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Gassire's Lute

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by

Hillary Martinez

on 25 November 2014

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Transcript of Gassire's Lute

Gassire’s Lute is a lyrical epic accredited to the Soninke people of West Africa that depicts the tale of a conceited warrior prince who wants to achieve immortality through what he thinks are heroic deeds worthy of ever-lasting fame. People will forever sing of him through the Dausi, a great battle song relaying these heroic actions. Gassire’s Lute portrays a common theme of an individual choosing between what’s best for him versus what’s best for his family and society, and everything that will result from his decision.
Gassire's Lute
Summary cont.
Nganamba Fasa was the last king of Dierra. He had a son named Gassire. Gassire fathered eight sons, who also had sons of their own. The Fasa were strong warriors who fought their enemies, the Burdama, in battle every day. King Nganamba was very old, and Gassire longed for his father’s death so that he could rule Wagadu. As King Nganamba continued to live and grow older, Gassire’s jealousy of his father’s power enraged him so much he could no longer sleep at night. He set out to ask the oldest wise man in the city when he will be king.
Summary cont.
The old wise man told him Nganamba will die, but he will not take his place. Gassire will instead carry a lute, which will cause the disappearance of Wagadu. Gassire was determined to prove the old wise man wrong, and decided to fight the Burdama alone to show how much of a great hero he was. He triumphantly killed many Burdama, making the rest of his enemies flee in terror. That same night, Gassire wondered into the fields and heard a partridge sing of its battle against a snake. The partridge sang of how all creatures will inevitably die, but its great deeds will forever live on in song. Gassire went to the old wise man again to ask if this was true, and the wise man again told Gassire that he will sing battle songs on the lute, but Wagadu will disappear because of it, and Gassire replied with, “Then let Wagadu disappear!”
Summary Cont.
The next morning Gassire visited the Fasa smith and instructed him to make a lute, but the smith said the lute will not sing until it became a part of Gassire. The lute needed to develop a heart by soaking up the blood and pain of Gassire and his sons, and only then it would sing great battle songs. So Gassire hung his lute upon his shoulder and set out into battle against the Burdama with one of his sons fighting along side him for the next seven days. Each day his son would die, and Gassire would sadly drape their corpse upon his back as the blood would pour over his lute and absorb into the wood. The people of Dierra saw that Gassire valued fame over life and banished him from the city to the Sahara Desert. One night Gassire sat alone by a fire, and out of the silence he heard his lute finally singing his Dausi next to him. When the lute finished singing, King Nganamba died, Gassire wept with joy and grief, and Wagadu disappeared for the first time.
Discussion Questions

1. In relation to its cultural context and comparing this myth with other similar epics, would you consider Gassire to be a hero? Why or why not?

2. Why was this myth constructed so that pain and bloodshed were necessary for the lute to sing instead of compassion and selflessness?

3. Do you think there is any significance for the lute being personified?

Summary
Wagadu, the empire of ancient Ghana, has disappeared four times: first from vanity, second from deception, third from greed, and fourth from discord. Each time she has changed her name: first to Dierra, next to Agada, then to Ganna, and finally to Silla, and with every reappearance her gates have changed direction from north to west then east and finally south. This gives her strength whether she’s built of earth, wood, stone, or exists only in visions. Vanity created great songs, deception brought forth gold and pearls, greed instilled the need for writing, and if found a fifth time, Wagadu’s beauty will be so radiant that she will never again be lost.
Hoooh! Dierra, Agada, Ganna, Silla! Hooh! Fasa!
Hoooh! Dierra, Agada, Ganna, Silla! Hoooh! Fasa!
Hoooh! Dierra, Agada, Ganna, Silla! Hoooh! Fasa!
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