This week I finished reading a book most of you have probably never heard of (unless you are from West Africa), The Epic of Sundiata. It is Mali’s national epic and is a fictionalized biography of Mali’s first emperor, Sundiata Keita. He turned Mali into the strongest empire in the region, creating a formidible trade power profiteering off of Mali strategic location. Because his story passed orally from generation to generation, many obvious embellishments exist within the narrative. Western scholars have dissmissed oral accounts as being unreliable, however any discerning reader should be able to sort fact from fiction and The Epic provides a rare look into life in 13th century West Africa.
The entire narrative follow’s closely with the Hero’s Journey as described by Joseph Campbell. For those of you not aware, the Hero’s Journey is a lazy ass formula used in multimillion dollar franchises such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Matrix, recently with the Hunger Games, and too many other stories to count. One noted example is Lion King, which some Sundiata readers have even accused Disney of copying from. I and many other classmates noticed the resemblance, however there are a couple major differences which lead me to conclude they are merely to monomyths set in Africa. Sundiata’s father was known as the “Lion”, so I guess he was a literal Lion King.
I really enjoyed the Epic of Sundiata. It is a quick read at only 85 pages, so it is well worth your time.