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The Death and Burial of Sogolon The story of Sundiata and his unbelievable deeds are transmitted to us through oral tradition as transcribed by D. T. Niane. Sundiata was the son of Nare Maghan (also known as Maghan Kon Fata) and his second wife, Sogolon. Nare Maghan had three wives simultaneously able to play games witn other children of his age. He was often serious and did not smile. His mother, Sogolon Kedju, an Amazon-like woman, had a strong personality; she was disliked by Nard Maghan’s first wife, who was headwife. Sogolon was a permanent source of comfort and hope for Sundiata. This paper begins with the moment when the king of Mali Nare Maghan first spoke to the son of Sogolon (Sundiata) about him being the kingdom’s successor and the Griot Doua's son as his griot. Sundiata is represented in this case as a hero of tradition in the sense generally employed by folklorists and others. His life story conforms to a widespread pattern and has been shaped according to definable narrative rules. But agreement between Sundiata and the Maghan can’t be easily reached because both the king and his successor have to deal wit various obstacles in the course of their reigns. The author offers a very interesting pattern at this point in the story when Sundiata is depicted as both mere human and hero. An example might be those parts that present Sumanguru as the reigning king at the birth of Sundiata so that the opposition of hero and tyrant is clean and direct, uncluttered by the confusion of sibling rivalry and vanishing fathers.
When king Maghan first speaks to Sundiata about becoming his successor, Sundiata is perhaps not to be seen as a human figure at all, meaning by human that he could be subject to doubts, weaknesses, and failings. Rather, he is an embodiment of power, and in proportion as his destiny is glorious, he is possessed by the power to bring it about. This is not a purely positive vision. Sundiata compels respect because of his power; the same is true of Griot Doua's son who is to become the king’s griot. The multiplication of many elements in the story, such as the repeated testing, establishes Sundiata and Doua’s son as the proper focal point for multiple interests. Next the part where Sogolon dies is analyzed. She spoke in a feeble voice to wish her son a good night. Sundiata went to his chamber that night and spoke to the almighty God to ask about his destiny as the king of Mali and to be able to bury his mother. The death of Sundiata's mother and the riddle of the potsherds is perhaps the most constant element of the epic. This moment balances that earlier moment when his mother was at center stage, when Sundiata was inspired by her humiliation to overcome his limitations and rise.
Here again the mother serves as a springboard, or perhaps as an offering to Sundiata's future power. The trade-off is almost explicit. Following her death, Sundiata begins to assert his power through the riddling response (with its implied threat) to Mema Farin Tunkara’s demand for gold. The threat is taken seriously: this is a measure either of Sundiata's actual powers or of the king’s assessment of his future capability. In Sundiata’s time the African women held positions of regard and respect. This was the case in Ghana and also later in Songhay. Sundiata’s mother might not have been liked by Nare Maghan’s first wife, but yet her opinions were listened to and fairly considered. Father, priest, judge, ruler--all were the responsibility of a man who was a chief. That’s why it was so important for Sundiata to receive the permission from the king of Mema to bury Sogolon. This part in the epic illustrates the ancient Muslim tradition: the relatives (especially such close people as mother and son) had to take care of the dead person’s body and organize a proper funeral for the deceased. It is important to note that Sogolon’s death can be interpreted as the additional proof of the Sundiata’s power. When Sundiata and his family were in Mema in exile, the oppression of Sumanguru was such that the people of the Manden decide to seek a savior.
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Divination tells them they must find Sundiata, and so a delegation sets forth to Mame to find their hero. After the messengers present their case, Sundiata is willing to return home and save the land from Sumanguru. However he will not go without his mother, and she is too old and ill to travel. He goes into the bush and prays: if he is truly to unite and lead the Manden, he asks that his mother die that night, and she does. This part shows how powerful of a hero Sundiata was that even God allowed his mother to die only because Sundiata was to return home and his mother wouldn’t make the trip. This scene also offers another insight on the Muslim tradition that was depicted earlier in the paper: Sundiata had to bury his mother with all due honors and respect; otherwise nobody would value him or consider his deeds mighty. After Sogolon dies, Sundiata asks the ruler of Mema for land in which to bury his mother, and Mema Farin Tunkara demands gold. Sunjata instead sends him old potsherds with dust, arrowheads, gunpowder, and guinea fowl feathers. The prince’s advisers interpret this riddle: if they do not give Sunjata the land, he will destroy the town like an old pot, with arrows and bullets, and guinea fowl will be left to play in the dust.
The prince gives him the land, and Sunjata sets off for home. The king of Mema Farin Tunkara felt that Sundiata was ungrateful because he assumed that Sundiata would be his successor as king of Mema after all he had done for him and Sogolon. Farjin Tunkara was truly disappointed after he realized that Sundiata was leaving Mema for goor, yet there was nothing he could do because Sundiata’s destiny was to become the king of Mali, but not to remain the son of Sogolon forever. Finally, the aspect of Sundiata’s mightiness and great power is referred to at this moment as well. The king of Mema deeply respects Sundiata, but not only because the latter is a great and benevolent person. He sees Sundiata as the strong and willful individual who is able to protect Mema and become his successor. Therefore when Sundiata declares of his intentions to leave, the king of Mema becomes angry and unsatisfied because he considers that Sundiata has to repay him and his kingdom for hosting Sundiata and Sogolon. Yet, as it is always portrayed in this epic, Sundiata is proved to be stronger and more skilled in his actions and the King of Mema has no other choice but to subdue to the will of the hero.
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