Sunjata Keita is the subject
of a great epic still sung to this day by the griots or professional
praise singers of modern Senegambia. According to the legend
of Sunjata the man himself must be remembered as one of the
greatest patrons of the griots since his very name Sujatta
Keita is derived from his relationship with the griots.
When Sunjata's father, Fatakung
Makang, died Sujatta declared that the only things he wanted
of his father's inheritance were his griots. He valued the
griots because he knew what they could do for him. As the
story goes, after Sunjata's father had died and his half-brother
became king, Sunjata declared, "however extensive my
father's property may be, I want no part of it except for
the griots". His brother replied "You want the griots?
Alright, you can have your own way. A person who has nothing
will not have griots for long". Sujatta had a griot who
was especially dear to him. His name was Musa. Musa's father,
Nyankuma Dookha, had asked him to wait on Sujatta as he himself
had done for Sunjata's father. Nyankuma Dookha was convinced
that the prediction of Sunjata
eventually becoming a great leader of Manding would become
It was this griot who had
repeatedly given assurance to Sunjata's father, Fatakung Makang, of
Sunjata's great destiny. So Musa waited on Sujatta and instructed him
in the history of former great kings and empires.
Sujatta's other griots assured him of their loyalty but most
of them preferred a more wealthy patron than Sujatta. They
agreed among themselves and decided, "since Sujatta had
let all his inheritance go and say he only wants us, we will
not desert him. Let us employ a stratagem, and if he dies,
then we can take it easy and go to wealthy men ". They
decided to humiliate Sunjata,
so they went and begged from him. He did not have anything
to give them, so he wend and got honey from the bush. From
this the griots called him:
"Bee, Little Bee, Makhara
Makhang Konate, Haimaru & Yamaru."
The next morning they
begged him again. As he had nothing, he went and caught a cat to give
to them. From this they called him:
"The Lion is at Narena,
Cats on the Shoulder, Simbong".
When the griots came and begged from him the next day, he
had nothing. He went into the bush and collected firewood
to give to them. That prompted the griots to say:
"Firewood, Makhare, Makhang Konate, Haimaru and Yamaru,
The Lion had fill of followers, The big-footed hunter".
The next time the griots begged from Sunjata,
he was desperate, and so he stole a strip of cloth which belonged
to his half brother. When he gave the cloth to the griots
they said "Jatta has committed theft" meaning a
lion has committed theft and from that day he was known as
Sujatta. Sunjata's real name Makhara Makhang Konate, son of
Fatakung Makang who reigned as King of Manding for many years.
to oral tradition, Fatakung Makang's soothsayers had told him that if
he went to Sankarang Madiba Konte and found a wife, she would bear him
a child who would become King of the black people. Sankarang Madiba
Konte was himself a king of famous lineage. Fatakung finally decided
to visit the neighbouring king, Madiba Konte on this request. Madiba
Konte was pleased to comply with Fatakung Mankang's wishes and
welcomed such an alliance between their two countries.
ceremony was held where Fatakung Makang got married to Sukulung Konte
as predicted by the soothsayers. Sukulung Konte otherwise known as
Sukukung Kutuma was to become the mother of
the story goes, it so happened that Sukulung became pregnant and
remained so for seven years! Meanwhile the king, Fatakung has said,
"if any of my wives bears me a son, I shall give my kingship to him".
When Sunjata's mother eventually gave birth, a slave was sent to
Fatakung Makang to report the arrival of a son. When the slave
arrived, he found Fatakung Makang and his companions eating. They
invited the slave to join them, so before speaking, he sat down to
As fate would have it, just after
Sunjata's mother gave
birth another of the King's wives also gave birth to a boy and a griot
was sent to inform him of the news. When he arrived at the compound,
he greeted the company, who invited him to refresh himself before
continuing with his business. But the griot refused, saying, "Nareng
Daniyang Konate, your wife has given birth to a boy"
who had been sitting also spoke. "They sent me first. Sukulung
Konte was the first to give birth".
"The one I heard first, he is to be son and heir"
proclaimed Fatakung Makang the king. Late, Sunjata
Keita, the true and rightful heir to the throne of Manding
was so enraged by this past injustice, that for fourteen year
he refused to walk, choosing to crawl on his hands and knees
in protest. He was later to stand on his feet again when it
was time for his Kafo mates to go for circumcision. Sujatta
was considered to be born lame and so when he rose up, after
breaking some iron legs forged for him to go for his circumcision,
the griots of Manding said:
"A Lion has arisen, a Manding lion has arisen, a mighty creature
Sunjata after getting up
walked to a slender baobab tree
which stood in the middle of the town of Manding. The baobab
produced only one fruit. All Muslim soothsayers, the cowrie
diviners, the stone-diviners, and the sand diviners all declared
that whoever swallowed one seed of the fruit of the Baobab
would rule Manding for sixty years. Sunjata seized hold of
this baobab tree and split open the baobab fruit and swallowed
it, proclaiming to his mother, "Here is your baobab".
With this act the fourteen drums of the Manding all sounded.
From within the midst of the assembled people, the kin asked,
"why did you fell this baobab tree ?". Sunjata explained
"My mother went to look for baobab leaves in the town
to put on the food I was to eat before going to circumcision".
Sujatta explained, "but she found none... The other women
told her to order me to stand and pick baobab leaves myself.
That is why I felled this baobab tree and have swallowed the
fruit as well". "But why did you swallow the baobab
fruit?" asked king Fatakung Makang. Sunjata
answered, "Now you have come to the point. I don't want
any rivalry to the throne, and I don't want anything in Manding
except loyalty from my son, my brother, my wife, my attendant,
my griot, my smith, and my subjects".
At this point, the king and his company left. Soon after this,
they all went into the circumcision shed. Soon after they
came out of the shed area, Sujatta's father died, and it was
Sunjata's half brother who was installed king. With the threat
of Korte from the new king's mother, Nareng Daniyang Konate,
Sunjata left Manding and
became an exile.