The Epic Of Sundiata As A Historical Source

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The Epic of Sundiata, which relates not only information about the Empire of Mali in the 13th and 14th centuries but also details of the ancient Mande Culture, is a valuable document that describes a period of time about which very little is known. Despite this reality, historians continue to debate the epic 's suitability as a historical source. It is clear that such a discussion revolves around the underlying question of the reliability of oral tradition; arguably, to deny the epic solely on the grounds that it relies on oral tradition constitutes a veritable disregard for a form of history that, when employed correctly, may effectively reveal important cultural values and ethics. Any source which relies on oral history generates a debate between academics as to its reliability, as knowledge that is passed down orally from one generation to the next may be inaccurate as a result of human "distortions" during communication (Conrad 150). One such distortion is the inevitable introduction of human biases into the narrative, which may be difficult to disentangle from reality. For example, in the introduction to the epic, the narrator Djeli Mamoudou Kouyaté states that "by [his] mouth [one] will get to know the story of the ancestor of great Mali, the story of him who, by his exploits, surpassed even Alexander the Great" (Sundiata 1-2). The narrator is clearly a fervent admirer of Sundiata, which may have led him to embellish his depiction of the King to evoke in his audience the same admiration. Historian David Conrad confirms that the bards in different versions of the epic "have in some cases consciously directed their best efforts at projecting [Sundiata] above all others as a glorious symbol of the Mande past" (148). While ther... ... middle of paper ... ...gnored, even if the setting or plot of the narrative is not always historical. Arguably, the Western historiographical preoccupation with facts has masked this alternative, but equally important, use of the epic. The debate surrounding the Epic of Sundiata 's use as a historical text exemplifies a greater historiographical discussion of the value of oral sources. While certain historians, such as Austen and Jansen, propose that the epic may not be suitable as a historical source because of inconsistencies in the narrative, others, such as Conrad and Kone, suggests that it remains a valuable source when utilized correctly. While it is indeed necessary for a historian to be cautious of any potential human interferences in the Sundiata narrative, it remains as important historical sources that offers a unique insight into the values and ethics of the Mande people.

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