In the epic story Sundiata, women are influential and play an essential role in the sustainability of a healthy society. Although the main character, Sundiata does not have a wife or a lover, the role of women is expressed through his mother, stepmother and other women as depicted in the story. Towards the start of the story, Maghan Kon Fatta marries Sogolon Djata, the ugly woman who was prophesied that she would bear a son who would one day be a mighty ruler. The next predominant woman in the story is Sassouma Berete, the first wife of the king who also has a son, Dankaran Toumani Keita, who assumes the throne contrary to his dead father's wishes but (Niane et al. 12). When Toumani descends into power, through the help of his mother, Sogolon and her family escapes to exile. The strength of Sogolon keeps her family together in the foreign land, and this gives Sundiata the determination to one day return home and put an end to the rule of tyrants. Lastly, the role of women is portrayed through Sassouma's daughter Nana Triban, whom Soumaro marries to strengthen his leadership in Mali. However, this union is disastrous as she gives away secrets to Sundiata of how he can be defeated (Niane et al. 165). Therefore, despite women being depicted as less powerful to men, they play a central role in the determination of governance in the Mali kingdom by providing physical, emotional and psychological support to men.
There is a sharp similarity in how women are depicted in Sundiata, and Paradise lost; in both tales, women have a direct impact on the affairs and decisions that have to be made every day. In the paradise lost story, Eve is approached by Satan in the form of a snake, and she has a choice to make in the determination of humankind's fate. Whether she chooses to adhere to God's commandments and not eat the fruit, or if she decides to do otherwise is a choice that she will have to make, and live by the consequences of that choice (Milton 33). Similarly, in the epic of Sundiata, it can be seen that after the king dies, the first wife decides to influence her son to take the throne contrary to her father's wishes. On the other hand, Triban chooses to betray her husband, and she defects to Sundiata's side when the opportunity presents itself. Therefore, in both epics women are not powerless; they are capable of making vital decisions that have a profound effect on men involved in their lives.
Looking at the Mayan culture as narrated in the epic Popol Vuh, it is possible to determine that women enjoy positions of power and are associated with society's economic development. As seen in the story, women are used to tricking the boy gods Tohil, Auilix, and Hacauitz. However, they are without success, and the society blames them for their defeat degrading them to sex workers (Tedlock 177). Therefore as noted earlier, women in these tales played an active role in politics and persuasion of men. However, there is a sharp contrast in the epic of Sundiata from the Paradise lost and the Popol Vuh. Sundiata depicts women as mortal beings who interact with ordinary people; they are not required to conduct any religious ritual unlike in the Paradise lost story and the Popol Vuh where women interact with supernatural beings and have sacred duties and responsibilities.
In conclusion, the role of women in Sundiata is not only restrained in household duties, but they play a crucial part in the leadership and other critical matters. However, they provide their counsel from the background, as men are more predominant in administration but their influence could not be underestimated. From the story, we find that the women surrounding the male rulers directly influence the fate of the Malian empire. Throughout the story, the power of women can be seen as one gained from experience, and they are crafty in how they use this knowledge
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Courier Corporation, 2012.
Niane, Djibril T., et al. Sundiata: an epic of old Mali. Longman Pub Group, 2006.
Tedlock, Dennis. Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life. eBookIt.com, 2013.
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