King Sundiata Keita ( (circa. 1217–c. 1260) also known as Sunjata Keyita, Mari Djata the first or just Sundiata. Djata means Lion in Mandinka so he is often referred to as the Lion King. He was a weak sickly and a crippled boy who rose to greatness. He created the Empire of Mali, which lasted about 300 years
“By unifying the military force of 12 states, Sundiata becomes an emperor known as the Lion King of Mali, who controls tribes from the Niger River west to the Atlantic Ocean. Walt Disney Studios reprised the story of Sunditata in 1994 as an animated film, The Lion King, with animals substituting for the humans of Mali legend.”
Ellen Snodgrass,
Sundiata Keita was born around 1217 in Niani, Mali close to the boarder of Guinea. The story of his life is mostly known through oral tradition, passed on by generations of Mandinka griots (historical story tellers) Sundiata Keita spent the largest part of his life building a strong army to overthrow the King of the Ghana Empire, Sumaoro Kante
His father’s name was Naré Fa Maghann Konaté Keita and was a handsome Mandinka king who one day had a visit from a divine hunter at his court. The hunter predicted that if the king marry an ugly woman who would soon appear at the city gates, she would give birth to a son that would one day become a powerful king. King Naré was already married to Sassouma Bereté and had a son, Dankaran Toumani Keita. But when an ugly hunchbacked woman, also known as the buffalo woman, Sogolon appeared at his court he married her and she soon gave birth to a son, Sundiata Keita, who was crippled and unable to walk throughout his childhood. But King Naré was already married to Sassouma Bereté and had a son, Dankaran Toumani Keita as well as 10 male older children with other women Soon afterwards, such a woman did appear Her name was Sogolon Koudouma, but she was hunchbacked and so ugly that she was nicknamed “Buffalo Woman.” The king took her to be one of his wives. They had a son. This child would eventually become known as “Sundiata” and he could not talk, crippled (He walked on all fours and was always eating) and unable to walk throughout his childhood undiata was a big disappointment to his father Unable to believe that this backward child could become a great ruler. Despite his disappointment Nare Fa Maghan made it clear that he wanted the prophecy to be respected, but after his death Sundiatas older brother Dankaran took the throne around 1224. Legend has it that after Nare Fa Maghan’s death, Sogolon ordered her seven-year-old son to walk. To everyone’s surprise, Sundiata did so, although with great difficulty. He also spoke for the first time, saying, “I will walk now.” One version of this event tells how he used an iron rod to pull himself up. In the process, he bent the rod. This display of strength was impressive but also worrisome. Dankaran Touman’s mother began to fear that Sundiata might be a threat to her son’s kingship. Sundiata’s mother feared that her son—now viewed as a possible rival to Dankaran Touman—might be in danger. Sundiata was exiled out of the Kingdom together with his mother and two sisters. Their wanderings eventually led them to the city of Mema, where they stayed for three years. Mema’s ruler, Mussa Tunkara, had no children and treated Sundiata like a son. He taught Sundiata the arts of warfare. Sundiata became a mighty warrior, winning battles for Mema. In the meantime, a king named Sumanguru was trying to rebuild the empire of Ghana. He had conquered many kingdoms, including Manding, where Sundiata was born
When Sundiata learned of Sumanguru’s conquest, he began raising an army to reclaim his homeland. At the same time the people realized that Dankaran could not protect them against their enemies, the oppressed Mandinka people turned to Sundiata for help In 1235, Sundiata and Sumanguru met in battle at Kirina. According to legend, both were sorcerers and had magical powers. Sundiata is said to have terrified Sumanguru’s troops by roaring like a lion. Sumanguru is regarded as one of the true champions of the Traditional African religion and was the inventor of the balafon and the dan (a four-string guitar used by the hunters and griots). His power was strengthened by eight spirits, who appeared above his head. Nevertheless, Sundiata’s magic was stronger. He hit Sumanguru with an arrow that he had specially prepared. The arrow had the desired result of taking away Sumanguru’s power. Although the arrow did not kill him, it caused Sumanguru to flee.
Sundiata pursued him and his retreating troops. When he reached Sumanguru’s kingdom of Sosso, Sundiata destroyed it by fire.Creating an Empire Following his victory at Kirina, Sundiata created the Empire of Mali.
He invited twelve kings of lands in the African savannah to the Gbara, or Great Assembly There he “divided the world” with his allies. He created a constitution and outlined the Empire’s organization. Each king would
remain ruler of his own lands, but all would be united within the Empire. Sundiata became Mansa, meaning “king of kings” or “emperor.”Sundiata established the Empire’s capital at Niani, a city located on the upper Niger River. He set about improving agriculture. Soldiers cleared land for the planting of cotton, grain,
and other food crops. Agriculture became productive Sundiata understood the importance of trade He established Mali’s trading center at Niani Situated on the upper Niger, it was ideally suited for trade. Mali was rich in gold and copper—items that formed the basis of its trade Merchants and traders from as far away as France and England purchased Malian gold Sundiata laid the groundwork for a thriving empire Although he died around 1260, the Empire of Mali lasted for more than 300 years


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