that they were too cowardly to even think about embarking on such a strenuous mission. Based on this, it is easy to see that Sundiata’s courage and stoutheartedness give testimony to the contention that he is a heroic being for other reasons beyond his ability to use magic.
The character Sundiata in the classic tale Sundiata can be discerned as heroic for a variety of different explanations apart from his resourcefulness when it came to the matter of practicing magic. One of the reasons he is heroic in my view is because of his kind, compassion conduct, which are two attributes that valuable and held in great respect by others who look upon people deemed as heroic. Additionally, Sundiata displayed exceptional leadership skills at a tender age, thereby assuring that he was the right man to choose and rely upon as a commander in chief per se. In conjunction with these two characteristics was his absurd level of courage, which he flaunted in the middle of the most intimidating circumstances, which consequently brought peace and harmony to the kingdom he was fighting valiantly for, hence authenticating himself as a true, real hero of Mali. Taking into consideration that magic did indeed play a significant role in the book Sundiata, there are multiple arguments one can make that Sundiata was heroic for much more justifiable reasons outside of the fact that he performed miraculous deeds with the wizardly-like powers he possessed in his adventures.
Niane, Djibril Tamsir. Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali. Harlow: Longman, 1994. Print.
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