Origin of the Word Griot

There are many theories on the origin of the word “griot.” One theory suggest that the word comes from the French word guiriot, which first appears in publication in a manuscript dated the year 1637, titled Relation du voyage du Cap-Verd, written by a Capuchin missionary named A. de Saint-Lô.

Another theory suggest that the word griot is derived from the Portuguese word criado, which means “he who eats, learns and lives in the master’s house.” This theory reflects on the traditional relationship of the griot with his patron(s). It has also been suggested that the word may be a derivation of other terms for griot, used by many other indigenous West African Cultures: gawlo (Fulbe), gewel (Wolof), jawal (Soninké) are but a few.

The indigenous term among the Mande of West Africa, instead of griot, varies in sound depending on the region you travel. For example, in Mali, West Africa you will tend to hear the terms Jeli (pl. Jeliw) and Jelimuso (female). While in The Gambia you will more often hear the term Jali (pl. Jalolu) and Jalimuso.

The craft of the Jali is known as Jaliyaa. Due to the use of non-indigenous script and the pervasiveness of orature throughout West Africa, there are numerous spellings for the word Jali. You will found it spelled: Jelli, Diali, Djeliba, Yali, Dyali, or even Dyeli. For the sake of simplicity, it is referred to, throughout this site as Jali.

Still want to dig a little deeper into this ancient craft, check out another one of the links below:

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