Sunjata is the hero of an African epic of people living in the southern Sahara. He may be based on a king named Sundiata or Sundjata, who founded the kingdom of Mali around A.D. 1240. His story is filled with supernatural elements, from the hero's mysterious birth to his extraordinary strength.
The epic of Sunjata begins with the hero's childhood. The son of the king of Manding, Sunjata was born under unusual circumstances. His mother was pregnant with him for eight years, when a magical spirit called a jinni (or genie) told Sunjata's father that the boy would someday become a great king.
As a child, Sunjata performed many amazing deeds and earned the name Mari Djata (the Lion of Manding) because he could transform himself into a lion. Sunjata's father grew afraid of him and used his power to paralyze the boy. But after seven years, the king recognized Sunjata's wisdom and restored his son to health. Sunjata's miraculous deeds continued. He taught wild animals to gather firewood and helped a group of witches bring back to life a boy whom they had killed.
epic long poem about legendary or historical heroes, written in a grand style
supernatural related to forces beyond the normal world; magical or miraculous
Sunjata lived in the countryside, killing 800 elephants and 8,000 lions. However, on the death of his father, he returned to Manding and won a competition with one of his brothers to become king. The young ruler's first task was to kill a terrible beast, a witch in the shape of an animal, that had been terrorizing the people. The old witch was so impressed by Sunjata's kindness and wisdom that she told him how to kill her. He did so and became a hero. Later, Sunjata went to war against a wicked king who claimed his throne. After defeating this demon king, with the help of his sister, Sunjata went on to conquer an extensive area that became the empire of Mali. According to legend, Sunjata ruled with fairness and in peace.