Archive for the ‘Context of Film’ Category

African Storytelling

Posted: September 23, 2012 by phermc10 in Context of Film

Since time immemorial, storytelling has functioned to pass traditions, codes of behavior, knowledge, wisdom and social roles which are essential to keep the African communities alive and united. People do look up to their storytellers, griots, and their marvelous stories engrossing them in thoughts, faiths and emotions of the human mind.

These stories are full of metaphors, connotations, symbols as well as imagery like a film. They depict an assortment of myths, rituals and songs to educate the audience. It was the only way that enriched African people’s daily lives when writing was not yet developed.

Central to African film production, oral stories are used to show what Africa looks like and the social and cultural issues it is facing today. In Keita, one might wonder the modest look and tone of the film which is about the great ancient empire, Mali, but it is usual for African film makers to avoid the reliance on costly special effects techniques to show what they would like to. This is a note-worthy point for the film makers in the third world to learn how to claim their histories, cultures and pride through the possible and effective way. The most important idea is the message they want to send.

Thal Sandy Tun


The meaning of name

Posted: July 19, 2012 by thanhn09 in Context of Film

In the film, the little boy Mabo Keita was asked about the meaning of his name by griot Djieba. Mabo didn’t know, so griot Djieba Kouyate decided to tell him a long story of his ancestor, king Sundjata Keita, who was also in search for his name before coming to reign Mali empire. “Name” here does not only mean the name literally, but it also means origin and identity. For the griots, the only way for the African people to find their identity is to come back to history. Their roots stay in history. However, it is the long way to reach the end, and each one has to go by himself. The griot’s role is just like a compass, pointing out and help them to go in the right direction. In fact, the film ends with the scene the griot left Mabo and let him alone continue searching for his “name”. The same situation happened with king Sundjiata Keita.

Anyway, it is interesting to find out a little bit what the names, Keita and Kouyate, literally mean.

Keita is a combination of “Ke”, meaning “inheritance”, and “Ta”, meaning “to take”. So Keita means “the one who took the inheritance”, which implies to the story of Sundjiata “stealing” the inheritance from his older brother, the first born son of  King Nare Maghann Konate( Aggatuci, 2010). .

Kouyate means “there is a secret between you and me”. Secret here can be understood as stories of history, ancestors and identity being shared among Kouyate generations and between Keita descendants and Kouyate griots (Eyre, 2000, p. 31).

Aggatuci, C. (2010). Keita film notes & reviewing guides

Eyre, B. (2000). In griot time: an American guitarist in Mali. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Posted by Nguyen Thanh Hang.

Mandé proverbs

Posted: July 17, 2012 by thanhn09 in Context of Film

The film tells the story of King Sundjata, the first king of Mali Empire. Therefore, many Mandé proverbs have been used in the films or can be referred to, not only to describe the story, but also for the griot Djieba to teach Mabo about the power of traditional knowledge. In this post, let’s explore the meaning of some!

 “The great tree must first push its roots deep into the earth.”

This refers to the scene King Sundjata managed to stand up for the first time thanks to the wooden stick after faiing to stand up by grabbing the iron stick. The iron stick is the symbol of Western modern technology, while the wooden one is the symbol of Mande nature, people and culture. The proverb means that power of the King does not come from technological superiority, but comes from the power of his ancestors, his people and his society. More generally, a society can only make a sound development with a strong base of history and culture.

“This story is like the wind; you cannot stop it.”

Griot Djieba has used it to answer back to Mabo’s mother’s demanding Djieba to stop telling stories to Mabo. The meaning is quite obvious in the proverb itself. It means that the griots’ stories of history have a strong power. By this way or that way, they will find their way to the Mande people in particular and to African people in general, who need to know their ancestors and history to find out their identity.

“It is the hunter who always beats the lions, because it is the hunter who always tells the stories.”

 “It’s an old world and that the future emerges from the past.”

Griot Djieba used them as last words to Mabo before leaving his house. By saying this he meant that African people cannot get independent from the Western power because African people have been letting the Western people tell their African stories. It is time African people, with the help of the griot, to discover the stories, their history and their culture. This is how African people get the power. The world, in which Western knowledge dominates over tradition knowledge, is already the old thing. African people should make new moves towards the bright future of Africa with a strong base of history and traditional knowledge.

Posted by Nguyen Thanh Hang. 

The truly ancient African civilizations, which in their times, were as huge and grand as any one of us on the planet. As you watch Keita, you can learn a way to look at the histories and glory of ancient Africa.

The Mali Empire of the Mande or Mandinka came into existence in West Africa during the 13th century. The Mali Empire was situated in the vicinity of gold mines and the fertile areas of the delta of the Niger River. The region was under the domination of the Ghana Empire until the mid-11th century. When Ghana Emperor deteriorated, many brief kingdoms strived to influence over the western Sudan region.

In 1235, the small state of Kangaba which was headed by Sundjata Keita or Sundiata Keita conquered the neighboring kingdom of Susu at the confrontation of Kirina. The tribes of the heartland were brought together under the strong and dynamic Sundjata who later became the head of Mali Empire. The Mali rulers were said to have converted to Islam, but this did not harm the survival of the beliefs and customs of the traditional Mande religions.

The Mali Empire, located on the upper reaches of the Senegal and Niger rivers, was the second and most wide-ranging of the three massive West African empires. It proved to be an example of governance for many kingdoms to follow after its fall in the 15th and 16th centuries. It had many great cultural impacts on West Africa, with the spread of its language, laws and traditions along the Niger River. Under the ruling of Sundjata and his successors, Mali Empire quickly grew to the west until the Atlantic Ocean, to the south into the deep forest ranges, to the east elsewhere of the Niger River and to the north along the Sahara’s mining areas.

At its glory, Mali was allied with three independent states, namely Mali, Mema and Wagadou and 12 stronghold provinces. Mali’s ‘Lion Prince’, Sundjata Keita, was the cultural champion and ancestor of the Mande peoples, founder of the glorious Mali Empire, and a great source of inspiration of famous oral epic tradition of the griots in western Africa. He died in 1260.

Thal Sandy Tun


Posted: July 9, 2012 by phermc10 in Context of Film

Further research into the history of these community storytellers opened up more access into a legend that continues to live on in traditional and new age forms.

  • Here is the trailer for the documentary GRIOT. “They fought Islam and won. They fought European colonialism and won. Now, after a thousand years of religious, political and cultural onslaughts, a monolith of West African culture is showing signs of change in the form of a radical new individualism… Griots today are at a crossroads between the traditional, which is increasingly irrelevant, and … something new.” ” The film captures this moment of historic change in the griot tradition, caught now, as it is, between the imperative to maintain the social structures of the past and the need to enter into a dialogue with the international community. “

Other modern references to the tradition can be found in

  • ‘Innercity Griots’ is a hip-hop/ rap group from California, USA. “Inner City Griots (a griot is an African storyteller) takes on Aceyalone’s twisted nursery rhyme “Cornbread,” the positive vibes of “Inner City Boundaries,” the locker-room machismo of “Shammy’s” (an inevitable ode to the ladies), and “Way Cool,” a tale of serial killing horror.”

Reflection: Song and lyric tells the story of the modern urban and suburban lifestyles. What  realities and struggles exist, where joy and pleasures can be found. These tales connect people who can relate and understand, but also reveals a new world to those people who may not know. In this way, these songs unit by keeping the spirit alive and extend the knowledges to those knowing, teaching them other realities.

  • Paule Marshall’s ‘Praisesong for the Widow’. The protagonist in this seems to take on the role of a griot, when passing on history to her grandchildren. The oral story of Africans brought to the U.S. Sea Islands to be slaves promptly turned around and walked back to Africa over the water.

( N/A, . “Litetature Annotations.” Literature, Arts and Medicine Database . New York University, 12 December 2006. Web. 9 Jul 2012. . )

Reflection: These books involve similar contemporaries – slavery era in the United States. Both works connect the audience to a grander story by relating them to individuals and their plights. The characters in these stories represent histories and lessons of life. projecting past histories and knowledges to future generations continues the education of not only the one community, but other global communities. One communities life lessons and knowledges can be spread through  to receive a larger reception. Relating and educating others to the lessons learned of past events is essentially education. How the fruit of that story/ lesson should be received, advances us into the future.



Posted: July 9, 2012 by phermc10 in Context of Film

Some new terms defined and explained! 

(This section will be updated periodically through out our analysis)

  • Griot: is a West African historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet and musician. The griot is assigned by a hereditary nature of class, responsible for the teachings of tradition orally by forms of storytelling. >>
  • “Keita” is explained as a combination of “ke” meaning “inheritance” and “ta” meaning “to take.”
  • totem is an object representing an animal or plant that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, group, lineage, or tribe, reminding them of their ancestry (or mythic past)
  • Sorghum ( ” I am only ignoarnt of two things: sheep and sorghum”) is a genus of numerous species of grasses, one of which is raised for grain  either cultivated or as part of pasture.


  • Burkina Faso-also known as ‘Burkina’ – a landlocked country in west Africa
  • West Africa – a region of western Africa between the Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Guinea which was largely controlled by colonial powers until the 20th century
  • griottes – the female story teller


Thal Sandy Tun


Posted: July 9, 2012 by phermc10 in Context of Film

The story being told in the film is one of the most important works of African oral literature, The Sundjata Epic. Here is a brief summary:

This is the tale of how the Mali Empire was founded by the great hero. One day, a hunter visits the king telling him is prediction that he will give birth to a great ruler by marrying an ugly woman. Later, while two other hunters are out trying to defeat a mystical buffalo, they  run into a woman. they ask her about the buffalo and treat her kindly. by this, the woman tells them her secret , that she is the buffalo, and how to kill the buffalo. As there prize for killing the beats the old woman tells them to pick the ugliest girl in her village. The hunters earned her by defeating a monstrous buffalo that was terrorizing a land far away. they than take the prize back to the king. The king takes her for his wife, but she refuses to let him consummate the marriage until magic powers help him to rid her of a wraith that was making her resistant.

A son, Sundiata is later born, but lives with much difficulty. he has to live up to the prophecy, while being crippled and subject to many rumors. after the king dies, the eldest son and his mother force Sundiata and his mother into exile. there Sundiata encounters many new peoples and ways.  while he is away, he learns of a evil sorcerer plotting to take the city. though his travels in exile, he picks up many comrades. when he battles the sorcerer, he cannot defeat him because of the magic, so Sundiata learns magic to aid his efforts. the outcome being the fall of the sorcerer king.

N/A, . “Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali Summary.” GrAde Saver. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Jul 2012. <>.


Here is one version of Sundiata Keita: the Lion King written by Robert D. Shepherd in a new verse.