Poster
Artist: Dayanna Knight
Profilers: Kisha G. Tracy, Associate Professor, Fitchburg State University; Olivia Sederlund, Head of Technical Services, Goodnow Library

Brief Biography

  • Like her famous son, Sundiata Keita, Sogolon’s life is a a mixture of history and legend
  • Lived during the first part of the 12th century in pre-imperial Mali
  • Also named Sogolon Kedjou and Sogolon Kondouto
  • First appears as a prophecy by a soothsayer to King Naré Maghan, that she will be the one to bear him a son who will rule a united Mali
  • Brought to Nianiba, then capital of Mali, by two hunters from Do
    • Described as having a hunchback; her name has since come to mean “hunchbacked” in West Africa
    • Also described as being “ugly,” however there is conjecture that perhaps this was a description of humility or one her parents used to protect her from evil spirits
    • In The Epic of Sundiata, the hunters with Sogolon tell a story of killing a rampaging buffalo with the help of an old woman, who makes them promise to take Sogolon as their prize
    • Described as the buffalo woman’s wraith or double
  • Married to King Naré Maghan
    • In The Epic of Sundiata, the king is unable to consummate their marriage as her wraith is able to fight his off night after night; finally, he does so by frightening Sogolon into a faint after threatening to kill her and forcing himself on her
  • Gives birth to her first child, son Sundiata, who cannot walk for the first part of his life
    • Described as being a sorceress and having healing abilities
  • Gives birth to her second child, daughter Kolonkan, after which she is estranged from the king
    • Kolonkan becomes Sogolon’s favorite companion and helper
  • Restored to the king’s favor, gives birth to her third child, daughter Djamarou
  • After the king’s death, Sogolon and her children are persecuted by her co-wife, Sassouma Bérété
    • It is after Sogolon is humiliated by Sassouma that Sundiata forces himself to walk
    • Garners great respect among the people
  • Mistreated by Sassouma Bérété and her son, now the king, Sogolon and her children leave Mali, visiting Djedeba, Tabon, Wagadou (Ghana), and Mema
    • In Wagadou, Sogolon falls ill, and, with the help of the king, she and her family move to Mema, where Sogolon receives treatment and recovers
    • Becomes part of royal household
  • Remains insistent that her son return to Mali and fulfill the prophecy to become a great king
  • Dies in Mema before Sundiata returns to conquer Mali and is buried with royal honors

Selected Quotations

From Niane, Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali

  • “I see two hunters coming to your city; they have come from afar and a woman accompanies them. Oh, that woman! She is ugly, she is hideous, she bears on her back a disfiguring hump. Her monstrous eyes seem to have been merely laid on her face, but mystery of mysteries, this is the woman you must marry, sire, for she will be the mother of him who will make the name of Mali immortal forever” (6).
  • “The king and his suite tried in vain to get a look at the young girl, for she stayed kneeling, her head lowered, and had deliberately let her kerchief hang in front of her face. If the young girl succeeded in hiding her face, she did not, however, manage to cover up the hump which deformed her shoulders and back. She was ugly in a sturdy sort of way. You could see her muscular arms, and her bulging breasts pushing stoutly against the strong pagne of cotton fabric which was knotted just under her armpit” (7).
  • “She will be an extraordinary woman if you manage to possess her” (11).
  • “[King Naré Maghan] seized Sogolon by the hair with an iron grip, but so great had been her fright that she had already fainted. In this faint, she was congealed in her human body and her wraith was no longer in her, and when she woke up, she was already a wife. That very night, Sogolon conceived” (12).
  • “Her son’s infirmity weighed heavily upon Sogolon Kedjou; she had resorted to all her talent as a sorceress to give strength to her son’s legs but the rarest herbs had been useless” (16).
  • “Sogolon was a wise mother” (26).
  • “‘We are from Mali,’ began Sogolon. ‘The father of my children was the king Naré Maghan, who, a few years ago sent a good-will embassy to Ghana. My husband is dead but the council has not respected his wishes and my eldest son,’ (she pointed to Sundiata) ‘has been excluded from the throne. The son of my co-wife was preferred before him. I have known exile. The hate of my co-wife has hounded me out of every town and I have trudged along every road with my children” (35).
  • “Sogolon knew that the time had arrived and she had performed her task. She had nurtured the son for whom the world was waiting and she knew that now her mission was accomplished, while that of Djata [Sundiata] was about to begin. One day she said to her son, ‘Do not deceive yourself. Your destiny lies not here but in Mali. The moment has come. I have finished my task and it is yours that is going to begin, my son. But you must be able to wait. Everything in its own good time” (37-8).

Images

Selected Bibliography

Primary:

Niane, D.T. Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali. Translated by G.D. Pickett. London: Longman, 1965.

Secondary:

Adogame, Afeosemime U., Ezra Chitando, and Bolaji Bateye. African Traditions in the Study of Religion in Africa: Emerging Trends, Indigenous Spirituality and the Interface with Other Religions. London: Routlege, 2016.

Asante, Molefi Kete. The History of Africa: The Quest for Eternal Harmony. New York, NY: Routledge, 2019.

Austen, Ralph A., ed. In Search of Sunjata: The Mande Oral Epic as History, Literature, and Performance. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999.

Bouttiaux, Anne-Marie, and Ghysels, Marc. “Scrofulous Sogolon—Scanning the Sunjata Epic.” Tribal Art 75 (2015): 88-123. https://www.academia.edu/11330615/Scrofulous_Sogolon_-_Scanning_the_Sunjata_Epic.

Deme, Mariam Konaté. Heroism and the Supernatural in the African Epic. New York: Routledge, 2014.

Ghysels, Marc. “Scrofulous Sogolon—Scanning the Sunjata Epic.” March 11, 2015. Issuu. https://issuu.com/scantix/docs/sogolon-en.

Hughes, Sarah S., and Brady Hughes. “11.3 Sorcerers & Queens” in Women in World History, 195-200. Vol. 1. Readings from prehistory to 1500. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1995.

Jackson, Michael, and Hannah Arendt. The Politics of Storytelling: Variations on a Theme by Hannah Arendt. Copenhagen: Museum Musculanum Press, University of Copenhagen, 2013.

McDonald, Trevy, and T. Ford-Ahmed. Nature of a Sistuh: Black Women’s Lived Experiences in Contemporary Culture. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1999.

McKissack, Pat, and Fredrick McKissack. The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa. New York: Square Fish, 2013. (juvenile non-fiction)

Nelson, Hannah Victoria. “Straight from the Pot: Cuisine and power in West Africa and in the Epic of Sunjata.” Thesis. Dallas International University, 2018. https://www.diu.edu/documents/theses/Nelson_Hannah-thesis.pdf.

Poulton, Robin Edward (Macky TALL), “The Malinké Lion King and the Empire of Mali.” Virginia Friends of Mali. Accessed July 12, 2019. http://vafriendsofmali.org/education/teaching-timbuktu/teaching-the-community/sunjata-the-lion-king-and-his-griot/.

Ross, Lena B. To Speak or Be Silent: The Paradox of Disobedience in the Lives of Women. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publ., 1993.

Schwarz-Bart, Simone, and André Schwarz-Bart. In Praise of Black Women. Vol. 1. Ancient African Queens. Translated by Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokurov. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.

Sutherland-Addy, Esi, and Aminata Diaw. Des Femmes Écrivent LAfrique: LAfrique De LOuest Et Le Sahel. Paris: Karthala, 2007.

Tishken, Joel E., Toyin Falola, and Akínyẹmí Akíntúndé. Ṣàngó in Africa and the African Diaspora. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

Witt, Mary Ann Frese. The Humanities, Cultural Roots and Continuities. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1980.

Fiction:

Liking, Werewere. It Shall Be of Jasper and Coral: And, Love-across-a-hundred-lives: Two Novels. Translated by Marjolijn De Jager. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000.

Performing Arts

“Compagnie Sogolon” (Mali puppet company)

“Sogolon” (by Ki-Yi M’bock; image: Werewere-Liking Ghepo as Sogolonperformance overview)