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Griots, the West African traditional bards, have attracted scholarly attention for decades because of their apparently infinite knowledge of history and their positions as social mediators. Academic research has thus focused on their verbal skills, their memory, their music and the meaning of their texts. Their diplomatic skills as mediators, however, have never been the object of systematic analysis. This book aims to fill that lacuna by examining how griots deal with both social relationships and the transfer of knowledge, thus illustrating why griots play such an important role in Mande societies. Griots are more than mere `storytellers' or `entertainers'. The subtle art of diplomatic mediation is integral to their craft. Jan Jansen elaborates his ideas on the basis of observations made during two years of research conducted among the prestigious bards of Kela (Mali). By using an interactionist approach, he demonstrates how griots create - both physically and metaphorically - a space to work in, and how they shape social relations - for which the creation of alleged historical texts is a prerequisite - through which conflicts are communicated and subsequently resolved.
"Jansen is the first scholar to provide us with extensive insight into `jelikan' (griot speech) as social practice and function. Jansen's arguments attack many long-accepted views of Mande oral tradition and will undoubtedly raise controversy, but they are soundly based on extensive and sensitive fieldwork." (Ralph A. Austen, Professor of African History, University of Chicago)
Jan Jansen is a fellow of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the anthropology department at the University of Leiden. His writings include a Ph.D. dissertation on the Sunjata epic (1995) and a text edition of the Sunjata epic.