The Guardian of the Word

by Camara Laye

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 243

Camara Laye's novel The Guardian of the Word is a retelling of the story of the historical king Sundiata. Sundiata is born to a hump-backed mother and the ruler Maghan Konfara, who took Sundiata's mother as a wife according to a prophecy saying that he should marry the ugliest women he could find. As Sundiata comes of age, he is sent into exile with his mother (so that he doesn't pose a threat to his half-siblings for the rule of his father's kingdom). Eventually, he transforms into a skillful warrior. He defeats the ruler Sumaoro, a tyrant who kills his opposition and has taken 300 wives. Sundiata kills Sumaoro by using secret knowledge told to him by his half-sister, specifically stating that Sumaoro could be killed with a white rooster's spur. At the novel's close, the consequence of Sundiata's feat is explicated as follows:

In short, Sundiata gave the Empire its political and social framework, a religious life with the peaceful coexistence of Islam and Animism—a political framework that had been the one build up by his ancestors. Sundiata was the first great Mansa of Mali. With his arrival, carefree others gave birth to happy children, and desolation, the sign of Sumaoro's passage through the savanna, gave place to prosperity which burst forth everywhere. (218)

Indeed, the Empire of Mali, founded in the mid-thirteenth century by Sundiata, would remain until the mid-seventeenth century, when the territory was divided and then attacked by neighboring tribes.

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