Re-thinking Sunjata: Epics and Epistemology in West African Oral Narratives

The next seminar paper in our Theorising Africa series will be delivered by Stephen Bulman and is entitled “Re-thinking Sunjata: epics and epistemology in West African oral narratives”. The seminar will take place on 27 March at the LHRI seminar room 1 at 4pm. The event is free and open to all.

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Abstract

African oral epics, in common with African oral traditions as a whole, have in the past too often been understood as hallowed messages from the past, handed down unchanged from generation to generation. New thinking based on analysis of Manding epics about Sunjata Keita and his rival for power Sumanguru Kante, two legendary rulers from the pre-colonial era, suggests that such oral traditions are part of a cultural meta-discourse fashioned and re-fashioned over time in response to social and political shifts; and their tellers, hereditary griots or jeliw, intellectual actors whose narratives help shape and re-form the identities of, and relationships between, cultural and social groups. This seminar will examine how the recently published Epic of Sumanguru Kante, a narrative retelling medieval Mali’s foundation from the perspective of Sunjata’s defeated rival, offers fresh insights into the role of African historical oral poetry in shaping Manding ‘oral historiography’ and epistemology.

He said: It is true, indeed, I came with my name. My name is Soo-Maanguru. That’s the meaning of being Sumanguru. He said: I, here, I will not be slave. I will not be lackey.

– Bulman The Epic of Sumanguru Kante (2017)

About Stephen Bulman

bulmanStephen Bulman (Ph.D. Birmingham 1990) studied the Epic of Sunjata as a doctoral student. He has taught history at Newman University in Birmingham, worked as an academic at Leeds Trinity University and Cumbria University, and has published several studies of the Epic of Sunjata and related African oral traditions including, with Valentin Vydrine, a critical source edition of The Epic of Sumanguru (Brill, 2017) based on an oral epic he recorded in the Republic of Mali.

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CFP Theorising Africa: Reviewing a History of Ideas

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CALL FOR PAPERS

Theorising Africa: Reviewing a History of Ideas

University of Leeds

Seminar Series 2018

 

The field of cultural theory has – for as long as it’s been a discipline – been dominated by Western epistemologies.  Our ways of knowing have, undoubtably, always required a framework through which they can be conceptualised – or even legitimised. The consequence of this institutionalisation of thought, which has its roots in a myriad of complex historical and structural implementations of power, is that other epistemologies often get overlooked or even rebranded under different names or theories, at the behest of fitting the demands and criteria of Western academe. The notion of a history of ideas that is grounded in a Euro-American paradigm obscures, and limits, our understanding of and engagement with the multiplicities of meaning at work in cultural analysis. Theorising Africa seeks to explore what it means to be human, to be a member of society, through the exploration of identity, aesthetics, and politics by placing cultural theory and African epistemic frameworks in dialogue.

The concept of Ubuntu finds its distorted counterpart in some versions of post-humanist thought. Ideas of community deriving from Igbo cosmology similarly find their traces – albeit inversely – in much of the discourses pertaining to community building in the fields of cultural theory, law, and literature. Subverting the closure inherent in binary oppositions, we seek to bridge the divide that has so far disadvantaged African epistemologies on the academic platform, entering into dialogue and engaging with a richly diverse history of ideas.

For this seminar series we are interested in looking to Africa for its history of ideas: How has African thought transcended boundaries and how can it continue to do so? What can African thought contribute to the many blind spots in the fields of cultural theory? How can these contributions account for the work of knowledge-making? In what ways are these contributions necessary?

We seek papers and proposals on topics including, but not limited to:

  • African literary theory
  • Reframing the history of ideas – philosophical interrogations
  • Cultural analysis
  • Psychoanalysis
  • African Futures
  • Law
  • Politics and bio-violence
  • Feminisms and policy
  • Community building
  • The creaturely
  • Animism
  • Theology
  • Art History
  • Challenges to the legacy of the writer
  • Any non-conforming inquiry which doesn’t fall into a field

Please get in touch with proposals (max 300 words + bio) in Word format to findingpocoafrica@gmail.com by 31 January 2018.