The Legend and History of Oral History

            The epitome of oral history, this "speaking document", that is part history and part legend, is an epic tale about Sundiata and his prophesized uniting of the twelve kingdoms of Mali into a single powerful empire. Retold by generations of griots - the guardians of African Culture - this oral tradition has been handed down from the thirteenth century and captures all the mystery and majesty of medieval African kingship. The son of .

             Sogolon, the hunchback princess, and Maghan, known as "the handsome", Sundiata grew up to fulfill the prophesies of the soothsayers that he would unite the twelve kingdoms of Mali into one of the most powerful empires ever known in Africa, which at its peak stretched right across the savanna belt from the shores of the Atlantic to the dusty walls of Timbuktu.

             A griot is an artist from West Africa (other areas of Africa have different types of oral artists) who preserves culture, history, music and genealogy, among other things through the performance of oral art, or what Ong would call "verbal art." This art often involves three aspects: the telling of the story (narration), recitation of genealogies and moral proverbs, and singing of lyrics, usually to the accompaniment of a stringed instrument, sometimes called the kora. The griot goes back many centuries. Griots often were affiliated with royal families. Their function was to preserve the traditions and .

             history of a particular family or group of people. Their office was a peculiar one, and they were often considered a separate caste, into which succeeding lines of griots were born. Griots are still very much a part of many West African societies.

             The Epic of Sundiata is an oral epic from Old Mali, which came into being around 1237 AD. The empire of Old Mali extended from the coast of modern-day Senegal to the Niger River. Djeriba was the capital. The Epic tells the story of Sundiata, the first king of Mali, who leads a revolt against the king of the empire of Ghana (350 AD - 1240 AD), which was one of the first great trading empires of medieval West Africa.

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