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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Art and Ways of knowing in Uganda

A screening and discussion of two short films developed in response to a

workshop with artists and activists

 Ruth Kelly  (CHR, York) & Director, Patience Nitumwesiga

Communion poster

We are delighted to be opening our Theorising Africa session with a screening, discussion and interview with the Ugandan director, Patience Nitumwesiga, who will be speaking to Ruth Kelly about two short films made in Kampala last year.  The event will take place on 13 February 2018 at the Leeds Humanities Research Institute (LHRI) Seminar Room 1 at 4pm.

This event, which is hosted in collaboration with LUCAS, is open to all and entrance is free.

 

Abstract                                                                                 

In July 2017, a group of academics, artists and activists met in Kampala, Uganda to explore how art could help us imagine and inhabit new ways of being, feeling and knowing, opening space to dream up visions of a more just and sustainable world. The methodology for the research is inspired by the research practice of Boaventura de Sousa Santos and of J.K. Gibson-Graham who have undertaken studies that have questioned dominant paradigms – Western epistemologies and capitalism, respectively – and gone on to develop research and practice uncovering and proposing alternatives – epistemologies of the South and community economies respectively.

Our assumption was that Western epistemologies and dominant paradigms limit what the researcher, practitioner or activist finds important, or even what they are able to know and learn from their interactions with others. In the workshop, the researchers sought to use arts-based practices to disrupt dominant ways of knowing and performing “development,” encouraging participants to explore and articulate the different ways of knowing that they embody, have experienced, or could experience through engagement with the arts. In particular, a session linking traditional and hybrid forms of oral poetry in Uganda helped participants to tap into the cultural heritage of the different language groups represented to explore alternative ways of knowing, being in community and making political interventions. As part of the presentation, I will show and discuss two short films made in response to the workshop: ‘Should I stay or should I go,’ a video collage of performances of a poem by Helena Okiring about diaspora and politics, composed and performed during the workshop in each of the different Ugandan languages that participants spoke, produced by Emilie Flower; and the second, ‘Communion,’ a short film reflecting on performance and reality, written and produced after the workshop by Patience Nitumwesiga.

 

About Ruth Kelly & Patience Nitumwesiga

Ruth Profile photoRuth Kelly’s doctoral research (Centre for Applied Human Rights, York) explores the potential for art and narrative to help communities and activists articulate alternative approaches to development. In the past, Ruth has worked with ActionAid, Oxfam, UNDP and the European Commission, on jobs and industrial policy, international trade and tax policy, land rights, and programme implementation.

 

Patience headshotPatience Nitumwesiga is a writer/director whose play monsters premiered in March 2017 at Le Cartel festival in Burkina Faso. It has been translated into French. The play also received a reading at the BIBU festival in Sweden. She has been trained at the famous Prospero performing arts centre in Sweden and Denmark, and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Drama from Makerere University, Kampala.

Patience has written both for stage and for TV, having attended the renowned Hollywood Director Mira Nair’s Maisha film lab (screenwriting) in 2009 and 2016. She was a writer, and assistant script editor for the TV Series Yat MaditYat Madit is produced by Media Focus on Africa and Trivision Uganda, two of East Africa’s leading producers in social awareness content. She also worked with Rafiki Theatre from 2010-2012, writing and acting with German director Claus Schrowange.

In May 2014, Patience was an Assistant director for the pilot project of the TV-adapted Rock point 256 seriesIn September 2015, she was a 1st assistant director for the Yat Madit seriesIn June 2016, she enrolled as a creative directing apprentice with Silent Voices Uganda’s Ga-AD! Production, as a step towards her Creative Directing career.

In 2012, she directed Everybody Needs an Electrician, a short documentary that she developed at the Maisha documentary lab. She has worked as an assistant director, researcher and logging assistant for the documentary Somebody Clap for Me. She was an associate producer and video coach on Sauti, a documentary that has graced a number of international festivals since 2016.

Nitumwesiga was discovered in 2012 as a photographer by ICT Creatives, and she went on to work on photography campaigns for NGOs, private contractors and individual projects. This birthed her ventures into art and design.  She was also the photographer for Yat Madit production, 2015-2016. She was the production designer for the short film Askari, 2017

She is a published poet, featured in anthologies like Painted Voices Volume 2 by FEMRITE, A Thousand Voices Rising, by BNN, and Reflections: An Anthology of New Work, by African women poets by Lynne Reinner publishers.