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African Civilization

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The history of Africa and the Mali kingdoms is passed on to us through the oral accounts of the African griots and also through the written history of the Arab historians. Comparing the different approaches and views of the Arab historians to the African traditionalist of Sundiata, we see there are many similarities and differences between the two. With respect to the political, economic, and social aspects of the kingdoms, the epic of Sundiata portrays the Mali kingdoms through a story of a rising young king in which many of the negative aspects of society are ignored. The Arab historians describe an overall picture showing both the positive and negative aspects of being a king, a citizen, and a woman. The combination of the African traditionalist and the three Arab historian's views, all with different approaches, helps us see a clearer picture of how life was in West Africa.

In the view of the African traditionalist, the griot, Mamadou KouyatÐ"©, describes a political system based on hierarchy, each person having there specific role or niche in society. The king is amongst the most powerful roles of society, projecting authority over his land through his ability to command and the strength of his army and followers. The kings' title was passed down from his father to son, showing a patrilineal society. Sundiata's lineage started from his great-great-great grandfather Bamari Tagnogokelin. When NarÐ"© Maghan, Sundiata's father, speaks to him at a very young age, he appoints a griot to him. "In Mali every prince has his own griot." "From his mouth you will hear the history of your ancestors, you will learn the art of governing Mali according to the principles which our ancestors have bequeathed to us." "I am handing an enlarged kingdom over to you and I leave you sure allies." This excerpt shows the importance of being a king and also demonstrates the key role of griots in their society. Early on, Sundiata demonstrates his command and authority when he came to Wagadou in exile. The more Sundiata became exacting the more his servants trembled before him. King Soumaba CissÐ"© even spoke about Sundiata, "If he has a kingdom one day everything will obey him because he knows how to command." The strength of the king's army was also important in order to maintain power and control over their kingdom. This can be seen in the exchange of words between Sundiata and Soumaoro's owls declaring war on each other. "I am king of Mali by force of arms." "Then I will take Mali from you by force of arms and chase you from my kingdom." At Kouroukan Fougan, the division of the world, where all the armies and the kings along with their griots meet together, Sundiata became emperor. This festival can be compared to a political convention with different levels of rank and power and Sundiata as their elected president. The African griot also shows of one of the few examples of slavery during this meeting, when the people who opposed the king were taken as prisoners and had their heads shaved. The crowd surrounding the prisoners could were heard, "Did you have any idea that one day you would be a slave, you vile fellow!" These examples show the political importance of authority and organization of the Mali kingdoms according to the African griot, Mamoudou KouyatÐ"©.

The political systems in Africa's tribes, described by the three Arab Historians, show us the kings dominate role of authority with more harsh examples of slavery and his sanctions for disobedience. Compared to the griot's view of politics, which tends to downplay the negative attributes of the king, the Arab historians expose more of their cruelty and punishments. Al-Umari's account, gathered mostly through Egyptian officials, shows us their view of the king of Takrur. "He likes best to be called the ruler of Mali." "He rules the most extensive territory, has the most numerous army, is the braves, the richest, the most fortunate, the most victorious over his enemies, and the best able to distribute benefits." Al-Umari's view also describes a king's palace and his slave servents and gives us an example of the cruel punishment for sneezing while the king is holding court. "Whoever sneezes while the king is holding court is severely beaten and he permits nobody to do so." This same king is also known to put to death anyone who enters his abode without removing his shoes first. He has government offices, judges and scribes, but he has the ultimate rule. Similar to the African's account the king's title is passed down through his lineage, but in one town it is passed down through his mother's side. Ibn Battuta, who experienced Africa first hand on his pilgrimage, describes the men of Iwalatan. "None of them traces his descent through his father, but from his maternal uncle, and a man's heirs are the sons of his sister only, to the exclusion of his own sons." These examples of the Arab historian's view of the political system show us that although there are many roles in a society the king's is amongst the most important because he has domination and control over his kingdom.

In Sundiata, the historian's view of the economy of Mali is shown through the goods and services that the people offer. There are many different services that the kingdoms provide, ranging from merchants at the marketplace, hairdressers, blacksmiths, to the many different skills of the warrior (sofas). One example of merchants is shown when Sogolon and her family were in Mema. "Now that Sogolon had grown old it was she who did the cooking and she often went to the town market with her serving women." Another example, in Sundiata, shows us that merchants and marketplaces were present throughout many of the towns. When a search party was formed in Mali and set out in search for Sundiata, Sassouma's brother was amongst the searchers and spoke to Sogolon and her children. "It was two months since we left Mali. We went from one royal town to another posing as merchants and Magnouma offered vegetables for sale." Along with the merchants there were also other economic roles that were shown throughout this epic. The Smiths were very important to Mali, because they provided many of the weapons and protection for the warriors. "The royal forges were situated outside the walls and over a hundred smiths worked there. The bows, spears, arrows, and shields of Niani's warriors came from there." Blacksmiths were also present in other towns when Sogolon and her children took a path of exile into the town of Tabon. "The region was at that time inhabited by the Kamara blacksmiths and the DjallonkÐ"©s." The DjallonkÐ"©s were a tribe made up of clans, among



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