The Epic of Sundiata is meaningless without the concepts of fate and destiny. When the Mandinka king receives the divine hunter at the royal court, and the hunter predicts that the king’s marriage to an ugly woman would grant him a mighty king for a son; the Mandinka king must honor the prophecy. It is for this reason that the king, before his death, gives to Sundiata – his son born of an ugly woman – a griot. When Sundiata is older, he too believes in the importance of harnessing powers of a supernatural nature (Niane).
Prophecies are, of course, made through supernatural powers. Seeing that the kings of the Mandinka people believe in supernatural powers, their subjects must also be believers in the same. Moreover, fate and destiny appear real to the Mandinka people, which is the reason why the prophecy is honored by the king. But, even if most of the Mandinka people do not believe in supernatural powers, the belief system of the king is expected to be superior to that of his people.
Belief in prophecy entails that one’s fate is determined, and there is nothing that one can do to change his or her destiny. Prophets are believed because they know the fate and destiny of others. By informing people about their respective fates and destinies, they save their people from being misled. At the same time, however, the concepts of fate and destiny entail that the Mandinka king would have married an ugly woman, with or without the prophecy of the hunter. The king would have had Sundiata, too, regardless of the prophecy.
The only useful part about the prophecy was that the king gifted Sundiata with a griot because he knew that Sundiata would be a mighty king in the future. Just as the Epic of Sundiata cannot be understood without reference to fate or destiny, Things Fall Apart focuses on a hero and his community, unable to change circumstances in the face of destiny. Things Fall Apart makes repeated references to chi, a concept that refers to a personal deity that is available to all people to guide them to fulfill their individual destinies.
It is impossible for a human being to struggle against the chi, or his or her spirit force. This is the reason why Okonkwo, a courageous and intelligent individual, cannot change his circumstances or that of his community even as things fall apart for everybody except the colonialists (Achebe). In other words, the human being is powerless against the decisions of the chi or his or her personal deity who establishes the fate and destiny of every soul. The personal deity of all people has determined that Okonkwo and his people would suffer, and there is nothing they can do about it (Achebe).
Okonkwo is a distinguished leader of a village in Nigeria. He is rich, powerful, brave as well as wise. He has worked hard to achieve his high status in his village. Thus, the village elders choose him to be the guardian of a boy named Ikemefuna, who has been made prisoner by Achebe’s tribe. Okonkwo must keep the boy with him until the Oracle decides otherwise (Achebe). This shows that man has no free will, and that, in fact, fate and destiny are determined by another. Human beings are not even allowed to make decisions by themselves.
If they attempt to make decisions by themselves, they must be severely punished, as Okonkwo was. When the village elders decided that Ikemefuna must be killed, Okonkwo went against the advice of the oldest man of the village by killing the boy himself. Subsequently, things started to fall apart for Okonkwo. He accidentally killed another individual at a funeral ceremony. For this act he had to be sent into exile with his family for a period of seven years. After all, he had offended the deities by committing the murder (Achebe).
When Okonkwo returned to his village, he struggled for his people against the colonialists. In the end, however, he had to kill himself (Achebe). The forces of change were too strong for him to resist. This reveals that man’s determination, intelligence, and courage have no power over destiny and fate. Even though I believe in fate and destiny, I do not agree with this grim vision of the same. Neither do I trust the fact that man has been rendered powerless by fate and destiny. In my understanding of these concepts, God, who is all-knowing, has written the fate and destiny of all people.
His knowledge of all people’s past, present and future is their fate and destiny, in fact. At the same time, He has given unto human beings the power to make decisions for themselves. The Bible confirms this view. Although there is nothing that a human being can do to fight destiny and fate, individuals are free to use their intelligence in the best possible ways. Our use of intelligence – in my belief – is also determined by God. He allows some people to prosper at the expense of others.
All the same, in the Biblical sense, such circumstances are a trial from God. He cannot be blamed for giving one man a life of riches, happiness and peace while his brother is poor and living in a violent neighborhood. In the Biblical view, both men are loved by God. However, by severely testing the homeless man, He would like the man to turn to Him in prayer. The rich man, on the other hand, is required to be of help to the poor man. If he does not help his brother, however, God would continue giving him opportunities to do so in future.
In this view of fate and destiny, God also knows the people who would go to Heaven as opposed to those who would enter Hellfire for eternity. Even so, I know that people have free will to choose what they would like to do with themselves and where they would like to go. God does not stop us from using our minds to do as we please. But, as I have already mentioned, it is He who ultimately decides what we would think. So, while one man concentrates on spirituality, another spends his entire lifetime thinking about the theory of relativity.
It is our personal destiny to think, do, and wish as God pleases. Of course, my understanding of fate and destiny is not the same as that of the Mandinka king or the people of Okonkwo. I do not visit soothsayers, and neither would I believe in all of them. Furthermore, even if it is unfashionable in our times to believe in God and supernatural powers, I continue to believe in fate and destiny. Works Cited Achebe, C. Things Fall Apart. New York: Doubleday & Co. , Inc. , 1994. Niane, D. T. (trans. ). Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali. Harlow: Longman, 2006.
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