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Conrad, David Courtney (1981) The role of oral artists in the history of Mali. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Historians interested in the pre-colonial Bambara, Mandinka and other Manding-speaking peoples of Mali can draw on a rich body of oral tradition to supplement the documented evidence. While external written Arabic sources provide a core of information on such pivotal epochs as those dominated by ancient Ghana and Mali, oral tradition has been heavily relied upon for detailed impressions of particular aspects of those periods, such as the people Sind events involved in the career of Sunjata, the thirteenth- century ruler credited with the founding of the Mali empire. But as scholars sift the oral traditions for useful information, they are obliged to maintain a healthy scepticism regarding the historical accuracy of most of what they find, because it cannot be independently confirmed. The indigenous informants who have supplied most of the oral evidence are bards commonly known as 'griots', members of an endogamous social class the duties of which have for many centuries included recalling the glories of the past find memorizing the genealogies of distinguished lineages. In the interest of a clearer understanding of who these informants are and how certain elements of their testimony can prove useful to historians, this thesis undertakes to identify the oral artists of Mali in the context of their own history and development as an occupationally defined social group, and to examine some salient cultural features and external influences that have affected their attitudes toward, and their presentation of, specific historical traditions, several of which are analysed in the course of the discussion. Focusing on early Europeaui encounters with Handing oral artists. Chapter I discusses the etymology of the term 'griot', and the significance of early western impressions of griot status and role resulting from observations made by European travellers to the Senegambia and Segou from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Along with a description of the historical development of the relative social positions of different types of occupational specialists within the hierarchy of oral artists. Chapter II includes an attempt to trace the historical movements and social changes undergone by some groups of non-Manding origin who came to form part of the Handing griot hierarchy, especially in the case of the Bambara. That oral artists have, along with the artisan groups, occupied a low position in the Handing social scale is a dominant feature of their history, and Chapter III is devoted to a discussion of the possible origins of social stratification vis a vis these groups. The subject of the influence of Islam on Handing oral artists is approached in Chapter IV through ansilysis of three different traditions that claim distinguished Muslim antecedents for various segments of Handing culture, and in Chapter V the problem of finding useful historical information in griot testimony is approached through a discussion of twenty-one versions of the Sunjata tradition, with special attention to secondary characters and events. In a separate volume, an appendix contains English translations of oral traditions collected during the course of fieldwork in Mali in 1974 and 1975.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:05

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