Keita: The Heritage of the Griot. Dir. Dani Kouyaté [b. 1961, Burkina Faso].
French title: Keita! L'héritage du griot. First release 1994, Burkina Faso.
California Newsreel, 1995 [Videotape & DVD].
In Jula and French, with English subtitles; Run time: 94 min.
Keita: The Heritage of the Griot introduces the revered West African epic of the hero Sundjata within the film's story of a contemporary young West African’s initiation into the traditional history and heroic heritage of his family. Great griot Djéliba Kouyaté arrives at the urban home of Mabo Keita, a contemporary boy of Burkina Faso, to teach him the meaning of his name by introducing the story of his illustrious ancestor, Sundjata Keita, heroic 13th-century founder of the great medieval Mali Empire--a great West African epic which provides the widespread Mande people an awe-inspiring story to explain their common origins and subsequent division into castes or clan families. [See HUM 211 Course Pack: Epic of Sundjata.] But conflicts between traditional and modern education and values develop, as Mabo becomes so consumed by the griot's story that he neglects his homework, stops studying for exams, and then starts skipping school to tell Sundjata's story to other classmates. Mabo's Westernized mother (Sitan) and schoolteacher (Mr. Fofano) strenuously object to the influence of Djéliba and Sundjata's story on Mabo, and precipitate a crisis in the Keita household. To prevent breaking up the family, Djéliba departs, leaving Sundjata's story unfinished and Mabo torn by divided loyalties and difficult choices.
The film dramatizes the parallel story of Mabo Keita's heroic ancestor Sundjata Keita (sometimes spelled Sundiata or Son-Jara Keyta): set in the 13th century, this great West African epic provides the widespread Mande peoples an awe-inspiring story to explain their common origins and subsequent division into castes and/or clan families. An oral recitation of the complete Sundjata epic poem with musical accompaniment can last close to sixty hours. But, this film, like most performances, recounts only a part of the epic: the events surrounding the birth, boyhood and exile of Sundjata (corresponding to lines 356 to 1647 in the standard translation of John William Johnson, The Epic of Son-Jara: A West African Tradition, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.) The film dramatizes the first third of the epic story of Sundjata: the prophetic but decidedly unusual events leading up to his birth; his unpromising beginnings as a despised and indolent cripple, cursed by his father's jealous first wife to crawl the earth like a reptile; the striking turning point when he uprights himself and first walks erect like a man, crucially aided by his faithful griot, the timely intervention of destiny (in the form of the Hunter of Do), and inherited powers Sundjata as yet scarcely understands. Momentous and auspicious is this awakening to destiny, but Sundjata is then deprived of his griot and sent with his family into exile--and there the film [Keita] leaves Sundjata's story, ending at the beginning of the next stage in Sundjata's quest to develop the strength, wisdom and power he will need to realize the meaning of his name and fulfill his destiny. [See also Epic of Sundjata in HUM 211 Online Course Pack].
The meaning of Mabo Keita’s name: Sundjata is considered the founder of a clan as well as the founder of the medieval Empire of Mali; thus he is entitled to take a surname of his own: Keita or Keyta. “Keita” is explained as a combination of “ke” meaning “inheritance” and “ta” meaning “to take.” Thus, “Keita” means “He-who-took (stole)-the-Inheritance” (implying from Sundjata’s older brother, the first born son Dankaran Touman). The name “Sundjata” (Sundiata or Son-Jara) has various explanations. Some claim “Sun” or “Son” is a contraction (ie. “Soon”) of Sundjata’s mother’s name Sogolon (aka: Sugulun): it is common in Mali to prefix one’s own name with one’s mother’s name. Others define “Sun” or “Son” as “thief” (nson). “Jata” is defined as “lion.” Thus the variant meanings of Sundjata Keita’s name would be “Soon’s [Sogolon’s] Lion" and "Lion Thief-Who-Took-the-Inheritance.”
In the film's final scene, the griot Djeliba disappears, and Mabo directly meets the Hunter of Do, a mysterious character who always seems to be just "passing by" at key moments in the film, the only character to appear in both the past and contemporary stories of the film. The Hunter refuses to finish the story for Mabo for he is not a griot and it is not his traditional role, but he reassures Mabo that he can find other griots on his future road to tell him the meaning of his name. After hearing the beginning of the epic story of his ancestor, Mabo, too, has been attuned to his own destiny. "The story, like the wind, cannot be stopped," and the parallel stories of the legendary Sundjata Keita and the contemporary Mabo Keita converge. The stories of Sundjata and Mabo Keita parallel each other in many ways. For example, both are stories of initiation into the meaning of their names, dramatizing stages of their lives at key milestones when they must undergo challenging rites of passage in their quests to assume adulthood responsibilities and realize their destinies. The film ends leaving both past and present heroes without their griots and at crossroads, turbulent intersections of endings and beginnings where the future is unclear and difficult choices must be made. The film ends at the beginning: Mabo Keita has been prepared and must now take responsibility for continuing his quest to recover his own cultural inheritance and to fulfill the meaning of his name.
Director Dani Kouyaté & Griot Sotigui Kouyaté (who plays Djeliba Kouyate in the film) are members of the same Kouyate family that has "served as the Keïtas' griots, bards (jeli) belonging to a discrete Mandé caste or endogamous occupational group, who alone perform certain types of poetry and divination" ("Keita: The Heritage of the Griot," California Newsreel). "[I]n making this film, Dani Kouyaté (who shares the name of the griot) succeeds in fulfilling the 'meaning of his name.' He has used a quintessentially 20th century invention, motion pictures, to insure that The Sundjata Epic is passed on as an inspiring force in the lives of young Africans everywhere" ("Keita: The Heritage of the Griot," California Newsreel). Keïta - L'héritage du griot, Dani Kouyate's first film released in 1994, won first prize at FESPACO (Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso), the largest and most prestigious African film festival [see FESPACO English version: http://www.fespaco.bf/index_en.html ] Dani Kouyaté's father is Sotigui Kouyaté, an international star of theater and film, and real life griot and herbalist who "stands himself in the chain of transmission of oral traditions" (Reinwald). In a 1995 interview, Sotigui Kouyaté indicated that he considers himself "part of the [African] continent's memory with his mission being the teaching of history, the taking of responsibility for the youth and the mediation in conflicts between individuals, families and even states. He practices this mission by playing, acting which means for him searching the contact with the audience, creating the communicative web" (Reinwald). "To a certain extent, Sotigui is thus casting himself [in the film Keita], with his son paying tribute to his father by highlighting the griot's difficult mission in today's contradictory and transitory Africa" (Reinwald). Dani Kouyate has stated: “Most people speak about the shock provoked by the encounter of modernity and tradition. For me, this shock does not really exist. There are two parallel realities, and we are in between. And this is the problem. Sometimes we are traditional, sometimes we are modern without ever having achieved to integrate the two in an intelligent way. And this is why we have to take the bull by the horns” (qtd. in Gavron 1995; as cited by Reinwald; emphasis added).
Learn more from:
California Newsreel: "Keita: The Heritage of the Griot" [essay]:
California Newsreel facilitator guide:
"Keita: The Heritage of the Griot: Notes for Viewing the Film":
IMDB - Internet Movie Database: "Keita! L'héritage du griot (1994)":
See also California Newsreel's Library of African Cinema
[Links checked/updated by C. Agatucci, Jan. 2010]
Contemporary Story, set in the late 20th century:
Djéliba Kouyaté: Great griot of the Keita family; awakened by the Hunter of Do, Djeliba travels to the city to fulfill his mission: to initiate Mabo Keita by telling him the story of his great ancestor Sundjata Keita and instructing Mabo in the meaning of his name. [See also What is a Griot? in HUM 211 Course Pack reading Epic of Sundjata.]
Mabo Keita: The young boy coming of age, whom Djeliba comes to initiate. Mabo becomes obsessed with the story of his revered ancestor, Sundjata Keita, and the quest to learn the meaning of his name.
Sitan Keita: Mabo's mother
Boicar Keita: Mabo's father
Mr. Fofano: Mabo's school teacher
Hunter of Do: Mysterious character who appears at key moments in both the contemporary and past stories.
According to California Newsreel's introduction to Keita: The Heritage of the Griot, "Both ancient and modern storylines are initiated by the mysterious appearance of a hunter [the Hunter of Do], a passerby representing destiny who intervenes at strategic moments to propel Sundjata and Mabo on their journeys" to understand and fulfill their destinies. The Hunter of Do "both foretells the birth of Sundjata to the Mande court and, eight centuries later, rouses Djéliba . . . to go to the city and initiate young Mabo into the secrets of his origin."
Past Story, set in the 13th century:
Maghan Kon Fatta: 13th century King of Mande, who is Mabo Keita's distant ancestor and who is destined to father the great Mande hero Sundjata Keita.
Doua: King Maghan's griot
Sassouma Berete: The beautiful first wife of King Maghan Kon Fatta and mother of the King's first born son Dankaran Touman, who by tradition should succeed his father when King Maghan dies; naturally Sassouma is upset and jealous by the prophesy that the King will take a second wife who will give birth to a son destined to become king and found the great Mali Empire.
Hunter of Do: Passing through the kingdom of Mande, he visits the court of King Maghan Kon Fatta, consults the cowries and prophesizes that the King is destined to marry an ugly woman and sire a son who will inherit the kingdom of Mande. He appears again at the birth of Sundjata. Much later he will appear again to offer crucial advice when Sundjata unsuccessfully tries to lift himself with the blind blacksmith's specially prepared iron.
Do Kamissa, the mystic Buffalo Woman, a shape-changer, has been ravaging the land of Do, killing many people, including many hunters who have tried to subdue her. Her time come, Do Kamissa gives two hunter brothers the secret of how to kill her but, in exchange, they must fulfill her special conditions, which will lead to the King of Mande marrying her "adopted daughter" Sogolon and the birth of Sundjata Keita, "who will impose himself on all the savannah."
Two Hunters, brothers, kill the ravaging supernatural Buffalo, learning the secrets from Do Kamissa, the Buffalo Woman herself, but in exchange they must fulfill her special conditions: they request that her nephew Do-Samo reward them with a woman, choose the ugly hunch-backed Sogolon, Do Kamissa's "adopted daughter," and end by presenting Sogolon to King Maghan Kon Fatta.
Sogolon: ugly, humpbacked "adopted daughter" of the Buffalo Woman Do-Kamissa (in this film version), with her mother's supernatural powers; as prophesized, King Maghan marries her and she births the king's son Sundjata, destined to found the great Mali Empire.
Sundjata Keita: son of Sogolon and King Maghan Kon Fatta, destined to become a great hero and found the great Mali Empire, illustrious ancestor of Mabo Keita. But Sundjata is born "infirm," unable to walk, hexed at birth by the King's jealous first wife Sassouma Berete, and must face many ordeals and pass many tests before he can achieve his destiny.
Bella Fasseke: Sundjata's griot.
Dankaran Touman: son of Sassouma Berete and first-born son of the King of Mande.
Noumoufari, blind blacksmith, a powerful soothsayer, is consulted by the worried and aging King Maghan and his griot Doua, about the destiny of the kingdom and the unpromising Sundjata; he prepares a special iron rod that he foresees Sundjata will one day call for.
Farakourou succeeds his father blind Noumoufari as gifted blacksmith and produces the special iron rod, prepared by his father before his death, with which the young man Sundjata will try to raise himself upright.
Film Sequence and Scene Notes
by Cora Agatucci
Music at the beginning and the end of the film has this theme: "The trials and tribulations of man never end as long as he is alive" (Biny Traoré, as cited by Reinwald).
1. Opening sequence: Setting: Wagadu
Shot of Djeliba Kouyate at his home in Wagadu, sleeping in his hammock.
V.O. (Voiceover narration in Jula language), as camera pans across terrain of Wagadu: “From chaos a new world is born. The darkness and obscurity of pre-life had just been dissipated. Wagadu was the theater of the first reunion of all the creatures of the universe [from Mande creation belief]. “In those days no one commanded men. A man Maghan Kon Fatta arose and spoke to all the others: ‘The world cannot go on this way. I wish to be your king. Do you agree?’ [shot of termites]
“They all replied together: ‘Konate’ (trans. as “No one hates you.”) “Immediately Maghan Kon Fatta took Konate for his name and proclaimed himself King of Mande.” End of V.O.
Note: “Konate” is the clan name of Sundjata and his father’s family. Maghan Kon Fatta Konate--AKA: Naré Fa Maghan—is credited with bringing barika, or law and progress, to human society. He is descended from Islamic Prophet Mohammed. His future son will prove to be Sundjata Keita, who was at least nominally a Muslim. From his father’s legacy, Sundjata will draw upon the spiritual power of barakah (Islamic concept of “grace).
2. Djeliba Kouyate wakes & goes to the Town to Carry Out His Mission
Shot of Djeliba Kouyate still sleeping. [Note: “jeli” means bard or griot; “djeliba” means something like Great Griot.] Hunter of Do passes his whisk across Djeliba’s face. Djeliba awakes, gets up, and prepares to leave. Djeliba addresses a woman ("Mamon"--his wife) before he goes [Note that Djeliba always speaks in Jula, his native African tongue]: “Mamon, tell my friend Diawara that I am on my way.” Djeliba tells her to see Diawara if she needs anything while he is gone. Mamon asks where he is going, but Djeliba only says, “I will return…soon,” they exchange goodbyes, and he sets off walking.
Transition Shot Sequence: Djeliba’s long journey from Wagadu to the City. Shots of Djeliba walking, boarding a boat on the Niger River and being rowed away, walking beside a modern highway as a bus passes him. His arrival in the city is signaled by a traffic scene of cars and bikes and a jostling marketplace.
3. The Keitas’ Home in the City
A young boy, Mabo Keita, sits reading aloud from a school book in French: “Our ancestors looked like gorillas, their intelligence was not developed. Nowadays man have evolved to become homo sapiens, which is more intelligent.” The reading lesson is interrupted.
Cut to: Djeliba Kouyate arrives and comes into the gate of the Keita family compound.
[Mabo is here studying the modern “Western scientific creation myth”: Darwin’s theory of evolution and a universe ruled by chance and the “survival of the fittest. In contrast, the traditional Mande creation story of Wagadu asserts the belief that human history is suffused with purpose and every person has a particular destiny within it. [See also Mande Heroes below.] The film thus juxtaposes and contrasts Djeliba’s traditional teachings with the Eurocentric teachings of Mabo’s Westernized education.]
Djeliba greets Mabo in Jula language.
Mabo asks, “Do you know me?”
Djeliba replies, “Of course.”
Djeliba asks Mabo to tell his parents that he is there, but they are still sleeping so he doesn’t interrupt them. Djeliba strings up his hammock to a shade tree in the compound, telling Mabo that he is from Wagadu. Mabo says that he has never heard of it.
Djeliba replies that he is “not surprised.” Djeliba explains that Wagadu “is where the world began,” the place where “one day your ancestor rose up to command men.”
Mabo is surprised: “My ancestor? What ancestor?”
Djeliba: “What ancestor!” a bit indignant at Mabo’s ignorance of his own family history, “Your ancestor Maghan Kon Fatta Konate.”
Mabo’s mother, speaking in French, calls Mabo to go to school. Mabo, also speaking in French to her, excitedly announces the arrival of the “incredible” old man who “knows my ancestor.”
Djeliba politely greets Mabo’s mother, calling her “Orange Blossom” and relating her husband Boicar’s praise of her beauty. Mabo’s mother, Mrs. Keita, whose given name is Sitan, politely greets Djeliba and asks him to stay inside the house. However, Djeliba says he prefers to stay outside in the open air. He accepts water from her.
Cut to Mabo’s school: The teacher drills the students in military-like formations outside the classroom: instruction is conducted in French. Mabo arrives a bit late and takes his place in line; then the children file into the classroom.
Cut back to the Keita home: Mabo’s father Boicar Keita has awakened and is greeting Djeliba, using Jula language. Boicar gingerly greets and politely questions Djeliba on the purpose of his visit, since Boicar knows how much Djeliba dislikes the city. Djeliba assures Boicar that he comes “in peace” and “all is well,” but that he has come “on a mission.” When Boicar asks what the mission is, Djeliba defers the answer until later, for Boicar must go to work.
Transition shot sequence shows Boicar stopped in noisy, honking town traffic, the driver behind him getting from his car and yelling profanities in French, at the delay.
Cut to Mabo’s school: The class is doing math problems. When called upon, Mabo goes to the board and does the problem correctly and easily, and the teacher compliments him. At the bell, Mabo is eager to return home.
Cut to the Keita home: Mabo greets his mother in French, and explains they have studied “biology and calculation” in school that day.
Mabo then wakes Djeliba sleeping in his hammock after his long journey. [They speak to each other in Jula language.] Mabo is eager to hear the story of his ancestor, and Djeliba is “pleased” that Mabo is “curious.” Djeliba says he will explain why Mabo is “Keita,” but that he “can’t do it in a day or a year. It could take a lifetime. . . . Listen carefully.” [Mabo will thus embark on a quest to understand his history and his destiny, which will parallel the quest of his ancestor Sundjata.]
4. The Story – Episode 1: Sometime in the past, ca. 13th century
Djeliba: “Everything started with a poor antelope. Drought ruled the country. The antelope searched in vain for a waterhole when a long came a hunter. Do you follow me?” Mabo assents. Djeliba continues: “This day your ancestor Maghan Kon Fatta was resting in the court of his palace."
Mabo: “Is he a king?”
Djeliba: “A great king. The King of Mande. All his court was there . . .”
Cut to dramatized past of the Sundjata story
King Maghan Kon Fatta and his court sit in the shade of the open air palace.
Djeliba now heard narrating the story in voiceover (V.O.) “His beautiful wife Sassouma Berete was by his side.”
A courtier plays an African lute. [Djeliba’s V.O. fades.] The Hunter of Do approaches the palace and comes before the king:
Hunter of Do: “Honor to you, King of Mande and to all your court. I have killed an antelope on your land. According to your customs, here is your share with all my respects.”
King Maghan Kon Fatta accepts the offering with thanks: “You have respected our customs. We are very touched by this in Mande. . . . The true hunters of Do are rare. If you wish, we shall learn a lot from you.” The King lays out a stiffened skin before the hunter.
Hunter of Do: “I am not a hunter whose tongue is more agile than his arm. Thanks to the lessons of my master, I shall consult the cowries for you.” The Hunter of Do will divine the future with the cowries, which he takes from a pouch and rolls on the skin. “Hum . . . (a long pause). The world is mysterious, full of secrets. A giant tree grows from grains. This is true of kingdoms.” The King and court nod at the wisdom in these proverbial words. “A young woman arrives at your home. . . . Ah! Good Lord!” The hunter seems reluctant to continue.
King: “Hunter, your language is obscure. Make it clear.”
Hunter, slow to respond: “I see her. How ugly she is! Griot, tell the king that he should marry her.” [Close up on the face and reaction of the King’s wife Sassouma Berete.] “She will bear the son that will inherit Mande. Well, then, with your permission, I’m only a passer-by. I shall continue on my way.” The Hunter of Do leaves.
Doua, the king’s griot: “I don’t believe this hunter. He is mocking the destiny of the kingdom. I suspect a lie.”
King: “It’s possible. But let us be on our guard. The same truth can have several versions.”
V.O. Mabo: “The king was sad?”
V.O. Djeliba: “Yes, and very preoccupied.”
5. Cut back to Keita home in Present time
Mabo: “Because of the nasty woman?”
Djeliba: “Not that only.”
Mabo: “He only had to refuse.”
Djeliba: “He couldn’t. A king does not always do what pleases him. The word of the cowries is irreversible.”
A car door slamming draws Mabo’s attention. Boicar, Mabo’s father home from work, enters the compound and greets them. Djeliba happily announces that he and “the boy understand each other.” They are called in to dinner, but Mabo resists, wanting more of the story.
Djeliba defers, encouraging Mabo to go to dinner: “An empty belly has no ear,” says Djeliba, citing a Mande proverb.
Sitan, Mabo’s mother, apologizes to Djeliba for serving “a white meal” for dinner: it is spaghetti, a word Djeliba has trouble pronouncing. He calls it “sapaki” and is clearly not used to eating Western food with Western silverware. Sitan promises to serve a meal to Djeliba’s taste tomorrow night. Djeliba struggles with the Western fork and spoon, gives up, asks for water so that he can eat with his hands, a way more natural to him.
Mabo tries to continue the discussion of his ancestor at the dinner table: “Djeliba, why does history still not explain my name?”
Sitan: “Be quiet and eat!”
Djeliba, conciliatory: “Eat . . . .you can’t run and scratch your foot at the same time,” citing another Mande proverb. Finishing his “sapaki,” Djeliba burps unaffectedly, and Mabo’s parents share a grin.
Boicar again entreats Djeliba to sleep inside. Djeliba politely but firmly refuses. Djeliba then announces the nature of his “mission.” Djeliba has come to “do my duty. Mabo must know his history. I come here for that.”
Boicar: “That suits us.”
Djeliba: “Just as well. . . . Now I shall pray.” Djeliba leaves Mabo’s parents.
Mabo’s mother is upset, and begins to berate Boicar: “He’s come to initiate Mabo. Is that all right?”
Boicar: “What do you have against that?”
Sitan: “Mabo is taking exams. He shouldn’t be disturbed. You know that.”
Boicar shakes his head and leaves her. Shot of Boicar lying awake in bed. Sitan goes in to check on her sleeping son. As she returns to their bedroom, Boicar quickly turns over and pretends to be sleeping. Sitan lies down beside him, also wakeful. Cut to a shot of Djeliba, outside in his hammock, sleeping peacefully.
6. The next day
Boicar and Sitan emerge from the house all dressed up, ready to go to a wedding. Djeliba declines to go with them, saying he is still tired from his journey and, since Mabo isn’t going to school, he can keep him company.
After Mabo’s parents leave, Mabo asks Djeliba why he didn’t eat bread and butter with them. Djeliba explains that he prefers to eat “pap,” an indigenous food. A young woman arrives and greets the “old man” and Mabo. Mabo introduces Bintou, the Keitas’ houseservant, and gives Bintou his mother’s instructions to make a peanut sauce. Mabo explains to Djeliba that Bintou does the kitchen work and “everything”—all the housework. His mother only cooks when Bintou is sick.
Djeliba: “The world has changed. . . . In the old days, when a woman didn’t know how to do housework, she didn’t find a husband. But your mother is marvelous,” Djeliba reassures Mabo.
Mabo is eager to return to the story of “my ancestor. . . . Did he marry the ugly woman?”
Djeliba: “Of course. But you skipped an episode,” and questions Mabo, who remembers well the Hunter of Do. It is in the land of Do that the story recommences.
7. The Story, Episode #2 (sometime in the Past, ca. 13th century)
Djeliba: “In those days an angry and very fiery buffalo terrorized the whole land of Do” causing panic, killing 10 hunters a day. “No one dared go out,” so the crops dried up, and “famine and fear ruled the country. All who affronted him [the buffalo] were killed.”
Cut to the dramatized Past; Djeliba continues narrating the story in V.O.
Then two hunters, brothers from Mande, decided to end “the buffalo’s tyranny.” The older brother entreats his younger brother to stop. They’ve been hunting for 3 days with no result and he’s exhausted. However, the younger brother encourages his elder brother to “take heart.” Yet they do rest under a tree, and the younger brother vows to cut off the buffalo’s tail after they’ve killed him. Resting under the tree, the call of a turtle dove is heard and both brothers are immediately alert and listening: “The turtle dove speaks.”
V.O. Mabo: “Does the turtle dove speak?”
V.O. Djeliba: “Of course, Mabo, she is speaking. But only the initiated can understand.”
The younger hunter says they must go on: “the road is long.” The hunters come to a river and refresh themselves—then they hear the turtle dove call—“speak”—again.
Hunter: “There she is without a doubt. According to the turtle dove, she alone knows the buffalo’s secret.” Shot of a big woman bent over washing in the river. A brother remarks, “She seems strange to me”
Younger brother: “Hello, mother! Can we help you?”
Woman, surly: “Go away. I don’t need you.” She places her bowl on her head, walks out of the water, and goes to sit under a shade tree.
Younger brother: “We must follow her. There is no choice.”
Elder brother: “But she’s too wild!”
Younger brother: “Big brother, let’s follow her all the same.” The two hunters go and sit by her, and address her once again as “mother.”
Woman, surly: “You are not my children. I’m not your mother.”
Younger hunter: “Permit us to call you mother. You merit our respect.”
Woman: “What can you do for me? Who are you?"
Hunter: “We are of Mande"
Woman: “What are you looking for?”
The hunters respond by offering her first smoked meat, then Mande beer, then tobacco—all of which she takes roughly and without thanks.
Then she states: “You want to kill the buffalo. Isn’t that the idea? I, Do-Kamissa, know everything. But nobody can kill this buffalo. I am the buffalo!” [Do-Kamissa is the Buffalo Woman of Do: she is the mother of Sogolon and the grandmother of Sundjata Keita]. The hunters react with alarm on learning she is the buffalo, but the woman, Do-Kamissa, calms them.
Do Kamissa: “Some hunters already have failed. I’ve killed several, and wounded 77. Everything has its end. My time has come. I surrender my life to you but on one condition: when you have killed the buffalo, my nephew Do-Samo will want to reward you. Say that you want a woman. He will summon all the maidens and unmarried women. You will choose one. The ugliest, my adopted daughter. She is called Sogolon. She must bring a son into the world who will impose himself on all the savannah.”
Do Kamissa, addressing the younger brother: “You are the most courageous. Behind the big bush, there is a distaff, a stone, and an egg. You will aim at me three times, my body will tremble. I will follow you. Then you will throw these elements one by one behind you. Now give me your word.”
Hunters: “We give it to you.”
Do Kamissa: “Leave, my children, may God protect you.” Do-Kamissa leaves the hunters.
V.O. Mabo asks why they would throw the elements.
V.O. Dejliba: “It is so.”
8. Cut back to Keitas’ home in the Present
Mabo: “Why is it so?”
Djeliba: “Be patient. You’ll know everything.”
The Wedding Party:
Shot of drummers entertaining at the wedding party. Dancers move in and out of the shot. Boicar is sitting with the bridegroom and other men, telling them he must leave early in the celebration because “a stranger” waits for him at home. One of the men comments that Boicar is becoming “enigmatic these days.” Boicar congratulates the new husband and takes his leave. Cut to the women and Sitan, who is called away by her husband. The women question why she leaves the party so soon, but Sitan explains there is “a stranger” in their home and they must go. A female praise-singer follows Boicar, creating a song of him [which is not translated]. At the end of her song Boicar responds by giving her a gift [a bill].
The Keitas’ home: Boicar and Sitan return home, exchange greetings with Djeliba, who asks about the wedding. Sitan is miffed and calls Mabo into the house. Djeliba shows no resentment, kindly encouraging Mabo to obey. Inside, his mother questions Mabo about whether he’s learned his lessons yet. Mabo must confess he hasn’t and hangs his head when Sitan asks why, angrily. Boicar interrupts, saying they will eat now and telling Mabo to go get Djeliba.
Mabo’s school: A history lesson is in progress—Western history. [Note that African history is not being taught in this Westernized school. Critics have pointed out that Keita makes the case for an "Afrocentric" education, where African tradition, not an imported Western curricula is the necessary starting point for African development.]
The teacher asks, “When was America discovered?” and many students raise their hands, snapping their fingers, eager to be called on for the answer. The teacher calls on one, who responds correctly, and then moves on to other questions about America and then France. The camera pans forward to show Mabo, who is not paying attention, dreamily in his own world. The teacher detects Mabo’s inattention and calls on him. Mabo must confess he doesn’t even know the question being asked. The teacher reprimands Mabo sharply for “dreaming,” and makes him go to the front of the room, get on his knees facing the wall, and place his hands on his head.
The Keita’s home:
Cut to Djeliba hands behind his head lost in thought in his hammock. Inside, the parents are arguing about Djeliba again.
Sitan complains that Djeliba “totally dominates you both, Mabo and you.”
In the midst of this, the teacher and Mabo arrive. The teacher greets the “Old man,” while Djeliba responds, “Hello, my son.” The teacher and Mabo go inside to speak with the parents [the conversation is conducted in French]. Mr. Fofano, the teacher, is greeted and politely asked why he has come. Mr. Fofano explains that Mabo spends his time “dreaming and doesn’t learn his lessons any more,” no longer interested in them.
Sitan blames Djeliba, explaining to Mr. Fofano that the “Old man came from the village to initiate Mabo” and now “Mabo only lives for that story.”
Mr Fofano feels she is right to be concerned, and tells “Mr Keita, Mabo has really changed.”
Boicar is defensive: “Djeliba Kouyate is the griot of my father . . . and my grandfather. For centuries the Kouyates have been the griots of the Keitas.” [Thus we learn that the Kouyates have always served as the Keitas' griots or bards--jeli--belonging to a discrete Mandi caste or endogamous—meaning inherited to the family--occupational group, who alone perform certain types of poetry and divination.]
Sitan laughs at her husband: “Times have changed.”
She and the teacher decide that the solution would be to allow Djeliba to continue the initiation during the school vacation, after Mabo has taken his exams. But Boicar objects that Djeliba will not understand this delay, nor do the teacher and Sitan understand Djeliba: “He has a mission to accomplish.” Mr Fofano suggests that Boicar himself teacher Mabo the story, since it is Mr. Keita’s story too.
Boicar sarcastically responds, “Since you don’t know, this is the griot’s function.”
Sitan, also angry: “Boicar, stop insulting people. We are not ignorant. We all have a story that we love. But that’s not the problem. It’s Mabo.”
Mr. Fofano grows impatient with this domestic dispute.
Boicar challenges him: “I’ve been clear with you . . . If Djeliba disturbs you, tell him to go away yourself.”
Mr. Fofano has had enough and takes his leave. Shot of Mabo, present during this discussion, looking down, saying nothing. Mr. Fofano walks out past Djeliba without leavetaking, but Djeliba stops him with his own polite goodbye.
9. The Story, Episode #3 (sometime in the Past)
Cut to the two Mande hunters running:
V.O.Djeliba, continuing the story: “The buffalo charged the hunters. The hunters fled.” Sound of the buffalo’s roar in hot pursuit. “At the approach of the buffalo, the younger brother threw the distaff which became a field of palm-trees.”
Jump cut: Scene abruptly changes to a field of palm-trees. The hunters hide, but when they hear the approaching buffalo’s roar again, they begin to run once more.
V.O. Djeliba: “The younger brother threw the stone. They found themselves on a mountain of rocks. The buffalo stayed below.” The hunters stop to catch their breath. Too soon, however, the buffalo roars, gaining on them again, and they scramble up the rocks.
V.O. Djeliba: “He threw the egg. Yes, the egg became a great muddy swamp. The buffalo sank in it. He could no longer move. He slowly became a human being.” Shot of Do-Kamissa, the buffalo-woman, floundering in the swamp. The younger brother crouches, aims his bow and arrow, and shoots Do-Kamissa in the breast. She falls and dies.
V.O. Djeliba: “Yes, a natural death.”
Cut to the village of Do-Samo, Do-Kamissa’s nephew.
Many people have gathered to hear Do-Sama.
Do-Samo: “The buffalo is dead! My aunt Do-Kamissa is dead. Here’s his tail! Here’s the man who has freed us.” A drummer beats the message and the people cheer. The younger Mande hunter comes forward. “Ask what you desire.”
Younger hunter: “Only one thing. Yes, we only want a maiden of Do.”
Do-Samo: “Is that all?” Then he orders that all the most beautiful maidens and unmarried women be assembled so the Mande hunter can make his choice. The drummer beats the announcement, and the maidens and unmarried women of Do are assembled , the most beautiful selected out to stand before the Mande hunters.
V.O Djeliba reports that these beauties “shone like stars.” The younger hunter looks among them, then goes behind the assembled line to a seated woman, wrapped fully in white garment. The hunter asks her her name.
She replies, “Sogolon. They call me Sogolon, the ugly one.”
The Mande hunters choose Sogolon, as they had promised Do-Kamissa, the buffalo-woman, and refuse to ask for anything else of her her nephew Do-Samo. They thank him and lead Sogolon, a hunch back, away.
Cut to Sogolon and the two Mande hunters walking.
Younger hunter: “Sogolon, the King has betrayed your mother.”
Sogolon: “And you have killed her.”
Elder brother: “We didn’t kill her. We helped her die.”
Younger brother: “Come on, the road is long.”
The three find an uninhabited hut and stop for the night. Sogolon enters the hut. The two hunters then argue about which will go in to keep their promise to Do-Kamissa and “give her a child.” [Note: They have misunderstood the Buffalo Woman Do-Kamissa on this point and the hunters do not know of the cowries’ prediction. It is not the Mande hunters, but the Mande king Maghan Kon Fatta Konate who will give Sogolon a child: This child will become the future founder of the Mali Empire, Sunjata Keita.]
The younger brother argues that the elder should go for he should “marry first.” And he very reluctantly agrees, “in the name of the ancestral customs.” But from inside the hut we hear Sogolon laugh wickedly, then a buffalo roar shakes the hut. Sogolon curses and repulses the elder brother. He comes running out, exclaiming: “It’s a buffalo!”
[Note: Sogolon, like her mother, is a shape-changer. The powers of Sogolon and her mother Do-Kamissa (the Buffalo Woman of Do) are those of nyama, occult powers in traditional African belief. Their supernatural power to turn into ferocious animal “doubles” manifests the potentially disruptive and destructive effect on human society of nyama. From his grandmother the Buffalo Woman of Do, and from his mother Sogolon, Sundjata will inherit nyama and become a master of occult magic and enchantment.]
The younger brother then enters the hut and makes his attempt to give Sogolon a child, but with no more success. He emerges, exclaiming, “It’s a porcupine. She has needles!” After more arguing, the brothers decide to take Sogolon to the King of Mande.
10. Cut to Keita home and the Present time
Mabo: “Your two hunters are worthless.”
Djeliba: “Not worthless. It’s the way things go. No matter how strong you are, you’ll always find stronger than you.”
Cut to shot of Sitan, reading the paper, then listening to their conversation.
V.O. Mabo: “They are going to bring her to my ancestor?”
Djeliba: “The cowries predicted it, didn’t they?”
Djeliba says they’ll stop now for it’s time to pray. He then addresses Mabo’s parents: “I always pray alone. Will you accompany me today?”
Sitan doesn’t respond, but Boicar agrees to pray with Djeliba. But first he must find his prayer rug—clearly he hasn’t used it in a long time and is not devout. Sitan is amused when he asks her where it is, responding: “If it exists, go and look for it.”
Shot of two men with a donkey cart hauling a refrigerator.
Mabo announces that he is going to school.
Shot of Mabo enroute to school: He sees a bird of prey on a lamppost, which then flies away. Point of view close up of Mabo looking thoughtfully at the flying bird..
The Keita home
Mabo returns early from school telling Djeliba, then his mother, that the teacher is ill. Sitan is skeptical, promises to check whether this is really true. Released, Mabo eagerly rejoins Djeliba and asks him to continue the story.
Mabo: “Did my ancestor marry the ugly woman?”
Djeliba: “Of course. The cowries never lie.”
Mabo: “And the marriage?”
Djeliba: “Grandiose, royal! The king showed great generosity.”
11. The Story, Episode #4 (sometime in the Past)
Shot of women preparing Sogolon for her wedding.
V.O. Djeliba: “Before the wedding, the King’s sisters prepared the bride.”
The king’s 3 sisters are rubbing Sogolon with oils and giving her advice for the wedding night amid laughter:
“In bed be as sweet as honey. When a donkey tastes honey, he won’t eat anything else.”
“Be as sweet as honey but as hot as pepper for all men are the same.”
“You will know joy and sadness, but always keep a smile on your face. Don’t be afraid, it doesn’t hurt.”
Medium shot of Sogolon, looking glum.
Cut to Mabo and Djeliba in present.
When Mabo asks why they are laughing, Djeliba says, “They are happy,” but demurs on Mabo’s further questioning about “things in life you will understand later.” Djeliba continues the story: “Evening came. The sun hid itself behind the black hill.”
Cut back to past:
Early evening and wedding procession leading Sogolon to the King.
Drummers lead the singing women forward to the palace. A man appears, lifts Sogolon, and carries her inside.
V.O. Djeliba: “All started well. But by nightfall, the king ran up against resistance. He fought with Sogolon until sunrise. Sogolon invoked all her doubles to keep the king from possessing her. She transformed herself into a porcupine. The king transformed himself into a lion. She became a panther, then a buffalo. The king used all his powers but in vain. For 7 months the battle continued every night until the king was exhausted.”
Shot of King and Doua, his griot sitting in the dark. The king declares that his last attempt has been another “fiasco. What a shame. Better to die.” Doua declares that he has “a solution” and whispers it in the king’s ear.
V.O. Djeliba: “Doua was truly a great griot. Follow closely, he just found the solution which will decide the destiny of the kingdom.”
Shot of king entering Sogolon’s bedroom.
King: “Sogolon, the sand has spoken to me. Fate has led you to me. The blood of the virgin must flow. This will be an offering for the kingdom. Stand up. I shall cut off your head.”
Sogolon, affrighted, pleads with him not to kill her: “Pity, pity.” The king draws his sword, Sogolon screams, then crumples in a faint. The king turns the unconscious Sogolon and prepares to have intercourse with her.
Cut to Mabo and Djeliba in present
Mabo: “Was that the griot’s solution?”
Djeliba: “Yes, that was the griot’s advice. There were no other solutions. To chase Sogolon’s doubles, she had to faint. (pause) Sogolon was pregnant. After the first month she was enormous already. After the 6th, she was as big as a buffalo. After the 9th, she couldn’t stand upright. After the 12th, she couldn’t pass through the door. After the 15th…"
Mabo: “Wait, Djeliba. Pregnancies last 9 months.”
Djeliba: “Is it your teacher who said that? . . . Well, Sogolon’s pregnancy did last 18 months. Some even say 7 years. But there are several sorts of truth. In the 18th month, the inevitable happened. The child cried out from the womb, ‘Mother, my time has come, I’m ready to come out.’”
Cut to Past
Sogolon in labor, screaming and crying in pain, attended by a midwife. A cock crows. The king and his griot, playing a lute, wait outside. A newborn’s cries are heard.
Elsewhere nearby, Sassouma Berete, the king’s first wife, and her son Dankaran Touman, are also listening outside Sogolon’s room.
The camera pans across the skies, thunder cracks, rain falls as Sogolon’s cries continue.
A woman emerges from the birth room and announces: “Sogolon has offered us a boy.” The message is spread by drummers and horns from the clifftops. The Hunter of Do again mysteriously appears and approaches the king.
Hunter of Do: “Honor to you, King of Mande.”
King: “Greetings, Master Hunter. This is your second visit here, do you come in peace?”
Hunter: “I come to pay obeisance to the newborn prodigy. The future King of Mande. Well, with your permission, I’m just passing through, I’ll go.” The Hunter of Do leaves.
King, troubled: “Doua, my eldest son, Dankaran Touman, cannot be disinherited.”
Doua, the king’s griot: “Men are like trees. The tall trees protect the shrubs.”
King: “According to our laws, the eldest is the natural heir.”
Doua: “Laws change, but predictions never change.”
Cut to women pounding grain, chanting and talking among themselves as they work:
“Do you know the news?…The child has an enormous head! His eyes are like red-hot coals.”
“He is fat and tall with a lot of teeth.”
“He spoke in his mother’s womb!”
“He is named Sundjata!”
“It’s fabulous…really amazing.”
12. Cut to Keita home and the Present time
Djeliba: “It was then that Queen Sassouma Berete became more and more jealous and unpleasant. For all the rumors pointed toward Sundjata as heir to the detriment of her son Dankaran Touman.”
Mabo’s teacher Mr. Fofano interrupts Mabo and Djeliba.
Djeliba: “I was waiting for you. I know why you are here. You want to know why I keep Mabo here. Is that right?”
Mr. Fofano says, no, he knows that, but needs to talk to Djeliba. Djeliba then asks the teacher his name.
Mr. Fofano: “Drissa Fofano.”
Djeliba: “That’s a nice name. Do you know what it means?”
Mr. Fofano: “No.”
Djeliba: “Pity you don’t know. What can you teach to children without knowing your own origin?”
Mr. Fofano: “I don’t have a griot in my service.”
Djeliba: “The griots are in the service of everyone. You should know this. They work for everybody. If you wish I can explain your origin.” But Mr. Fofano brushes this offer by, and emphasizes that he wishes to come to an “agreement” with Djeliba about Mabo.
Djeliba: “Then I will listen to you. But first it is you who will listen to me. There are 124,000 beings between the sky and the earth, who breathe like you and me. Of all these 124,000 beings I am only ignorant of two things: sheep and sorghum. So don’t tell Mabo any more that his ancestor was a gorilla! He was a king! Maghan Kon Fatta Konate, King of Mande.”
Mr. Fofano: “Ok, but if Mabo wrote this on his examination, he would fail. For your knowledge and mine are different.”
Djeliba: “My son, knowledge is heavy with sense. Knowledge is ungraspable, complex. It might be in the breath of ancestors, in millet, in sand. It passes from spirit to man, from the man to the spirit…”
Mr Fofano: “I ask you one thing: come back during the vacation. You will have Mabo more at your disposal.”
Djeliba: “Teach your things during the vacation and leave him to me now. I’ve soon finished. I’ll return him to you afterwards. I wish you a long life.”
Mr Fofano: “I don’t determine the school calendar!”
Djeliba: “Who determines it then?
Mr Fofano, exasperated: “Shit, you can’t get anything out of this old man. [To Djeliba.] The government!”
Djeliba: “What’s that?”
Mr. Fofano: “The leaders of the country! It is they who decide!”
Djeliba: “In that case, I have nothing to do with you, if you don’t determine anything. Bring them here….[in response to the teacher’s angry shock] yes, if you can. I am here, I am waiting for them.”
Mr Fofano, giving up: “It’s really a pity for Mabo” The teacher leaves, shaking his head.
Djeliba (to Mabo): “What’s wrong with you?”
Mabo: “I don’t want to return to school. The master is angry.”
Djeliba: “Lift your head, look at that bird up in the sky, it’s my totem. [Shot of the same the bird in flight that Mabo had earlier encountered on the way to school.] “He has promised me that he will watch over you.”
Mabo: “Is that true?”
13. The Story continues, Episode #5 (Mabo is now the storyteller)
Mabo is sitting under a great tree with two of his schoolmates, telling them the story of Sundjata. [NOTE: Throughout the boys speak to each other in French, whereas the characters speaking in the Past use the native African language Jula.]
Mabo: “Sundjata was born infirm. At 5 years, he still couldn’t walk. He crawled like a crocodile.” The boys chuckle.
Cut to the Past: the crippled boy Sundjata sits beside food bowls, eating.
V.O. Mabo: “All he did was eat. He was very greedy. He never spoke. Nobody played with him for he bashed his friends with his muscular arms.” Sundjata crawls out of his compound, while Sassouma Berete, the king’s first wife, watches from the wall. She calls to her maidservant.
Sassouma Berete: “Kani . . .my faithful servant, come and see this monstrous child. My misgivings are vanishing. This time the soothsayers have all lied. This little reptile will crawl all his life.” Sundjata stops and listens to them.
Kani: “Have no care, queen of queens, the ugly humpback will get out of here the same way she came.” Shot of Sogolon emerging from her hut. “Her little monster will crawl on the ground all of his life.”
Sogolon, sharply, disturbed by the watching women: “'Djata!” Her son Sundjata turns to her. “Didn’t I forbid you to go out!” Sundjata hangs his head. “Stay put,” his mother commands.
But Sundjata does not obey. After his mother goes back in, he crawls outside the compound to where several boys are playing a game. The boys taunt Sundjata.
“The infirm prince is here. Chase him.”
“What prince? It’s a worm.”
“Serpant! Caterpillar, go away!”
Angrily, Sundjata grabs one of the boys by the feet and struggles with him. The boys gang up on the crippled prince, beating and taunting him.
Cut to present: 3 abandoned school packs lay at the foot of the tree.
The camera pans up the tree to find Mabo and his two friends sitting up in the tree.
Mabo: “Ten years later, Sundjata still couldn’t walk. The king’s wife, Sassouma was extremely pleased.”
Cut back to past: Sassouma’s hut, where she and her children are resting.
Daughter: “Mama, you detest Sundjata. He’s adorable!”
Sassouma: “Go away, imbecile! You admire our enemies.”
Daughter: “Mother, Sundjata is not an enemy. He likes us. Dankaran Touman (she calls on her sleeping brother), Isn’t it true!”
Dankaran Touman: “Yes, it’s true.”
Sassouma: “Cursed children, I fight for you and you betray me.”
V.O. Mabo: “The first wife of my ancestor was sitting in her hut with the children.
Cut to present: Mabo and his audience in the tree.
Mabo: “Nana Triban, his daughter, and Dankaran Touman, the legitimate heir.”
Schoolboy #1: “Legitimate heir? How’s that?”
Mabo: “Why, yes, since he was the eldest son.”
Schoolboy #2: “You don’t understand anything” (to Schoolboy #1). “I’ll explain. There was Dankaran Touman and Nana Triban who were Sassouma’s children. Is that clear? (To Mabo) You may continue.”
Cut back to past: Sogolon sitting in her hut with her children & half-brother Nan Boukary.
V.O. Mabo: “Sogolon didn’t lose hope. She fought for her son.”
V.O. Schoolboy #1: “Who were her children?”
V.O. Mabo: “Other children were born. 10 years have passed since. There was little Kanko, the second child of Sogolon. There was Nan Boukary, the boy. He was born to become the right hand of Sundjata.”
V.O. Schoolboy #1: “Then he was Sogolon’s third child?”
V.O. Mabo: “No, I just told you his mother died!.”
V.O. Schoolboy #1: “Oh, yes, when?”
V.O. Mabo: “It’s complicated. The king had married a girl who died. Her child was to become Sundjata’s right hand.”
V.O. Schoolboy #1: “I don’t understand your story at all.”
Shot Sequence: A child fans flames in the blacksmith’s workshop. Blacksmith’s apprentices are at work forging a rod. The king and Doua, his griot, have come to see the blind blacksmith Noumoufari, a powerful soothsayer.
Doua: “Noumoufari, you who know everything . . . . we have come to consult you. Don’t be afraid, don’t hesitate. Don’t forget anything. Tell us the future. The king is perturbed.”
King: “Noumoufari, help me. Speak.”
Noumoufari takes magic stones from a pouch and begins rubbing them together.
Noumoufari: “The world is full of mysteries. Not everything can be seen. But everything exists.”
King: “Will he walk?”
Noumoufari: “The tree grows by pushing its roots far into the earth. Men are like trees.”
Doua: “Noumoufari, be clear. Will he walk, yes or no?”
Noumoufari: “It has to be.”
Noumoufari: “Man is always in a hurry. The stones have not told me. I only speak of what they transmit to me.”
King: “I see.” Shot of the fire and the forge, a place of dangerous power.
V.O. Schoolboy: “Why did the king say, ‘I see’?”
V.O. Mabo: “I don’t know.”
Cut to Present: Mabo and the schoolboys still up in the tree.
Schoolboy: “Do you think that Sundjata will walk?”
Mabo: “Of course. The stones just said so.”
Schoolboy: “When will he walk?”
Mabo: “I don’t know. The stones didn’t say. Five years later, Sundjata was still crawling on the ground. My ancestor was about to die.”
Cut to past: The King’s deathbed, with his people sitting in vigil.
King: “My reign is coming to an end. I shall be departing soon. All the soothsayers are in agreement to make Sundjata my heir. He has not convinced me. Nonetheless, it shall be so. I leave him a great kingdom with staunch allies. The father of Doua has been the griot of my father. Doua is my griot. The son of Doua, Bella Fasseke, will be the griot of my son Sundjata. He will teach him the laws of our kingdom and the customs of our ancestors. Now, let destiny be fulfilled.”
V.O. Schoolboy: “Is he dead?”
V.O. Mabo: “Yes, he is dead.”
Cut to Present: Mabo and the schoolboys still up in the tree.
Schoolboy #2: “Did he choose Sundjata as his successor?”
Mabo: “Yes, but that didn’t work. Sundjata still couldn’t walk. The first wife imposed her son.”
Schoolboy #2: “The griot let her do all this?”
Mabo: “He died several days after the king. . . . Yes, it’s like that. We shall jump 5 years in advance.”
14. The Story continues, Episode #6 (Mabo is still the storyteller)
Cut to past: Sassouma Berete and her women walk past seated Sundjata and his griot, Bella Fasseke, playing the lute.
Bella Fasseke assures Sundjata: “Don’t worry, it’s you the future King of Mande.”
Outside her hut, Sassouma and her son Dankaran Touman sit in conversation.
Dankaran Touman: “Mother, my father preferred Sundjata.”
Sassouma: “His griot manipulated him. Now it’s finished.”
Dankaran: ”I don’t have a griot. Without Bella Fasseke, I shall never be able to reign.”
Sassouma: “Don’t worry. I have a solution.”
Sogolon approaches them with an empty basket in hand.
Sogolon: “I’d like some baobab leaves for my sauce.”
Sassouma rises and goes in her hut, returning with a basket full of baobab leaves, which she throws all over Sogolon.
Sassouma: “Here, I never run out of them. I’ve always got plenty of them. My 7-year-old son procured them for me. Yours should do the same instead of continually crawling.”
Sogolon is deeply insulted and turns away. Dankaran Touman asks his mother Sassouma why she did that to Sogolon. Sogolon rushes to her son Sundjara and his griot Bella Fasseke.
Sogolon, tearfully: “What have I done that is bad? Because of you, I have just been shamed!” When Sundjara asks her what is wrong, she replies: “You should have died rather than provoke my shame.” Further pressed, Sogolon cries out: “Sassouma just insulted me for a question of baobab leaves. . . . I can’t take it anymore. I’m tired.”
Sundjata, with new resolve: “Console yourself. I’ll satisfy you. Bella, ask the blacksmith to prepare a very solid iron rod.” Bella leaves to pursue Sundjata’s command.
V.O. Schoolboy #2: “Did he go to the workshop of the old blind blacksmith?”
Cut to the blind blacksmith’s workshop.
V.O. Schoolboy #2: “Where is the old blind blacksmith?”
V.O. Mabo: “He’s dead. His son Farakourou has replaced him. He’s as gifted as his father.”
V.O. Schoolboy #1: “It’s only dead people in this story. When are we going back to school?”
Bella Fasseke enters the blacksmith’s workshop.
Farakourou: “Don’t say anything, Bella Fasseke. It’s not necessary. I know why you are here. The great day has finally come. I have already taken out the rod. My father made it before he died. Go! My apprentices are bringing it.”
Cut to Sundjata crawling out into the middle of the compound. His sister tries to comfort Sogolon. Three of Farakourou’s apprentices arrive carrying a great heavy iron rod. All look on.
Bella Fasseke: “The great day has arrived! Get up buffalo, son of Sogolon. The stain can be cleaned, but not the insult. Get up, bellow and impose yourself!”
Encouraged by his griot, Sundjata crawls forward to the iron rod, raises the rod upright, and begins to raise himself upon it. His sister and Sogolon watch with great hope, and the crowd assembled strains forward. Midway, the great rod bows and collapses, and Sundjata collapses with it. The Hunter of Do then mysteriously appears for the third time, and approaches Sogolon.
Hunter of Do: “Bring a branch of ‘sun-sun’ to your son. He will know what to do with it.”
Sogolon follows his instructions, bringing a staff of ‘sun-sun’ to Sundjata. Drumming begins. Sundjata slowly raises himself upon the branch and stands triumphantly.
Bella Fasseke: “Men of Mande! Women of Mande! Sundjata walks!”
Sassouma Berete, alarmed, comes forward. Sogolon sings a tearful prayer to her son. Sundjata then strides away with purpose, the people following him. They come to a great baobab tree. One of the crowd calls up to the boys in the tree: “Come down, son of another. The buffalo’s son is going to act.” The boys drop from the great tree. Sundjata gives a great cry and begins to push at the trunk of the great baobab.
Cut to Present: Mabo and his audience in the tree.
Mabo explains that Sundjata went on to uproot the great baobab tree, put it on his back and carry it back to his mother Sogolon’s hut.
Schoolboy #2: “And then?”
Mabo: “I don’t know. Djeliba’s going to tell me…soon.
15. Cut to Mabo’s schoolroom
The three truant boys are being punished, while the teacher waits at his desk. Finally Schoolboy #1, who has not been very impressed with Mabo’s story, stops and approaches Mr. Fofano, confessing that “When we were with Mabo on the kapok tree . . . . he told us a story.”
The teacher with satisfaction says, “I thought so.” Mr. Fofano dismisses the other two boys and chastises Mabo for not coming to school and for leading the other boys astray as well. He gives Mabo a note to take home to his parents and suspends him from school until further notice. Mabo leaves, while Schoolboy #2, who has been caught up in the story, berates the other boy as “worthless.” Mr. Fofano assures them their parents will hear about the incident as well.
Cut to the Keita home.
Mabo returns home with the dreaded note and tells Djeliba what happened at school. He confesses that he’s afraid, but Djeliba tells Mabo not to worry.
16. The Story continues, Episode #7
Djeliba: “Sundjata has learned everything from his mother. The plants, the poisons, the best remedies, the language of the wild beasts and of the birds. From then on Sassouma Berete was very worried.”
Cut to the past: Sundjata and his “right hand” Nan Boukary.
V.O. Djeliba: “Her jealousy knew no bounds.”
Sundjata’s sister comes to tell him that his griot Bella Fasseke has been sent to the king of Sosso. Sundjata is very angry at this injustice and goes to confront his half-brother, the king Dankaran Touman and Sassouma Berete, his mother.
Sundjata: “My brother has separated me from my griot. I am giving him an ultimatum. You are witnesses,” he says to the court assembled. He addresses Dankaran Touman: “Elder brother, I want my griot back this very day. If not, I shall kill you. I’ll break your neck and your head.”
As Sundjata stalks away, Nan Boukary repeats Sundjata’s threat to Dankaran Touman, then also departs. Dankaran turns to his mother.
Dankaran Touman: “Give him back his griot. I don’t want any scandal.”
Sassouma Berete: “My son, you shame me. You are just a coward. If you are afraid of reigning, hand over the power to them. I shall go into exile to avoid dishonor.”
Dankaran Touman, stopping her: “Excuse me. I’m not afraid. I am the king, and I shall fulfill my duty.”
Sassouma: “Well said. By the way, Sundjata, his mother, and his family are expulsed from Mande for they menace the king with death,” she announces to the court.
Cut to Sundjata and his family preparing to leave Mande.
Sogolon (to Sundjata): “Have no regrets. Still your heart. Prudence bids that we leave from here. This exile is part of our destiny.” As they somberly depart, Sundjata confronts his half-brother Dankaran Touman once more.
Sundjata: “Elder brother, Dankaran Touman, out of respect for my mother, I am leaving. I am leaving, but be assured. I shall return. And on that day, come what may.”
V.O. Djeliba: “It was thus that Sundjata and his mother left Mande. Their departure was a real solace for Sassouma Berete.”
17. Cut to Present: the Keita home
Mabo: “Is that the end of the story?”
Djeliba: “Be patient. That is just the beginning of the story.”
Boicar comes in from work and greets them, then goes in the house.
Djeliba: “Do you remember everything?”
Suddenly the teacher Mr. Fofano strides into the compound followed by the other two truant schoolboys and their fathers. They barge into the house to confront Mabo’s parents. The fathers are very angry, accusing Mabo of leading their boys into delinquency and demanding that Mr. Keita keep his son in tow.
Boicar, angry, shouts at these intruders: “You are the delinquents who are aggressing me in my own home. Get out!” The men scruffle. Outside, Mabo and Djeliba listen to the uproar.
Mabo: “Djeliba, I’m in for it now.”
Djeliba: “Get up and go quickly. I am here, don’t worry.” But as they get up, Sitan, Mabo’s mother, comes outside and tearfully confronts them.
Sitan demands that Djeliba “Stop the story” and “put out the fire.”
Djeliba: “My daughter, I do not have the means. This story is like the wind. You can’t stop it.”
Sitan then appeals to Boicar to make Djeliba stop the story, but Boicar says he cannot. She then turns to Mabo asking him if he no longer wants to go to school and whether he will tell Djeliba to stop the story.
Mabo: “I want to go to school, but I want the story to continue.”
Sitan then tearfully declares she herself will leave, and refuses to be calmed. Mr Fofano, the fathers, and the boys leave. Djeliba packs up his hammock and himself prepares to leave. When Sitan comes back outside, Boicar trying to stop her, Djeliba addresses her.
Djeliba: “All right, I’m going. But first, I must speak to Mabo.” (Turns to Mabo.) “Do you know why the hunter always beats the lions in stories? It’s because it’s the hunter who tells the stories. If the lion told the stories, he would occasionally win. It’s valuable for you. Think of it and be confident in the future. Always remember that it’s an old world and that the future emerges from the past. Farewell.” Djeliba departs.
Mabo is torn, then runs out of the compound shouting, “DJELIBA!”
But when Mabo looks around outside the compound, Djeliba is nowhere to be found. Instead, the Hunter of Do mysteriously appears and stands before him.
Mabo: “What are you doing here? You were in the story.”
Hunter of Do: “I am just passing by.”
Mabo: “Where is Djeliba?”
Mabo: “Hunter, he must explain my name to me.”
Hunter: “He’s gone. He is already far away. Come, let’s go.” The Hunter and Mabo walk to a huge tree and sit beneath it.
Mabo: “Hunter, since Djeliba has gone, tell me the rest of the story.”
Hunter: “I can’t. I’m not a griot. It’s not my role. You will find other griots on your road. They can tell you the meaning of your name.”
Suddenly the Hunter of Do disappears. Mabo looks around the tree for him in vain. Then, looking up, Mabo sees Djeliba’s totem, a bird. Closing shot lingers on the bird flying overhead.
V.O. Mabo: “Bird, don’t disappear. You must help me. You promised this to Djeliba.”
Music at the beginning and the end of the film has this theme: "The trials and tribulations of man never end as long as he is alive" (Biny Traoré, as cited by Reinwald).
~~ END ~~
Mande Heroes [& Destiny]
John William Johnson offers helpful cultural background on Sundjata and Mande heroes, which I integrate into the following commentary.
A strong traditional belief in Mande cultures is that each person—including heroes—has a destiny. However, that destiny is not automatically fated to come true. The hero must correctly identify and take the right action at the right time to fulfill his appointed destiny. The wise counsel of a griot is invaluable. If the hero underestimates his abilities and lacks ambition, or overestimates command of his powers and attempts too much too soon, he may lose his chances or be consumed by the powers he has or needs in order to fulfill his destiny.
In world epics, heroes typically must face and pass a series of challenging tests and dangerous ordeals. The heroic life of Sundjata can be viewed as a series of transformations in pursuit of the power and mastery required to fulfill his destiny. Beginning as a cripple, Sundjata goes through several transformations, each gaining him more power and mastery than the last, until finally he becomes the most powerful hero in Mande traditional history and legend.
Sundjata's quest, like Mabo's, requires the successful reconciliation and integration of two types of power represented by his father and mother. His father, Maghan Kon Fatta Konate a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, has brought barika (law and progress) to human society, and the religious power of barakah (Islamic concept of “grace). But Sundjata’s material inheritance from Sogolon and the Buffalo Woman of Do is the occult spiritual powers of nyama. Sundjata must learn to master both paternal and maternal sources of power, as he seeks to gain power and fulfill his destiny. Sundjata himself, hexed at birth by his mother's co-wife, must crawl across the earth, scorned as a "reptile." A Mandi wisdom proverb explains: "The great tree must first push its roots deep into the earth" (spoken by Noumoufari, the blind blacksmith in the film). When the climactic moment arrives for Sundjata to walk erect like a man, he tries to lift himself up with a seven-forged iron rod, a product of human technology. Even this cracks beneath his strength, so the Hunter of Do reappears and instructs Sogolon to fetch a supple branch of the sun sun tree which has the nyama (occult powers) to hold Sundjata's weight. Thus, the hero must harness both human-made and supernatural powers to fulfill his heroic destiny.
The major battles described in the Sundjata epic are not great conflicts of weaponry but battles of sorcery. Later, before his great adversary Sumamuru can be defeated on the field of war at Kirina, Sundjata must learn the secret of Sumamuru’s occult powers and make counter-sacrifices to eliminate its effectiveness. Johnson explains that Sundjata’s chief adversary Sumamuru Kante was not despised in Mande cultures; his spirit is revered and worshipped today. The contrast between Sumamuru and Sundjata is not considered a question of evil versus good. Each hero has his appointed destiny to fulfill.
Heroes like Sundjata Keita are exceptional--to be admired and feared, but not necessarily to be imitated. For example, to gain the occult power a hero like Sundjata needs to fulfill his special destiny, he often has to violate his society’s taboos (e.g. though he is not the first born son of the king, he will take the kingship, "stealing" the inheritance of his elder brother, the first-born son Dankaran Touman). Only if the hero is strong enough, prepared, ready--in tune with his destiny, his opportunities, and his abilities at that stage of the fulfillment of his destiny—will he be able to gain control over the occult powers released by violating these taboos, pass these challenges successfully, transform himself and emerge even more powerful in preparation for the next step on the road to his destiny.
Wisdom Proverbs in Keita: The Heritage of the Griot
Maija Racevski, who uses African films in her high school French classes, explains, "My students enjoy proverbs, idioms, and pithy quotes," and Keita "revels in them." Racevski lists the following wisdom proverbs featured in Keita: The Heritage of the Griot (many of which are also noted in Cora's Film Notes above):
The same truth can have many versions.
An empty belly has no ears.
You cannot run and scratch your foot at the same time.
Not everything can be seen, but everything exists.
Man is always in a hurry.
Knowledge is ungraspable.
No matter how strong you are, you always find someone stronger.
The giant tree grows from a grain.
It is the hunter who always beats the lions, because it is the hunter who always tells the stories.
The future emerges from the past.
This story is like the wind; you cannot stop it.
Racevskis' Discussion questions to consider: "Are there similar proverbs in Western culture? Find some parallels . . . in English. In what details do the sayings differ? What might be the reasons for those differences?"
Johnson, John William, ed. & trans. Epic of Son-Jara: A West African Tradition. [Text as performed by griot Fa-Digi Sisoko.] 1986. African Epic Series, ed. Thomas A. Hale and John W. Johnson. Bloomington: Midland-Indiana Univ. Press, 1992.
Keita: Heritage of the Griot [French: Keita! L'héritage du griot]. Dir. Dani Kouyaté. Perf. Seydou Boro, Hamed Dicko, Abdoulaye Komboudri, and Sotigui Kouyaté. [Videotape.] Afix Productions-California Newsreel, 1995.
"Keita: The Heritage of the Griot." Library of African Cinema, California Newsreel. 11 August 2004 <http://www.newsreel.org/films/keita.htm>.
"Keita: The Heritage of the Griot: Notes for Viewing the Film." [Facilitator Guide.] Library of African Cinema, California Newsreel. 11 August 2004 <http://www.newsreel.org/guides/keita.htm>.
Racevskis, Maija. "Applications of African Cinema in the High School Curriculum: A Secondary Teacher's Views of 'Three Tales from Senegal,' 'Ca twiste a Poponguine,' 'Udju Azul di Yonta,' 'Hyenas,' and 'Keita'." Research in African Literatures, 27.3(Fall 1996): 98(12pp.). Rpt. Infotrac 2000 Expanded Academic ASAP Article A18635808.
Reinwald, Brigitte. "Film, Orality and Performance: KEITA - L'HÉRITAGE DU GRIOT by Dani Kouyate." Aug 1998 <http://www2.rz.hu-berlin.de/inside/orient/orality/13Reinwa.htm> [Formerly available but link broken, as of Jan. 2001 ~ CA].
Other Sources of Related Interest:
Sullivan, Margaret Lo Piccolo. "The Epic of Sundiata: Using African Literature in the Classroom." [Includes related article on teaching activities using the epic.] Social Education 62.4 (April-May 1998): p201(6).Note: The full text of this article is available from COCC Library through Info Trac [Article A20834337].
Abstract: 'The Epic of Sundiata' is helpful in introducing students to African culture because its entertaining story can provoke student interest. It narrates the rise of the Empire of Mali in the 13th century and how various historical events shaped the contemporary African region. The epic can be used in secondary level teaching to demonstrate how traditional African religion can exist simultaneously with Islam and extract competing loyalties from the same people."
Conrad, David C. "A Town Called Dakajalan: The Sunjata Tradition and the Question of Ancient Mali's Capital." The Journal of African History, 35.3(August 1994): p355(23). Info Trac [Article A16475707].
Conrad argues for Dakajalan as the location of ancient Mali Empire's capital.
Excerpts from Conrad's article:
"Perhaps prior to the monopolization of authority that characterized the western Sudan's imperial periods, dominant lineage heads would set themselves up in various short-term power locations. Authority would be imposed by establishing superior martial and spiritual credentials (which were virtually synonymous), thereby 'eating' the power of one local chief before moving on after a few years, at least partly according to the diviners' prognostications.(22) A familiar theme in legends of founding ancestors is that they moved from one place to another, forming marriage alliances as they went. Ancestral perambulations are also reflected in the Mande fasaw (songs for heroes), in which bards address the pre-imperial era. In the fasaw they praise the ancestors of royal lineages (mansarew) including Sunjata's, as itinerant hunters and warriors who took up the bow and quiver -- later the most essential royal symbols of Mali -- to roam the country seeking zones of power, matching themselves against rival chiefs and occult forces alike.(23)"
"There are not many points of convergence between Arabic descriptions of western sudanic cities and Mande griot references to towns of Malian kings. One reason for this is that the interests of bards recounting events of the distant past have been different from those of foreign chroniclers. The griots have usually been more interested in exalting the memories of ancestors of distinguished lineages, especially the royal ones, than in describing cities. In accurately reproduced texts related to Sunjata, references to cities and towns are largely incidental, mentioned as being in the vicinity of a memorable event, as the birthplace or settlement of a distinguished ancestor, or among the conquests of a certain hero. Specific towns are not normally associated with people or events with the consistency that will be seen applying to Dakajala…."
"On a visit to Keyla, Youssouf Tata Cisse asked the patriarch of the Diabate bards to tell him where Dakajalan was located. The elder threw his hands in the air and cried: 'This is too large for my mouth!'(113) Perhaps the man simply did not know Dakajalan's location, but the source of his emotion might well be explained by the remarks of an informant at Niani in 1918, who declared that people who violated the secret places would be killed by the spirits. This man was especially worried about white men because they do not know how to keep secrets. He goes on to say,
"‘The day the whites arrive at [the site of ancient] Mali will be the end of the world; the sacred places will be known to all the curious people, who will come to disturb the repose of the spirits; they [the spirits] will become angry then and turn over the earth, and it will be too bad for the idiot who acts as a guide’".(114)
"As a locus of activity for Mali's larger-than-life founding hero and possibly his burial site,(115) Dakajalan would be a sacred place and it appears to have been protected as such.(116) Perhaps it has been shielded from rival Malinke clans seeking the occult power that could be derived from boliw, the important ritual objects that would be even more than usually threatening were their components to include relics intimately connected with Sunjata.(117) There would have been reason to shield Dakajalan from Muslims as well -- not just pious local clerics, but nineteenth-century jihad campaigners like Alhajj 'Umar and Samory Ture who would defile objects and sites of animist ritual significance.(118) Dakajalan would also have been shielded from damage threatened by the French colonial presence, and most recently from inquiring researchers, African and non-African alike."
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