Friday, June 24, 2011

Sundiata’s Triumph by an anonymous writer

A record of one side of the Sumanguru’s defeat from The African Past: Chronicles from Antiquity to Modern Times by Basil Davidson.

In about the year 1240, according to tradition, the Mandingo ruler Sundiata Keita fought a crucial battle against the Sosso (Fulah) King Sumanguru, and won. This is generally accounted as the beginning of the empire of Mali. An anonymous manuscript in Arabic, recovered and translated by the late Maurice Delafosse, tells the story of this battle as popular memory recorded it long afterwards.


As Sundiata advanced with his army to meet Sumanguru, he learned that Sumanguru was also coming against him with an army prepared for battle. They met in a place called Kirina [not far from modern Koulikoro]. When Sundiata turned his eyes on the army of Sumanguru he believed they were a cloud and said: ‘What is this cloud on the eastern side?’ They told him it was the army of Sumanguru. As for Sumanguru, when he saw the army of Sundiata, he exclaimed: ‘What is that mountain of stone?’ For he thought it was a mountain. And they told him: ‘It is the army of Sundiata, which lies to the west of us.’ Then the two columns came together and fought a murderous battle; in the thick of the fight, Sundiata uttered a great shout in the face of the warriors of Sumanguru, and at once these ran to get behind Sumanguru; the latter in his return uttered a great shout in the face of the warriors of Sundiata, all of whom fled to get behind Sundiata. Usually, when Sumanguru shouted, eight heads would rise above his own head.

When they had done this, Sundiata said to Sangaran Danguinia Konnté: ‘Have you forgotten the taboo?’ [A reference to an earlier prophecy of Sumanguru’s imminent downfall, and the manner of its bringing about] As soon as Sangaran Danguinia heard Sundiata’s question he came to the front of the army, halted, grasped the arrow (spear?) armed with the spur of a white cock, and threw it at Sumanguru. As soon as it had struck Sumanguru, Sangaran said: ‘This is the arrow of him who knows the ancient secrets…’ While he was saying this, Sumanguru vanished and was seen no more. Now he had had a gold bracelet on his wrist, and this fell on that spot [i.e., at Kirina]; a baobab tree grew out of it and carries the mark to this day. [Fifty years ago, it is said, the people of Kirina would still show their visitors a baobab tree which they held to be the same one as grew there on the day of Sundiata’s famous victory]

…As for Sundiata, he defeated the army of Sumanguru, ravaged the land of the Susu and subjugated its people. Afterwards Sundiata became the ruler of an immense empire [Mali]…

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