A griot or Jeli is a West African historian, storyteller, musician, genealogist, spokesperson, diplomat, teacher, praise-singer and more. There is really no word in the English language that fully explains what a Griot does. Not every griot does all these things, but these are some examples of what their function is.

A griot was a public servant, an artist, and a royal counselor. Each clan, village, and warrior-family had a griot. They kept track of all births, marriages, deaths, battles and other tribal histories. Griots were also said to have the ability to see one’s future. They could memorize the history of every member of a clan or tribe going back for centuries.

The position of a griot was traditionally passed down from father to son. A griot was born into and trained by a griot family. For those not born into griot families, sometimes there was a master griot who taught the arts associated with the position. Today there are state-sponsored and private schools that teach griot arts. But they focus on the musical aspects and not the verbal skills.


Adapted from Griot Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.