The Guardian of the Word

by Camara Laye

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Guardian of the Word by Camara Laye is part ethnography documentation and part fantastical tale, the latter element stemming from the stories of a griot (a traditional African storyteller) about Sundiata, a thirteenth-century leader from West Africa.

There is also a theme of colonial history and post-colonial consequences in this book, as is the case in much African literature. West Africa has a long history of colonial rule, from the Muslim conquest to the French colonizers to the dealings of the North American slave traders with West African rulers.

The art of storytelling is a theme in itself, and the griot's tradition is examined from an anthropological context as the griot himself tells the stories. The story of Sundiata is reminiscent of Shakespearean themes, mixed with the tragedies of Greek mythology. Themes such as prophecies, destiny, and conquering the rule of tyrants are recurring in the story of the griot. Victory over injustice and evil is the overarching theme of the griot's story, and it is evident that the story of Sundiata is one of praise and glorification of his legendary life.

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