The Epic of Son-Jara Late 13th-Early 14th Centuries
Background • Epic of the Manding people. • Empires rose when Muslims invaded, bringing literacy/trade. • Wealthy trade in gold and salt. • Funded armies, cities, universities. • Empires-- • Ghana (700-1000) [Soninke culture]. • Mali (1000-1450) [Malinke culture]. • Songhai (1450-1590).
Even More Background • This epic still performed all over Sudan. • Part of Africa’s oral tradition of folk tales, legends, myths, and poetry. • Probably began with “praise songs” addressed to Son-Jara • Considered record of great, historical events that led to formation of Mali Empire under Son-Jara Keita. • Considered expression of Manding societal values. • So operates on a par with Iliad, Ramayana, or Aeneid.
The Prologue in Paradise • Note the constant interchange between the Messenger and the rest of the people. • Prologue establishes worthy heritage of Son-Jara. • By tracing lineage to Bilal, Muhammed’s friend. • By tracing Africa’s heritage from creation of Adam and the world to the present. • By addressing him with 8 praise names.
Episoides 2 & 3 • Episodes 2 and 3 primarily serve as preservation of the genealogy of most of the people involved in this story [religious & magical]. • Episode 3 shows two brothers – the younger is the greater. • Destruction of the Bull • Claiming Konde to beget a son who will rule
Episode 4 • Episode 4 develops common theme of man with 2 wives, one loved and one not loved (or one beautiful and one ugly). • Saman Berete, “the pure.” • Sugulun Konde, “the ugly.” • Female rivalry [power and prestige of children] • Curses vs religious praying • Sorcery & djinns • Fate of a cripple and mother • Sacrificial dogs • Banishment
Good Rulers vs. Bad • Contrast Sumamuru to Son-Jara’s willingness to sacrifice himself for others • The four times Son-Jara gives Sumamuru extra time to get ready for battle. • Son-Jara’s willingness to believe the information his sister gives him, whereas Sumamuru cuts off his own mother’s breast. • Sumamuru’s desire for follower’s wife
Themes • Son-Jara wins because he is GOOD. • Son-Jara wins because the gods (African and Islamic) want him to. • Son-Jara wins because he is both strong and merciful [best combination of traits in a ruler] • Bad things usually work themselves out if given enough time. • Travel may be the answer