A chapter from the book “Kuma Malinke Historiography: Sundiata Keita to Almamy Samori Toure” translated by Nubia Kai
The Mande Charter or Mande Oath was a charter created circa 1232 A.C.E. during the formation of the Mali empire. Sundiata Keita, the great founding father and first emperor of Mali and a team of advisors authored the beautifully worded text that spells out the rights of human beings and abolishes slavery and the slave trade in the empire. An oath that was undisclosed for centuries as part of the ‘secret history’ of Mali, the Mande Charter was a clandestine document taught only to griot (historian) initiates. One of these initiates, Wa Kamissoko, a master griot from Krina, decided it was time to reveal some of the secret history to the public since modernity was rapidly eroding the traditional systems of knowledge. Malian historian Youssouf Tata Cissé, who was fascinated by Wa Kamissoko’s dignity, dedication, and amazing scope of knowledge spent years studying and documenting his discourses. His most important discourse was the revelation of the Mande Charter abolishing slavery forever in the Mali Empire, an oath that was broken twenty years after Sundiata’s death.
The Mande Charter
1. The hunters declare:
All human life is one life.
It is true that one life may appear to exist
Before another life,
But one life is not more “ancient” or more
Respectable than another life
In the same way no living being is superior to another living being.
2. The hunters declare:
All life being one life,
All harm caused to a living being requires reparation
No one can take things freely [steal] from his neighbor,
No one must cause harm to his fellow man,
No one should kill his fellow man.
3. The hunters declare:
That everyone must watch over his fellow man,
That everyone should venerate their ancestors,
That everyone should educate their children,
That everyone maintain and provide for the needs of their family.
4. The hunters declare:
That each guard the country of their fathers
Through country or homeland
He must also understand and especially men
That every nation, every land where men disappeared
From the face of the earth
Became immediately nostalgic.
5. The hunters declare:
Hunger is not a good thing,
Slavery is no longer a good thing,
There is no greater calamity than slavery in the present world.
As long as we are in possession of the bow and quiver,
Hunger will no longer kill a person in Manden,
If by chance famine raged against us,
War will never again destroy some village
To take away slaves,
From now on no one can force a bit in the mouth
Of another human being to sell into slavery,
A person will no longer beat, let alone, put to death another
Because he is son of a slave.
6. The hunters declare:
The essence of slavery is extinguished this day
“from one end to the other” of Manden,
Raiding is banished and reckoned with this day in Manden,
The torments born of these horrors have ended this day in Manden.
What tribulation, what torment!
Especially when the oppressed have no other recourse
What decadence that slavery!
The slave is not shown any consideration in this world.
7. The people of the past say:
“Man in that he is an individual
Made of bone and flesh of marrows and nerves,
Nourishes himself with food and drink;
But his soul, his mind lives on three things:
To see what it wishes to see,
To say what it wishes to say,
And do what it wishes to do;
If even one of these things is missing from the soul,
It suffers and will surely waste away.”
Consequently, the hunters declare:
From now on each person arranges his own affairs
Everyone is free to do what he wants
In respect of the prohibitions
Such is the oath of the Manden
For the benefit of the ears of the entire world.
Nubia Kai (Translator)
See also Abolition of Slavery in West Africa; Mali Empire; Manden Oath
Cissé, Youssouf Tata and Wa Kamissoko. La grande geste du Mali. Paris: Éditions
Cissé, Youssouf Tata and Wa Kamissoko. Soundjata, la gloire du Mali. Paris:
Éditions Karthala, 1992.
Kai, Nubia. “An Investigation of Malinke Historiography: From Sundiata Keita to
Almamy Samori Toure.” Diss. Howard University, 2005.
Kamissoko, Wa. L’empire du Mali. Trans. Youssouf Tata Cissé. Paris: Foundation