Today we explore the Mandinka griot culture through Khadijatou Suso, a very proud griot who lets everyone know wherever she goes.
A Griot is a cultural historian who praises people, settles disputes in the community and entertains people, which for me is a great blessing to be a part of that cultural lineage.
My culture for me means a lot because it is my identity and it’s connected to positive things,” she says.
Suso was born in Sukuta and raised in a griot home with 17 siblings. She comes from a long lineage of griots starting from her great-great-grandparents down to her parents. Coming from such a large family, Suso feels Jaliyaa (the act of being a griot) was their strength, saying “my dad took care of all of us and educated us with jaliyaa.” Her dad having missed out on the opportunity for a western education, but made sure that all 17 of his children had a western education along with learning about his culture and religion. Suso has now graduated with a bachelors from The University Of The Gambia and is currently in Germany pursuing her masters degree.
Falling in love with everything about being a griot including leading to play instruments like kora, and was easy for suso with her growing up completely surrounded by it. She watched as her parents not only practice the art, but also taught other people and learned in the process. She recalled what that was like growing up.
“I watched people doing it, and people also came from Europe, The U.S., Asia and all over to come to our home to learn it, and being around all of that, we all learned it. Now we are all teachers. We are also still learning from our parents. However, my parents will call us sometimes and correct what we are doing or show us a different way of doing things.”
As Suso grew and pursue higher education, she embraced being a griot right along and calling it her “glue” that grounded her and kept her together through it all. She is determined to go as far as she can go in her education because not only does it mean a lot to her and her dad, but she also wants to use it to further her career as a griot and break stereotypes that people have about griots.
“I feel that some people don’t value who we are and what we do. I feel that it is because they don’t really see the value of griots in the culture as a whole, I know the value of it and that’s why I’m so proud of it. Some go to the extent of not letting their kids marry someone because they are from a griot family.” Suso hopes that her pride and respect for who she is and her culture will change the minds of Gambians who look down on her griot culture.
However, there is a lot about her culture, she wants to show not only Gambians but pass down to her children. “Respect is a huge part of our culture as griots that I want to pass on to my children,” she says. She would also love to show them how to respect not only one’s elders, but even extend the same respect to those younger than you. Being a griot has also taught her the value of being a good listener. She also wants to teach them to be confident, without that self confidence “you cannot stand in large crowds to praise people, be a history teller or resolve conflicts, therefore, I want to pass on that value of self confidence.”