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SGJ | The Sankofa Griotte Journal


SGJ | The Sankofa Griotte Journal

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What Is a Griotte





























What Is a Griotte?

In West Africa, a female storyteller is called a griotte (male practitioners of this art are known as griots). These storytellers are members of an elite group of men and women who are professional oral historians. They are the keepers of the great events of African history. Their presence in the history of West Africa goes back at least 700 years. However, Tom Hale, in his book Griots and Griottes, proclaims that griots have been around for a millennium. Traditionally, griottes and griots, besides serving as historians, were also genealogists, advisers to nobility, entertainers, messengers, praise singers—the list goes on.

In today’s world, the role of African storytellers has changed, as now they perform on television and radio and record CDs. They even have YouTube videos. Besides performing in their traditional settings of ceremonies and parties in West Africa, they now also travel all around the world practicing their craft.

A traditional West African saying is, “When a griot dies, it is like a library burns.” This saying comes from the notion that is because when these historians die, they take their knowledge with them as nothing is written down, and if they do not teach their children the art of storytelling, it is like losing a library.

To learn more about griottes and griots, please see below:


Hale, Thomas A. 1998. Griots and Griottes: Masters of Words and Music. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. (Chapter 7p.217-243).

Hale, Thomas A., Marie Hornbein, and Aïssata Niandou. 1991. Griottes of the Sahel female keepers of the Songhay oral tradition in Niger. University Park: Pennsylvania State University.

Konaré Ba, Adam. 1993. Dictionnaire des femmes célèbres du Mali: (des temps mythico-légendaires au 26 mai 1991) ; précédé d'une analyse sur le rôle et l'image de la femme dans l'histoire du Mali. Bamako: Éd. Jamana, p.235. [French]

Price, Emmett George. 2010. Encyclopedia of African American music 1. 1. Oxford: Greenwood, pgs 367-370

Sutherland-Addy, Esi, and Aminata Diaw. 2005. Women writing Africa: West Africa and the Sahel (Vol.2). New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York.

Tang, Patricia. 2006. Masters of the Sabar Wolof Griot Percussionists of Senegal. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, p.138-140.

Taylor, Glenda R. 2011. The Jalimuso's Drum:African American Female Entertainers as Cultural Historians/Griottes. AMH Publishing.


Hale, T. A. (1994). Griottes: Female Voices from West Africa. Research in African Literatures, 25(3), 71-91.

Jansen, J. (1996). "Elle connait tout le mande": A tribute to the griotte siramori diabate. Research in African Literatures, 27(4), 180-197.


Joanna Lott. “Keepers of History,” Penn State News, May 1, 2002

“West African Storytellers: Griots and Griottes,” by Bethany Sage” (10th grade World Cultures African
curriculum; this site has good facts about griots) from Chatham University

What is a Griot?

Master Thesis

Echa, Iye.  SAMENESS AND DIFFERENCE A Comparative Study of Senegalese Taasu and US American Rap Music. Master Thesis from the University Utrecht, January 2014. 


Akra et la griotte Tapa Diarra à la Fête du Mali 2011 - Youtube Video [Min: 5:37]

The Griotte – Youtube Video [Min: 2:01]

Griot. Griotte: Tapa Diarra et Diely Mori Tounkara - Youtube Video [Min: 4:17]

Youtube Griot search results

Griotte Names

Ndeye Gueye

Weybi Karma

Malienne Babani Koné

Kandia Kouyaté

Dionton Tounkara


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