- A chacun son griot. Le mythe du griot-narrateur dans la littérature et le cinéma d'Afrique de l'ouest
Valérie Thiers-Thiam's study finds its justification at the junction of two definitions of the griot: as a mythic construction of Mande culture based on the tale of Soundjata and as a socioprofessional agent of society whose role is to pass on a historic and cultural heritage to the next generation. It examines how the modern griot, staged in a new position between reality and fiction as a character in postindependence written literature and more recently in African cinema, has to reconcile orality with the written and recorded word in an ongoing search for new ways to transmit culture.
Following Eileen Julien's perspective on orality as not being an essentialist condition of African cultures but a consequence of concrete socioeconomic situations in Africa, Thiers-Thiam limits her investigation of the appropriation of the figure of the griot by African writers to five narratives of Soundjata, the Mande epic, from Djibril Tamsir Niane's 1968 novel Soundjata ou l'épopée mandingueto Massa Makan Diabaté's Le lion à l'arcin 1986. Chapter 5 of the essay is seminal as it studies the appropriation of the figure of the traditional griot by African cinema in Dani Kouyaté's 1994 acclaimed movie, Keïta, l'héritage du griot, the only adaptation so far of the story of Soundjata for the screen. This last chapter and a short presentation of the griot in African cinema since Ousmane Sembène's 1964 Niayein the conclusion invite further research on the evolution of the griot "theme" from literature to cinema (the latter fast becoming the medium of choice for African intellectuals to reconcile the controversial dichotomy between orality being for Africa and writing for Western intellectuals).
In chapter 5, Thiers-Thiam proposes that the fictional representation of the griot on the screen has direct consequences on his role as recipient and transmitter ( passeur) of a heritage and an identity, because of the aural and visual dimensions of the new medium of communication and the possibility for the proliferation of multiple narrative voices. Such points are convincingly taken by the analysis of Massa Makan Diabaté's "editorial" techniques as a step toward understanding and successfully linking written representations with filmmaking. Three versions of the epic were written from a single recording of his own uncle, the famous griot Kele Monson Diabaté. Thiers-Thiam proceeds methodically by pointing out how the author's study of sociology and history and his doctoral thesis on the role of the griot as keeper of the social memory of Mali appropriately inform his claim of authenticity for the oral performance of the griot in the first version, Janjon. That first claim is reinforced through a comparative study of L'aigle et l'épervier, the third version, with John Johnson's academic research on the epic, and the respective notes and prefaces of both authors, even though Massa Makan Diabaté distances himself from Niane's version in his preface and from the words of the griot in his notes, based on the argument that griots have lost their authentic voice by using radio programs to make themselves known to a [End Page 232]larger public. Finally, a confrontation between the second version, Kala Jata, and the last, L'aigle et l'épervier, ingeniously shows that the griot gradually regains his status as an oral performer of the Mande tradition. When the epic is recorded as literature, a more insistent and sophisticated authorial voice in paratextual material leads to a crucial change in the narrative perspective, as "the knowledge of the writer precedes that of the griot" (126n1, my translation). In his film, following in the path of Massa Makan Diabaté's use of "his own family heritage as a stepping stone for his literary project" (133), Dani Kouyaté reappropriates his father...