02 October 2008

The Epic of Son-Jara (African Literature)

The women in “The Epic of Son-Jara” could not be side-lined and excluded from the struggle for power. The roles played by women in the epic were extensive for the finality of Son-Jara coming to power. The Buffalo Woman, Du Kamisa, overwhelmingly coordinated of the birth of Son-Jara. Through Du Kamisa, Son-Jara came into existence; the Buffalo Woman orchestrated the entire event. Examples of this can be found in the beginning of the text, the Tarawere brothers came seeking information on how to kill the Wild Buffalo Woman. She explained everything that had to be done in order for the Tarawere brothers to be successful. She provided the talking dog and instructed the brothers to choose the ugly maiden, Sugulun Konde. Du Kamisa of Du arranged to have her sister, Sugulun Konde, chosen by the Tarawere brothers. She was the "shadow" directing the birth of Son-Jara. In examining the role of Sugulun Konde, Son-Jara’s mother, one noticed feminine “occult” power as well. Sugulun Konde prevented the Tarawere brother’s from laying with her. She told the elder brother “her husband was in the Manden and so was his wife.” The elder Tarawere brother stated Sugulun Konde was shorter and smaller than other women but she was able to use her occult power to prevent his advances. After the birth of Son-Jara, his mother was mistreated because of his disability. Once exhausted by the mistreatment, she sparked Son-Jara to walk. She was the initiator of his “new birth.” She looked after him. In the case of the Boatman patriarch, she made the agreement with the bracelet. The agreement was essential in Son-Jara crossing the river and taking control of the Manden. Please remember it was the feminine power of his mother that allowed Son-Jara to walk. She went to her god and petitioned for Son-Jara. It was the staff that she made from the apple custard tree that enabled Son-Jara to walk after nine years. Once exiled, Son-Jara was guided by another feminine power, the nine Witches of Darkness. These women practiced magic and helped Son-Jara stock-pile occult power. They made their allegiance to him after he proved himself by seizing nine buffalos. The next woman to aid Son-Jara was his sister, Sugulun Kulunkan. She offered to seduce Sumamuru to get the secrets of his “occult power.” She was successful and with the information she provided Son-Jara, he succeeded against Sumamuru. Son-Jara’s mother died only after Son-Jara no longer needed her protection. To examine other feminine powers, we can not forget the powers against Son-Jara. His step-mother asked her Holy man to cripple Son-Jara. She was also the cause of his exile and the reason he was repeatedly turned away from refuge (for fear of retaliation). The women in Son-Jara’s life were instrumental in his rise to power as the King of the Manden. "The Epic of Son-Jara" is a wonderful read. The Jabete tribe in Mali recites the epic every seven years. I hope to be in attendance at least once in my lifetime.


Anonymous said...

It stands to reason that the women in this epic are given such an important role in the events. I'm sorry....as you said....they were the driving force. But the reason it does not surprise me, is because they were Muslims, and if you've read anything about the Prophet Muhammad, you would come to know that his wife was the most important human being he ever encountered, bar none. Not even his heralded cousin, Ali, who fought valiantly beside him in battle was as important.

I am surprised at the occult activity, and seeing a "holy man" given authority to decide if a child should walk. Muslims believe there is but one God, and that sort of power can only belong to Allah.

There are fundamental Islamic lessons given in this poem. The Qur'an commands Muslims to keep good relations with "kith and kin." There are no provisions in the Qur'an for cutting your aunt's breasts off with a knife...none. But as noted, it was Brother "Sam's" bad dealings involving women which ultimately led to his demise. He really should not have taken that boy's wife. Can you dig it? I don't care if a man IS scared of you, you go messin' with the woman he loves, and you now have a formidable oponent on this planet.

I can see your point, loud and clear, about the monumental importance of women in this piece. However, I am curious about something.

Seeing as how this poem involves West Africans, then it stands to reason that it should have made the trip across the Atlantic. Why do you think, it takes a person to make it all the way to college, and hope to land on the right campus, and in the right professor's classroom, before they hear of it?

Dionne said...

You make interesting connections (and I will need to ponder on them). You are correct. I ended up in the right classroom (KSU) with the right professor (Dr. Diop).

In many ways it is tragic that I encountered "The Epic of Son-Jara" by way of chance. I cannot answer "the why" question entirely. I posit that it is an amalgamation of American racism and classism. Only certain literatures are canonized and that is unfortunate. Students are given limited exposures to other literatures -- even in World Literature courses. Even today, "The Epic" will not reach many students. However, in my classrooms, I am committed to teaching it.