Niger: A Rare Epic

Niger, I rarely even hear anything from or about this country, while Nigeria seems to be all over. This is why I feared it would be a struggle to find a book. It ended up not being that big of a struggle, but I also did not end up reading a book about Niger I wanted to read. The Epic of Askia Mohammed narrated by Nouhou Malio, edited, and translated by Thomas A. Hale. It is a historical epic, an oral story about a great leader back in the days.

Askia Mohammed is the most famous leader of the Songhay Empire, so he was definitely an important person, and an important part of the regional history. He lived about 1443 – 1538, which makes it interesting that there is a written epic about his life. It is a short book; the text is 1602 lines long. As expected it is a written word-for-word story, translated when it comes to English, but originally an orally told epic.

Nouhou Malio wanted to share the tale of Askia Mohammed with people outside of Niger and Mali, so that the rest of the world could learn about the Songhay. He told the story during two sessions, and it took about ten years to get the story transcribed, translated and into the book I read. Impressive! I highly respect dedicated individuals and groups who are willing to take on such a project.

I felt a bit disappointed not getting to read about life in Niger, but on the other hand, it felt like a privilege to get to read a book that so many people had worked on for such a long time. The book is important to the history of the region and highly recommended to people interested in the history of Niger, and Africa in general. To a more general audience I think the story behind it, how the oral epic became a book, is the more interesting part.

I am happy that there are many things explained and an introduction to the subject, because otherwise I would have been completely lost. For anyone interested in the subject it is definitely worth a read, because to begin with, it will not take a reader a long time to read it. It is not worth rushing through it. For a short story, there are many people and events involved in the epic. I might sound a bit cryptic, but only by reading the epic can you fully understand what I mean.

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