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Who is a Griot?


Who is a Griot?

There are many ways to understand who a Griot is…I myself, Baba, can talk about my family, but also on behalf of all griots in the world. Griot, in Bambara (i.e. the language of my country, Mali) is Djeliya, which means humankind; Djeliya also means nobleness and "he who has a gift for eloquence". 

Why is the griot considered as a natural library?

A griot is a very clever person, from any viewpoint. The Djeli (griot) was the strength of the family, i.e the kind of strength which exists when respect, understanding and harmony are present. 
There are four types of griots:

  • The father is the symbol of the family;  
  • The mother epitomises the foundation of the family; 
  • The eldest son follows his father and succeeds him while the other children follow him;  
  • The eldest daughter follows her mother  

The griot’s task is the harmonisation of souls and hearts.

He can soothe the spirits in case of war, he arranges marriages; kings and generals trust him; he educates children.

The griot transfers his secrets and knowledge to one of his children; he usually teaches the traditions to his eldest son. His learning process begins during the baptism ceremony, when the selected child starts following his father and learning how to play the Tamani.

His father shows him the way and teaches him how to play the tamani; the selected son will then teach his younger brothers what he learned from his father. 

Everything is accompanied by the music, which is always present in the griot’s family. 

However the father is not obliged to transfer his knowledge to his eldest son. He carefully observes his sons before making a final decision and choice.

The eldest daughter spends all her time with her mother. Moreover, women learn to sing, but not to play. The mother is always accompanied by her eldest daughter when she sings during a baptism or wedding. Also the mother observes her daughters, but she usually teaches all she knows to all her daughters. 

The father also teaches his children to play the Ngoni and talk as a griot.

After choosing his successor, he will share all his secrets with him, away from all other children. Anyway there are often in the griot families children very skilled since their birth; they have a "gift" and nothing can be kept secret to them because they are already very talented at birth (or even before). 

They automatically become the selected ones, even if they are not the eldest children. 

This is my case.

to be continued in [The Griot Baba Sissoko]