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Sundiata is a story of the Lion King. It is a part of the oral tradition of storytelling in West African culture. This story specifically originates from the Mali Empire or Manding Empire, which dominated West Africa from about 1230 to 1600 CE. North African scholar Ibn Battuta visited it 1352. He described it as “being a place where injustice was not tolerated and in which people could be absolutely secure, having nothing to fear ‘from robbers or men of violence.’” The story of Sundiata shares similarities with the epic of Gilgamesh.
Within the story, Sundiata is a young boy whose mother was part beast. She married the king of Mali, Naré Maghann Konaté, as a part of a prophecy the king received. Maghann wished to have Sundiata take over, but his other wife was jealous and wanted her son to be king. After the king’s death, the other wife ignored Maghann’s wishes. Sundiata, who spent most of life weak and unable to walk even, was driven by her spite and stood for the first time. An evil sorcerer soon took over and Sundiata and his mother went into exile. Sundiata came back with the intention of killing the sorcerer. He was successful thanks to his strategic plan which lead to him becoming “notable for his strong will, which enabled him to overcome the physical limitations that he faced as a child; for his courage, which enabled him to defeat his enemies; for the wisdom that he displayed in figuring out how to defeat his enemy; and for the tolerance and justice with which he administered his empire. In many respects, he is the model of the just ruler, of what a man and king should be.”
This story is similar to Gilgamesh in that they are both epics about kings who go on a journey. There is also magic and animals involved, they both traveled with companions who died, and Enkidu was part beast like Sundiata’s mother who was a buffalo woman. However, it contrasts with Gilgamesh– the protagonists being the main difference. Sundiata did not become king until after his heroic return while Gilgamesh was always king. Gilgamesh was never weak. He was actually quite vain. His purpose for the journey was not for the good of the kingdom but to gain glory. Also, he traveled with Enkidu his double, “his second self, a man who equals his strength and courage, a man who equals his stormy heart,”while Sundiata traveled with his mother. Gilgamesh’s journey showed his maturing in a different light. He went from being cocky to sobering up and becoming a great king, while Sundiata was always a good person who made friends wherever he went “for it is said that a man’s wealth and worth are measured by the friends he has, and he who has friends has treasure laid up against difficult times.” He had to deal with others jealousy and doubts. Sundiata’s journey to maturity allowed him to prove himself and in turn become a great king. Gilgamesh made enemies after killing Humbaba.
In the end, they both became great kings. Gilgamesh and Sundiata are epics from heroic journey to heroic return that can impart a message on the audience. They carry themes of bravery and humility. The insight these tales give on the cultures they are derived from are as invaluable as the messages that transcended from their time period to the present and for generations to come.
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