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Of Dangerous Energy and Transformations: "Nyamakalaya" and the Sunjata Phenomenon

Robert C. Newton
Research in African Literatures
Vol. 37, No. 2 (Summer, 2006), pp. 15-33
Published by: Indiana University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3821153
Page Count: 19
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Of Dangerous Energy and Transformations: "Nyamakalaya" and the Sunjata Phenomenon
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Abstract

The importance of Sunjata as legendary, historical figure and as an epic narrative has extended far beyond the regions of the greater Mande social and cultural influence to become firmly entrenched within African Studies throughout the world. Its persistence in both realms is understandable given that the Sunjata phenomenon offers a unique portal into vast areas of West Africa, past and present. For this reason it is crucial to consider the nature of this phenomenon within African Studies, what and how it is taught, and its relation to the continued if variable and changing presence of Sunjata within the greater Mande world. In this context, I consider current Mande attitudes toward the concept of "nyama", the vital yet dangerous energy that animates all things, including powerful, iconic figures like Sunjata, and the performances describing their exploits, and how this relates to the changing role of the jeli, the master of words and music entrusted with these performances.

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