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Megan BaileyDr. PaulyHistory 130010 October 2018An Examination of Medieval West Africa through “Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali”D. T. Niane’s retelling ofSundiata: An Epic of Old Mali,translated by G.D. Pickett, is afascinating read that combines the telling of a country’s history with the page-turning effects of awork of fantasy fiction. The story relayed by Niane reveals many truths about the culture ofMedieval West Africa, including the roles of women, their technology, dominant trade partners,and their religious beliefs and customs.Women in medieval West Africa were valued mainly for their ability to produce worthysons. The first evidence of this provided by the text comes from page nine, when Niane said “…king Naré Maghan determined to solemnize his marriage with all the customary formalities sothat nobody could dispute the rights of the son to be born to him.” (9) With this line, Nianereveals that the king’s sole motivation for accepting Sogolon as his wife was purely for the sonshe had been prophesied to have. This prophecy was referenced on page eight by the old buffalowoman, “she will be an extraordinary woman if you manage to possess her,” and was given bythe traveling hunter on page six, “…this is the woman you must marry, sire, for she will be themother of him who will make the name of Mali immortal for ever” (6). At every mention ofSogolon on these pages, the men are told that the only reason they should want this woman is forthe offspring she has been promised to give birth to. The fact that Sogolon was visiblyunattractive seemed to not even phase the men, further proving that they only valued her becausethey were told she would bear a great son. Then, when Djata failed to start walking by the age of
three, the people of the village began calling him using his mother’s name first, Sogolon Djata, inorder to perhaps lay some of the blame for this most unordinary child on his mother. Then, onpage nineteen, we see Naré Maghan’s first wife, Sassouma Bérété, holding her own son’snormalcy over Sogolon in the form of a personal attack, again laying the blame on Sogolon forher son’s inability to walk.