Nare Fa Maghan -- the son of a long lineage of distinguished hunters known for their skill, bravery and ability to communicate with spirits -- ruled over Mali beginning in 1200. Although he had adapted the Islam religion, he still believed in the world of spirits. A hunter from the north came with a prophecy that two hunters would come to the king with a very ugly woman whom he must marry, for she would bear him Mali's greatest king ever. Maghan's totem animal was the Lion.
When two hunters appeared with a hunchback woman, they explained to the king that this woman, Sogolon Kedju, was the human double for a buffalo that had ravaged the land of Do. The hunters felled the buffalo and brought the woman to Mali for she had extraordinary powers. Honoring the prophecy, Maghan married Sogolon and the soon conceived a child.
King Maghan's first wife, Sassouma, was jealous; she wanted her son, Dankaran Touman to claim the crown of Mali. Sassouma plotted to kill Sogolon, but the buffalo woman's powers were too great, and the boy was born. He was named Mari Diata, but people called him Sogolon Diata, and eventually, Sundiata.
Sassouma was relieved when the new child turned out to be lazy, gluttonous and ugly. Sundiata could not walk and rarely spoke. Still, honoring the prophecy, the dying king gave the boy the gift of a griot named Balla Fasseke, the son of his own griot, believing one day he would be king. However, when the king died, his first wife saw to it that her son, Dankaran claimed the throne. Sundiata, still on all fours was helpless.
One day, when Sogolon cried in anger from the insults she and her son had receive, Sundiata said, "Cheer up, Mother. I am going to walk today." Sundiata had a blacksmith make him a heavy iron rod. With trembling legs, he lifted himself, much to the amazement of onlookers, bending the rod into a bow in the process. His griot composed and sung, "The Hymn to the Bow," on the spot-- a hymn still a part of the...