Famous across West Africa from Guinea to the Gambia, through Mali and into Burkina Faso, the heroic exploits of Sunjata -- based on events in the early thirteenth century -- are still constantly being reinterpreted in many different media.
Sunjata started life as a gluttonous and slow-witted child, but went on to become a celebrated warrior, who defeated the Susu overlords and founded the great Mali empire, which lasted two centuries. Equally crucial was the role of his sister Nene Faamaga, who seduced his archenemy Sumanguru into revealing the secret magical powers which made him invulnerable.
These stories remain central to the culture of the Mande-speaking peoples. This book brings together translations of live performances by two leading Gambian jalis (or bards). Where Banna Kanute's version is all about violent action, supernatural forces and the struggle for mastery, Bamba Suso uses far more dialogue to reveal his insight into human relationships. A map, notes and lists of characters (many of whom have several names) help non-specialists gain access to one of the major epic traditions of Africa.