Roots Summary

In Roots, Haley mixes historical and fictional accounts to tell the story of an American family. Beginning in the 1800s, when the family's African ancestors lived, the novel moves through the Middle Passage, the horrors of slavery, the centuries of oppression to reach the present day.

  • Kunta grows up in a village in Gambia. Kunta is later captured by slave traders, taken to Annapolis Maryland, and sold into slavery.

  • Kunta's daughter, Kizzy, helps another slave escape. She's sold to a man who repeatedly rapes her. Eventually, she bears a son, Chicken George.

  • The narrative speeds through the lives of Chicken George's descendants to reach Alex Haley, the author, who has been writing the saga of his own family.


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Roots is, in Alex Haley’s words, a “novelized amalgam” of documented historical and fictionalized events. Haley’s artistic intent, that his family’s narrative should serve as a symbolic saga for all Americans of African descent, pervades the novel on all levels. With the exception of the last three chapters, the novel is told from an omniscient, third-person perspective.

In the spring of 1750 in Juffure, The Gambia, a son is born to Omoro Kinte and his second wife, Binta. The child is named Kunta. As a member of the old and highly esteemed Kinte family, Kunta is schooled in the customs and traditions befitting a future Mandinka warrior. Throughout his childhood, Kunta is taught to avoid and fear the “toubob,” white men who capture African people for evil purposes.

Despite these tribal caveats, Kunta is captured by white slave traders in 1767 while searching for a tree section to make a drum. Along with 140 Africans of various tribes, Kunta is shipped as cargo on the Lord Ligonier. Pestilence, filth, depravity, and cruelty fill this episode, serving as a controlling metaphor for the inhumanity of the institution of slavery. The captives unsuccessfully stage a revolt, resulting in the deaths of many. Kunta admires the courage of these dead, for they died as warriors. He, as a survivor, dreads what is to come, for he instinctively knows that his eventual fate will be worse than the ocean voyage.

In Annapolis, Maryland, Kunta is sold to John Waller and given the name “Toby.” Appalled by the toubob and their pagan ways, Kunta attempts to escape four times. After his last attempt, he is apprehended by two slave catchers. Given the choice of castration or foot amputation, Kunta chooses the latter. John Waller’s brother William, a physician, is outraged at the mutilation and buys Kunta.

Kunta, through the ministrations of William Waller’s cook, Bell, recovers from this last ordeal. After a lengthy courtship, he “jumps de broom” (the slave equivalent of the marriage ceremony) with Bell. A daughter is born to the couple. Kunta gives her the Mandinka name of “Kizzy,” meaning “you stay put.” Now crippled and unable to run away, Kunta is entrusted with driving Dr. Waller on his calls, which enables him to hear news of the outside world. Of particular interest to Kunta are the accounts of Toussaint Louverture’s revolt in Haiti, which he sees as paralleling his own struggle for freedom, especially when Napoleon Bonaparte captures Toussaint.

Kunta persists in keeping alive his dream of freedom and his pride in his African heritage, both of which he passes on to Kizzy. A clever child, Kizzy is entranced by her father’s African tales and learns many Mandinka words. At the age of sixteen, she is sold to the dissolute Tom Lea as punishment for aiding another slave to escape.

Lea rapes Kizzy repeatedly for several months, eventually fathering a son, George. Kizzy, a devoted mother, regards her son as the descendant of “the African,” not as the son of Tom Lea. She instills in her son both her pride in their African heritage and Kunta Kinte’s dream of freedom.

As George grows to manhood, he exhibits traits of both parents. Like Tom Lea, he loves cockfighting and carousing. The rakish George becomes such an accomplished trainer of gamecocks that he earns the sobriquet of “Chicken George.” From Kizzy he has inherited the desire to be free, and he is determined to buy himself and his family. When Lea loses Chicken George in a bet with an Englishman, he promises Chicken George his manumission papers upon his return.

Years later, Chicken George returns and is grudgingly freed by Lea. Kizzy has died during his absence, but Chicken George seeks to reunite his family, whom Lea had sold to the Murrays. When he finds the family, Chicken George gathers them around and relates the family narrative.

After the Civil War, the family moves to Henning, Tennessee. Upon Chicken George’s death, Tom Murray, his son, asserts his position as patriarch and emphasizes the importance of the family and the oral tradition to his children. Both of these ideas are perpetuated by Tom’s daughter, Cynthia, and other female members of the Murray family. Cynthia’s daughter Bertha, who evinces little interest in the family narrative, goes away to college, where she meets and marries Simon Alexander Haley.

While Haley is a graduate student at Cornell, their first son is born, Alexander Haley. At this point, the novel abruptly shifts to Haley’s first-person narrative, which recounts the death of his mother and the summers he and his brothers spent at Grandma Cynthia’s house listening to the “graying ladies” tell the story of “the African Kin-tay” who called a guitar a “ko” and the river “Kamby Bolongo.” In the final two chapters, Haley details the research and writing of Roots, addressing the fact/fiction elements of the novel.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Summary

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family became a best-seller almost as soon as it came out in 1976, and its popularity continued through its presentation as a television miniseries. As Haley intended, Roots became a saga of all African Americans. Additionally, the story of the search for and finding of ancestral roots struck a universal chord. Despite persistent questions of genealogical and historical accuracy, Roots accomplishes an insightful rendition of African American experience: the rhythms of African village life, the terror of captivity and drawn-out horror of crossing the Atlantic, the rage of a free man thrust into slavery, and the cruel ironies involved in surviving slave life in America. Only briefly does the book describe life after the Civil War, but the twentieth century account of Haley’s recovery of his African ancestor satisfactorily completes Kunta Kinte’s odyssey and gives the saga symbolic wholeness.

Kunta, who is of the Mandinka tribe, grows up in the Muslim village of Juffure in Gambia, West Africa, under the tutelage of his mother Binta, father Omoro, and village elders. He matures through prescribed stages of increasing responsibility to young manhood. He thus has a secure sense of who he is when he is surprised outside the village and captured by slavers. Haley vividly conveys Kunta’s fury and fear at being chained and taken he knows not where for an end he cannot imagine. He survives the terrible trip across the Atlantic. He and the surviving captives are sold in America, but Kunta still knows who he is and that he is not a slave. In his rage he thinks only of escape. Only after several attempts fail and his foot is chopped off does he submit. He answers to the slave name “Toby”; he marries Bell, and they have Kizzy. Her name and a few words are the only African heritage he can bequeath. Gradually he learns that his fellow slaves are not defined by their condition. He recognizes their human dignity and that, like him, they are slaves only on the surface.

Kunta’s story breaks off when Kizzy is sold away from her family. The African, however, has passed on to her and to later generations his own unshakable identity. His courage enables his descendants to know themselves as human beings unjustly deprived of freedom and to reject from within the cruel slave identity imposed by others.

The family chronicle arrives quickly at young Alex, who, hearing from his grandmother about “the African,” is inspired years later to search until the family story comes back to him in an African storyteller’s recitation.

American slavery sought to wipe out an African’s name, identity, language, and history, so Haley’s saga is triumphant and exciting, the recovery of an identity against all odds. Roots figuratively restores the stolen heritage of all African Americans.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In the spring of 1750, Kunta Kinte is born in Juffure in The Gambia, Africa. His father is Omoro; his mother is Binta. Kunta learns the Mandinka village’s customs and its religion—Islam. At five years of age, he graduates to the second kafo, donning clothes, attending school, and herding goats. He learns that some people in Juffure are slaves and that toubob—white people—sometimes capture Africans and sell them into slavery.

At ten years of age, he enters the third kafo, when boys receive manhood training, learning how to hunt, to use their wits, and to make war. They study sacred writings—the Qur՚n, the Pentateuch, and the Psalms. The boys then are circumcised and sent back to the village as men. Kunta moves from his mother’s hut into his own. He, his younger brother, Lamin, and some friends go to hunt for gold. He listens to the Council of Elders discussing village business.

One day after sentry duty, Kunta looks for wood for a drum. Some toubob and their black assistants ambush and capture him. He and people from other tribes are shackled in a ship’s hold, where many die. The stench of vomit, urine, feces, and death is overwhelming. Kunta becomes very ill but survives the four-month journey.

Sold to a white man, Kunta cannot understand why other black men do not free him. He runs away but is recaptured by men and dogs. Kunta works in the fields and watches the ways of both toubob and black people in this new land, where tobacco and butchered hogs offend his Muslim nose. Kunta’s master calls him Toby. He secretly learns some toubob words and pretends to obey, but when his leg irons are removed, he again runs away. Again he is captured; again he runs. This time he is shot. He recovers and runs again; his captors cut off half of his foot.

A toubob man of medicine and a black woman, Bell, help Kunta’s foot heal. A man called Fiddler befriends him and begins teaching him English. When Kunta is well enough, he helps the gardener, taking over his duties after the old man becomes ill. The Fiddler tells Kunta he is in Virginia; the old gardener talks about slavery and about the rebellion against the king. The slaves discuss white people’s fear that the English will encourage slaves to fight their masters. The gardener also talks about their owner, whose wife and baby died. Massa Waller bought Kunta from Waller’s brother.

Kunta becomes Waller’s driver, taking the doctor to call on patients, friends, and relatives. At Waller’s parents’ plantation, Kunta meets another African. Kunta realizes that, although keeping his dignity, he is losing his African identity. Partly because the old African encourages him to have children, Kunta considers marrying. He and Bell spend time together and finally “jumped the broom.” Marriage agrees with him; Bell tells him what she read in the master’s newspaper (although slaves are forbidden to read), and Kunta tells her about Africa. Kunta and Bell have a daughter, Kizzy. Massa Waller’s niece, Anne, adores her, infuriating Kunta. Kunta begins teaching Kizzy Mandinka, although Bell fears it will endanger the child.

News of slave uprisings interest Kunta and his friends, partly because revolts so terrify white people. Kizzy loves a slave named Noah, who runs away. When caught, he confesses that Kizzy forged his pass. Waller sells Kizzy; Kunta and Bell never see her again.

Tom Lea, a North Carolinian, buys Kizzy and rapes her repeatedly. She has a son, George. Kizzy and Lea’s other slaves—Malizy, Pompey, and Sarah—care for George. Kizzy teaches George about his grandfather. George begins spending time with Mingo, a slave who trains fighting cocks. Finally, Lea has Mingo build George a shack and train him as an assistant. Upset, Kizzy bursts out with the truth about George’s father’s identity.

George becomes such an excellent rooster trainer that he is called Chicken George. Chicken George marries Matilda, a girl from a neighboring plantation, and Massa Lea buys her. The couple have eight children. Chicken George begins saving to buy the family’s freedom, but Massa Lea loses him in a chicken fight. By the time Chicken George returns from England, Massa Lea has sold Matilda and their children to the Murrays.

Chicken George and Matilda’s son Tom, a blacksmith, begins saving to buy his grandmother and the other Lea slaves, except Uncle Pompey, who has died. When Chicken George returns to Lea’s farm, he finds Kizzy and Sarah dead also. He gets his father drunk and finds his hidden manumission paper, then tracks down his family, including new in-laws and grandchildren. He stays briefly on the Murray farm, telling his grandson about their African ancestor, but leaves because of the law that a freed slave can stay in North Carolina only sixty days.

When the Civil War begins, a white boy, George Johnson, comes begging for food; Murray makes him an overseer. The family, who like his honesty and hard work, teach him his job. George leaves and returns with his pregnant wife, Martha, who is so weak their baby is born dead.

Despite the Emancipation Proclamation, freedom comes only with the war’s end in 1865. Chicken George returns and takes the family, with other freed people and the Johnsons, to Tennessee. Matilda dies; a few years later Chicken George falls into a fire and is killed. Tom and his wife Irene’s daughter Cynthia marries Will Palmer, who manages a lumber mill. They tell their daughter, Bertha, the story of the African. At college, Bertha meets Simon Alexander Haley. They marry and have a son, Alex Haley.

As a boy, Haley listens to relatives talk about their ancestor, Kunta Kinte. He uses his journalistic skills, developed in the U.S. Coast Guard, to track down his ancestors. The Reader’s Digest finances his search, which takes him to the Gambian village of Juffure, where a griot—an oral historian—tells the Kinte family’s story. When the griot tells about young Kunta Kinte who went out to cut wood and was never seen again, Haley knows he has finished his ancestor’s tale. Haley and the Mandingos are ecstatic. Haley finds records of the ship on which Kunta was transported and of Kunta’s sale from John to William Waller. Haley spends ten nights on a plank in a freighter’s hold to get a hint of his ancestor’s experience.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Roots opens with the birth of Kunta Kinte in 1750 in the small Gambian village of Juffure in West Africa. The firstborn child of Omoro and Binta Kunte, young Kunta is raised in the same way as all male Muslim children in his Mandinka tribe. In his lessons, he is taught to read and write in Arabic, to say his prayers, and to do arithmetic. From his father and older boys, he learns to hunt. He helps look after his younger brother, who idolizes him. When he reaches adolescence, he and the other boys his age are taken away for four months of “manhood training,” including grueling physical training and the ritual of circumcision. When they return to the village, there is much rejoicing, for now they are all men.

From listening to snatches of frightening stories told by his elders, Kunta learns to stay away from the toubob—the white men—who hunt for young people like himself and take them away in a big canoe. One day, however, when he is out searching for wood to make a drum for his younger brother, Kunta is captured. He endures the horrors of the “middle passage”—the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean on a crowded, stinking, disease-ridden slave ship, an experience shared by perhaps twenty million Africans over the almost four hundred years of the slave trade.

Arriving at a plantation in Virginia, Kunta is shocked to find that the other black people there are not Africans—they speak English, practice Christianity, and seem to accept the fact that they are slaves. Kunta vows never to assimilate. He insists that his name is Kunta Kinte, not Toby, the name chosen for him by the plantation owner, and he refuses to eat pork or join in the strange Christian rituals that the other slaves seem to enjoy. He tries to run away several times and receives successively more brutal beatings each time he is caught. The last time, he is punished by having part of one foot amputated; afterwards, he is physically unable to run away again.

After the amputation, Kunta is sent to another plantation, where he is nursed back to health by Bell, a slave woman of about his own age. He learns to speak English and gradually finds that he is forgetting his native language. However, in most other ways, he continues to refuse to assimilate. At the age of thirty-nine, when he has been a slave for more than twenty years, Kunta marries Bell but still finds it difficult to accept the African American marriage ritual of “jumping the broom,” finding it far too frivolous a ceremony for such an important event. He also tries to resist having their daughter, Kizzy, baptized as a Christian, but Bell insists.

Kunta names his daughter “Kizzy” because it is a Mandinka word that means “you stay put.” He explains to Bell that this will protect her from being sold away from them. However, when Kizzy is sixteen, she forges a traveling pass for a boy who is trying to run away, and when he is caught, she is punished by being sold to another plantation. There, the owner rapes her and she becomes pregnant. Her son, George, enjoys the owner’s favor, but even though George receives better treatment than many slaves, the owner does not treat him like a son. George is skilled at training cocks for cockfighting and comes to be known as Chicken George.

A colorful character, Chicken George enjoys liquor, traveling, and the company of women, but he settles down long enough to marry a young slave woman named Mathilda and produce many children. Kizzy, Chicken George, Mathilda, and the children continue to live together for many years until the plantation owner falls into financial difficulty. To pay off his debts, he sends Chicken George to England to work for five years as a cock trainer for an Englishman, promising to grant him his freedom when he returns. While Chicken George is away, the owner sells Mathilda and the children, but not Kizzy, to a plantation in North Carolina.

After Chicken George returns from England, he is a free man, and freedom comes soon afterward for all the slaves with the end of the Civil War. One of Chicken George’s sons, Tom, is a skilled blacksmith, and he moves the family to western Tennessee, where he sets up a mobile blacksmithing business. The family settles here in the town that is later named Henning, Tennessee. It is here that Tom’s daughter Cynthia grows up, marries, and gives birth to Bertha, who is to become the mother of Alex Haley.

At this point, Roots changes to the first-person voice, and Haley describes his childhood and the stories he hears from his older relatives about “the African,” Kunta Kinte, who came to America on a ship that landed in Annapolis and refused to be called Toby. Starting from just a few facts, Haley begins his research into the family’s roots, which ultimately takes him to Gambia and the griot who provides Haley’s “peak experience”—hearing the African side of his family’s heritage told to him in Kunta Kinte’s native village, surrounded by distant relatives who then embrace him as their own.

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Summary

Kunta Kinte
Roots begins in a small African village named Juffure with the birth of a son to Omoro and Binta...

(The entire section is 1418 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter Summaries

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 1 Summary

In the African village of Juffure, in the Gambia on the coast of West Africa, a little boy is born to Omoro and Binta Kinte of the Mandinka tribe. The parents give praise to Allah for their great blessings in this child, one who will assure the continuation of the Kinte name in the village and for all time. For Omoro, it is a time of good fortune.

Even during the birth, life goes on as usual amid the mud huts of the village. The women make the porridge and build the fires. The men are called to the first prayer of the day led by the alimamo. The wives feed the men and then the children and then themselves. The men then prepare to farm the land for couscous, cotton, and groundnuts, while the women tend to the rice.


(The entire section is 410 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 2 Summary

Being primarily a farming community, Juffure prepares for the planting season, the men burning weeds to nourish the soil with the ashes, the women planting new seedlings behind them. Grandma Yaisa enters the scene. She is the matronly woman who is both Kunta Kinte's grandmother and the woman who tends Binta's life-giving rice plot while Binta is recovering from delivery.

Now Binta comes back to tend her own rice with baby Kunta strapped snugly in a sling and a bundle balanced on her head. She is walking with friends along the banks of the river the Mandinka call the Kamby Bolongo, one of the many tributaries of the great Gambia River. The mangroves and the other perfumed plants fill the air with beautiful scents as...

(The entire section is 473 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 3 Summary

Kunta Kinte is now three years old, and the years pass as they always do, with the "lean season" preceding the rains. It is in this lean season that the villagers of Juffure always fear they will starve. Countless prayers are said to Allah. The women start mixing their rice and couscous with baobab leaves. A few goats, the lifeblood of the tribe, are even killed as a sacrifice to Allah to ask for mercy. However, as they always do, the winds begin to blow and the rains come. The men hoe their rows in straight lines, preparing for seeds.

It is at this very time that the women arrive dressed in the traditional leaf-adorned fertility garments and attend to their men in the fields. They walk behind their men and drop a seed...

(The entire section is 511 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 4 Summary

Kunta and the other little ones of the Mandinka tribe are still happily playing about in the early rains, often claiming the elusive rainbows to be “mine,” that is, until the big rains come. Then the entire tribe huddles inside the huts as the people watch their village turn into a mud pit. It is hard for the young ones to understand the parents’ happiness, but they still ask Allah for even more rain. It is this very rain that will sustain their entire tribe the rest of the year.

Still, the rains persist and the mood gets a bit glum, so Nyo Boto comes to the rescue, this time with a story about a worse situation, one that connects to Kunta Kinte’s lineage. Nyo Boto tells the story of one horrible season when...

(The entire section is 428 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 5 Summary

Illness and starvation are running rampant in the village of Juffure. There are strange moans coming from different huts that confuse Kunta, but the adults know they are the moans of people who have lost loved ones. Men are carried back dead from their fields. There are fevers and rashes and strange pustules that plague the village. Kunta Kinte bears one of these blemishes that turns pink, swells, breaks open, and flows with pus. This wound causes him to fall down one day, and the fall wounds his head as well.

The other children of the village take Kunta, bleeding, to Grandma Yaisa’s hut. She is starving and weak, but she still leaps up to attend to her wounded grandson. She uses the pincers of kelelalu ants to mend...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 6 Summary

As the crops get closer and closer to harvest (meaning there are more things to find and eat), little Kunta suddenly notices that his mother, Binta, seems to be moving a lot slower than she used to move. Her belly is quite large, and Kunta Kinte wonders why. Kunta’s confusion is furthered one night when his father shakes him awake in Binta’s hut (something that never happens) and carries Kunta to Omoro’s own hut amid the low and strange moans of his mother and the bustling movements of other women. In the morning, Omoro proudly tells Kunta Kinte that he has a baby brother.

Kunta ponders how important something must be to make his stern father that proud. Soon Kunta is called in to see his mother and the new baby,...

(The entire section is 525 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 7 Summary

The Mandinka village, ripe with a harvest that is about to appear, enjoys the fruits of the early season. Everyone has more to eat. The women grind millet and harvest fruit. The men hunt antelopes. Both tend to their almost fully grown crops and rice as the Kamby Bolongo river tributary retreats quickly.

The children play again as their wounds from the lean time heal. Kunta Kinte has a good friend now, named Sitafa Silla, who accompanies him on most of his fun exploits. They invent all sorts of games to have fun. One day, they race dung beetles. Another day, they throw rocks at bands of monkeys in the trees to see if they will return the throw. The next day, they dig into a large, soft, termite mound to wake the...

(The entire section is 408 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 8 Summary

This chapter begins with the beauty of the African sunset. The children, Kunta Kinte among them, whoop and holler at the beautiful, red, round ball that was the sun and shout about how Allah would send an even more beautiful sunset the next day. It is on happy nights like this that the adults gather and beat the drum in excitement when they see the crescent moon rise. The crescent moon is the symbol of Allah.

The rising of the “shrouded new moon,” however, creates a different feeling entirely for the Mandinka tribe. This particular moon means that there are evil spirits infiltrating the village. Now the tribe needs the help of the “nearest medicine man.” The men of the tribe beat the drum to summon him, but the...

(The entire section is 433 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 9 Summary

Kunta Kinte is now twelve years old. With the bigger rains gone and the harvest about to begin, the Mandinka tribe eagerly anticipates the season for travelers. The children, all Kunta’s age, have the job to keep watch at the “travelers’ tree” and to run and tell the adults in the fields and at home about any travelers who are seen. When a traveler does arrive, the children scamper about him and look for signs of a mission or an occupation. Any time a child finds anything out about the traveler, he immediately runs back to the adults to tell the news. Each family of the tribe has a day when it is an honor to feed and house the traveler for as long as he wishes.

Kunta, Sitafa, and other boys his age are growing...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 10 Summary

The night after Kunta first receives his coveted dundiko, Binta tells him that his father wants to see him in the morning. Kunta stays up much of the night thinking and worrying about this, but he is pleased in the morning to approach his father’s hut and have his father hand to him a brand-new slingshot. Kunta must learn to herd the goats of the village now.

Kunta follows his “trainer,” a boy a bit older than him named Toumani, as well as the other boys his age out to the grazing grounds with the goats. The older boys taunt the younger ones a bit, allowing the goats to be herded right into Kunta and his friends with their new dundikos flowing behind them.

It isn’t long before Toumani and the others...

(The entire section is 407 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 11 Summary

There is one crop left to harvest in the village of Juffure: the rice. This particular harvest is done by the women of the Mandinka, as is the custom of the tribe. The women bend all day, chopping off the gold stalks to let them dry on the sidelines for a few days before transporting them to the village. Even when the women are done with their special chore, they still have to help the men pick the cotton, which has been left a little longer in the hot afternoon sun of Africa in order to make the fibers even better for spinning.

Now begins the great preparation for the harvest festival. The women spin the very cotton they picked that day to make new thread. Next, they take the thread to the village weaver, who uses an...

(The entire section is 534 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 12 Summary

Drums beat wildly on the first day of the harvest festival in Juffure. Kunta has seen this day of ceremony many times now that he is older, but he is still amazed at the writhing, squirming, and lurching dances of his kinfolk all wearing strange masks and acting out scary stories. A thrill rises in Kunta when he sees his own father join in the dance by kicking his knees up, beating up the dust, lurching forward, jolting backward, and then lunging forward while he hammers his chest. Although Kunta had seen such a dance many times and now watches others join in Omoro’s rhythm, this is the first time that Kunta himself is compelled to join in. The entire village spends the whole day dancing, not even stopping to eat.


(The entire section is 554 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 13 Summary

The final day of the harvest festival always dawns with a feeling of terror and sadness. Men dressed in horrific masks and costumes of tree bark scream and terrorize the village. These disguised men yell and scream into each hut, filled with the cries of fearful women and children. The brutes grab every boys only one year older than Kunta. These boys have white hoods forced onto their heads and are tied like slaves to be taken away for an entire year in order to enter their “manhood training.” The village is saddened by their departure.

For days afterwards, the boys discuss the stories they have heard about this mysterious training during “twelve moons.” They talk of beatings and hunting and abandonment. Worst...

(The entire section is 421 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 14 Summary

The five long months of the dry season are hard for the village of Juffare in the Gambia of Africa. The sun and heat bake Kunta Kinte’s lips and feet as he tends to his goats all day. Even though Kunta spends the morning rubbing his feet with palm oil, that treatment is no match for the heat of the day on this hot, dry continent. Kunta, Sitafa, and their friends, however, never complain. They are a growing testament to the respect and honor of their fathers in that silence. Still, the friends play less, eat less, and talk less as they try to bear the heat together, herding their goats.

Ironically, the nights are bitterly cold, and groups of Mandinka gather around their separate fires to shiver through the nights...

(The entire section is 409 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 15 Summary

Kunta Kinte’s mother, Binta, is now carrying Omoro’s third child; therefore, Kunta naturally takes on greater responsibility with his little brother, Lamin. As a result, the relationship between Kunta and his brother grows and strengthens.

One day, Kunta responds to his mother’s weary demeanor with his brother and asks Lamin out on an errand. Lamin is so overjoyed, he cannot contain himself. Every day following, Lamin waits for his brother to take him on some little journey as a goatherd’s sidekick. Kunta is a bit surprised to see that this seems to be happening with all of his friends. The little brothers are always tagging along. First, the boys have a good time making fun of the little ones. They watch as...

(The entire section is 443 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 16 Summary

One day, as Kunta’s relationship with his brother Lamin grows stronger, Lamin asks Kunta what slaves are. Kunta doesn’t have enough information to give little Lamin on the subject. He knows only that there are respected slaves in their own village and that the toubob steal some slaves away. It is time to ask Omoro. Luckily, Omoro goes on an errand to procure some palm wood to build a storehouse for Binta. He asks Kunta to tag along, allowing for the perfect time for a son to ask his father questions.

Omoro begins the conversation by explaining about the slaves in their village. Omoro imparts to Kunta how important it is to treat slaves with the same respect as anyone else. In regard to why these people became...

(The entire section is 479 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 17 Summary

Kunta Kinte’s brother, Lamin, is so horrified by the stories about the toubob stealing slaves that Kunta decides to change the subject after his next afternoon herding goats. Luckily, Kunta decides to share instead a story about the exciting adventures of his two uncles (Omoro’s brothers): Janneh and Saloum.

Janneh and Saloum are travelers. They travel so much that neither one has ever taken a wife. Fighting off bandits is a common event for Janneh and Saloum, and they have been to places that Kunta and Lamin can only dream about. One place is a huge ocean of sand that never ends and where the sun burns hotter than even in the Gambia. One place is so enveloped in trees that it looks just like night in the middle of...

(The entire section is 661 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 18 Summary

The first day of traveling is hard on Kunta Kinte. Omoro walks so fast that it takes two large steps to equal even one of his father’s. What is harder still for Kunta is that Omoro does not acknowledge Kunta’s presence at all. Kunta’s muscles start to hurt, but he vows that he will drop dead before complaining. Soon, they reach the travelers' tree of a nearby village. The naked, young boys run out to greet the travelers just as Kunta did when he was a boy. Kunta feels very important as he follows his father’s ways and ignores the children with their plethora of questions. Omoro and Kunta intend to speed past the village and move on.

Omoro and Kunta travel on with no rest for quite a while. Just as Kunta begins...

(The entire section is 428 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 19 Summary

This night along their travels, Kunta and Omoro are awakened by a haggard old grandmother who insists on knowing what happened to the food she gave them. Omoro softly dismisses her by saying that he wishes he could tell her what happened to that food. This begins Kunta’s musings on the oldest of the Mandinka. There are many elderly in the tribe who say things that do not make sense (such as one woman who insisted her stolen daughter would return the next day). Even though their faculties are mostly gone, these people are treated with kindness and respect.

The next traveler they meet on the trail warns them that they might see a toubob. This traveler reveals that a toubob had met him along the trail and “meant no...

(The entire section is 530 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 20 Summary

Omoro and Kunta have to walk faster than ever in order to reach the new village by sunset. Kunta listens to the overlapping drumbeats that announce all the important travelers coming to the founding of the new village. Finally, Omoro and Kunta arrive and are welcomed as honored guests.

Kunta is beside himself with joy both with the welcoming party and with the reunion of his uncles. Kunta immediately notices the differences between Omoro and his two brothers (both from another wife). Janneh and Saloum are shorter, stockier, and more muscular; they are also quicker in speech.

Omoro and Kunta are given a grand tour of the village. Kunta notices all of the interesting improvements that Janneh and Saloum have...

(The entire section is 446 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 21 Summary

When Kunta returns to the village of Juffare from the village of Omoro’s brothers, he returns to the news that he has a new baby brother named Suwadu. Kunta can’t wait to tell his friends of his adventures, but they are very jealous of all of the adventures Kunta had. In fact, they vow not to ask any questions of Kunta and to act like he hadn’t been away at all. Kunta is incredibly hurt by this. Finally, Kunta can’t stand it anymore and begins talking about his trip while they are all herding goats one afternoon. The boys are so excited to hear the stories that they forget their jealousy and everyone listens at full attention.

Unfortunately, as Kunta tells his story, a panther creeps into the paddock where the...

(The entire section is 469 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 22 Summary

Kunta’s graduation day has arrived. He has studied with the arafang now for quite a few years, and it is time to test his knowledge in front of the entire village of Juffare. Kunta answers proudly when asked about the occupation of his ancestors: blacksmiths. There are questions about math and questions about writing and questions about religion. Kunta Kinte answers well in whatever he is asked. Every correct answer to a question causes excitement and jubilation to erupt from the crowd. Kunta even demonstrates that he can both read and write Arabic (which he admits is quite a difficult task). Most importantly, Kunta shows that he has memorized large sections of the Koran. It isn’t long before the graduation feast begins: the...

(The entire section is 468 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 23 Summary

Kunta is led with the other boys to a small village (called the “jujuo”) with a new bamboo fence. Their hoods are yanked off and the boys stand squinting in the sunshine. Before them stands their “kintango,” the leader of manhood training with his assistants around to help him. The kintango looks upon the boys with disgust and informs them that they must erase their fears if they are to become men. Then the kintango and assistants beat Kunta and the other boys until they are thrown into huts, four boys each.

That evening, the first real work begins. The boys are made to march through the forest until daybreak. Although Kunta’s legs hurt, he feels a sense of pride that he already knows how to handle this kind...

(The entire section is 606 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 24 Summary

The kintango informs Kunta Kinte and the others in the jujuo for manhood training that they are finally “experiencing rebirth as men.” Now they are ready to learn all about war and about how to be warriors. First, an important fact is reviewed: Mandinkas only fight when provoked, but when they are encouraged to make war, they do so with only the finest of warriors.

Kunta Kinte and his friends learn all about Mandinka battle strategy (such as to leave your enemy an escape route so he doesn’t become savage in his attack and to begin a battle after noon so that the enemy can retreat into darkness). Kunta is also taught that there are three kinds of men who should never be harmed in battle: marabouts, griots, and...

(The entire section is 593 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 25 Summary

The most worrisome event for Kunta and the others, “the kasas boyo operation” (where the foreskin of each young man’s “foto” is removed) approaches fast. With no warning, the young men are ordered to stand at attention in their usual line. They are ordered to “hold out your fotos” as they are numbed with a green paste. Then they are sent back to their huts as the paste begins working.

To add to the young men’s terror, the fathers and uncles and other men of the village arrive for the event chanting that this “also has been done to us...all of us men together.” Then, after an entourage of fierce kankurang dancers, the boys are lined up a second time. The fathers and other men chant a further motto for...

(The entire section is 425 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 26 Summary

Kunta and his friends return, as men, to Juffare amid the joyous shouts of all the women of the Mandinka tribe. Now in the familiar place where he was born and grew up, Kunta struggles to act with the proper amount of dignity expected of a man, especially when he first sees his mother, Binta. Still, Binta throws herself upon Kunta Kinte which he allows for only a moment before he pulls away in order to “inspect” his new baby brother, Madi. Kunta is equally surprised to see how much his brother Suwadu has grown. Kunta wants so much to tell Binta how much he has missed her, but alas, that kind of behavior is no longer befitting of a man. Kunta remains silent except to ask for his own father.

Omoro is cutting thatch to...

(The entire section is 472 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 27 Summary

Now being a man and assigned to examining with diligence the women’s cooking pots (among other things), Kunta Kinte gets a bit disappointed because there doesn’t seem to be a single pot left to check. The number of young men who successfully return from their recent manhood training are so numerous that even after pots and wells are checked, rechecked, and checked again, there is simply nothing left to be done. Kunta doesn’t get too upset about this, however, because it affords Kunta the time to work on his small farming plot.

The Council of Elders has generously given each young man a plot of land on which to farm his own couscous, groundnuts, or whatever he might like. The young single men need to live off this...

(The entire section is 516 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 28 Summary

Kunta, one of the newest men of Juffure back from his manhood training, marvels at his own loneliness. He is bewildered by it because he knows every man, woman, child, even every animal in his Mandinka village. Kunta is also confused because his farm plot and its spoils fail to provide complete happiness, too. How could a man with all of these blessings be lonely?

Thinking on it further, Kunta realizes his loneliness has roots in his own immediate family. Omoro doesn't have time for Kunta. Binta doesn't either (in that she has Kunta's three younger brothers to look after). Lamin is no longer close with Kunta because when Kunta went away to manhood training, Suwadu became Lamin's little charge, just as Lamin became...

(The entire section is 541 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 29 Summary

As Kunta's mother, it is Binta's honor to serve food to her son (now a young man) in his own hut every day. Unfortunately, Binta grates on Kunta's nerves. She takes notice of every new thing that he has acquired, and turns her nose up at everything that she hasn't made for Kunta himself. Binta is especially hurt to see a basket made by a young widow and a new tunic made by someone else that is a good trade. Upon seeing something new in Kunta's hut, Binta races back to the well to gossip with the other wives. Without saying a word about the situation, Kunta decides to deal with the matter himself because he couldn't ask "Omoro's advice on how to make Binta respect her son the same as she did her husband." Unfortunately, the way...

(The entire section is 444 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 30 Summary

Kunta knows that this trip with Lamin calls for more than just a strip of cloth and a prayer at their own travelers' tree. Therefore, Kunta Kinte ties to the tree a live chicken, flapping and squawking, to ensure their safe journey. Soon, they set off in silence just as Omoro had set off with Kunta only a few rains earlier.

Kunta is constantly aware of Lamin behind him. Kunta wants Lamin to struggle but never to fall. Falling would hurt the pride of his little brother. They pass a tree strung with beads that means there are pagans living near. They pass a group of men hollowing out a log to float on the river. Kunta lets his mind wander, but he doesn't forget Lamin. Finally, they stop to drink at a stream and, echoing...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 31 Summary

Kunta attends the Council of Elders (held once every moon) as often as he can. Omoro once told Kunta that this is the only way to become wise to village business. In the inner circle sit the oldest elders. Behind them sit the junior elders, such as Kunta’s father. Behind them sit those of Kunta’s age and a bit older. Finally, behind them, the women are allowed to sit. The women attend only when some “juicy gossip” is assured.

Most of the matters decided by the Council of Elders are quite routine: large farm plots for a growing family; new (small) farm plots for newly made men, such as Kunta; small land disputes; payment for broken and borrowed items; accusations of evil magic; slaves accusing masters of cruelty;...

(The entire section is 555 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 32 Summary

Kunta, now seventeen years old, is out on sentry duty. He sits high on a perch atop a pole where he can see any animal or human who may approach Juffure. He is a seasoned sentry now, using half of his mind to keep alert to his duties and the other half to ruminate on his own thoughts.

Tonight Kunta thinks about “teriya friendships” between widows and younger men such as himself. Kunta remembers the young widow who once gave him a basket and thinks about what it would be like to have that kind of relationship with her. Kunta wonders, considering all of the bickering he has heard between husbands and wives, why anyone would want to have a wife at all. Kunta decides it is because it is only a wife who can beget sons....

(The entire section is 412 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 33 Summary

Kunta runs happily into the forest after his night of sentry duty. He trots along the path to the bolong, or small tributary, so important to the village of Juffure. He meets all of the friendly wildlife of the Gambia here. He sees birds stirring from their nests and baboons chasing their prey and other, smaller animals scampering along. Kunta is happy to observe these beauties of nature as he trots along, and happy to be alone and in the forest. However, Omoro always told him never to be alone if he could help it.

Kunta then spies his favorite spot: an ancient mangrove tree that affords the best view of the bolong. Climbing up the tree, Kunta muses at the beauty of Allah and all of his creatures at work together. Kunta...

(The entire section is 415 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 34 Summary

Kunta Kinte wonders at first if he has gone insane. He lies there in pitch blackness amid the most foul stench imaginable, vomiting up the rest of the contents of his stomach, chained to a moaning man beside him, rats brushing against his cheek. Kunta is unable to sit up, with wood above him, wood below him, and wood all around him. Is he in some kind of cage? In his pain, Kunta cannot remember how he got here.

Kunta Kinte futilely fights against his bonds. Then he lies silent, deciding to save his strength. He is disgusted with himself for having to relieve his bowels; however, having been four days, Kunta must. Kunta hates himself for adding to the awful stink of the hold. As he lies in this horrible state, Kunta...

(The entire section is 433 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 35 Summary

Kunta knows whether it is day or night only when the hatch is opened at “feeding time.” Tin pans of some kind of white mush are forced in between the people chained in the hold. Kunta Kinte clamps his teeth shut in protest for a long while and is often beaten for doing so. Periodically, more and more people are added to the miserable group, chained alongside the rest.

One day, after all of the other people have been loaded, everyone begins to hear different sounds. They hear sounds of creaking and loading and lifting and straining. Suddenly, they hear many feet bounding up above them and then the entire place groaning and moving. This black stinking place is taking them all away from their homeland. Crying out in...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 36 Summary

After days and days in the hold of the ship, Kunta Kinte struggles against the burning itch that the swarms of fleas and lice bring with their numerous bites. Kunta decides that he must not just lie here, that he must think about something in order to keep from going crazy. Kunta decides to study the breathing patterns of men in the hold and, after a short time, begins to realize that he can discover their exact proximity by the sounds they make. Kunta can also discern the sounds of a sleeping man as different from those of a man who is awake. Kunta’s ears become his eyes as he discovers someone rubbing metal together in an attempt to break his bonds and men fighting in silence.

Periodically, there is another...

(The entire section is 492 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 37 Summary

Kunta and the men he is chained with are again taken out of the filthy hold and up to the deck. Kunta makes it a point to look at these men this time. Most of the men, having deep, festering gashes and pustules, are a lot worse off than Kunta. Kunta and the man he calls “his shacklemate” from the Wolof tribe are beaten again. Soon they are cleaned with buckets of seawater and brushes, as is the white man’s ritual to clean the prisoners. Kunta and the Wolof are full of murderous hatred for their captors as the prisoners are again made to dance so that they will keep fit.

Other toubob come in and scrape the feces from the hold every few days and now try to lessen the stink in the hold by turning vinegar to steam...

(The entire section is 616 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 38 Summary

The women sing of their ability to hide knives and other weapons in the hold for the men. This further excites the whisperings of the men below as they shout their suggestions on how to cause an uprising. At this point, Kunta doesn't care whether the attack is immediate or saved for the right time; "Kunta was ready to fight to the death."

Again, the elder in the hold speaks of the importance of being "one village." The majority of the men are on the side of waiting for the right moment to attack. The method is chosen. In the meantime, the men are asked to observe the white men scrupulously and to dance as happily as possible. The latter allows the men to be treated less severely. They discuss the importance of the two...

(The entire section is 430 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 39 Summary

The prisoners who survive the storm no longer have the strength to attack. Kunta sees the look of death on many who are around him. Still, Kunta and the others are now left up on deck for a long period of time, for even the white men have fallen ill under the strain and in the storms. The sun makes Kunta feel a little bit better.

After the men are forced back into the hold, the first of two horrible sicknesses grips the ship: fever, coughing, swollen glands, and night sweats. More people die and are thrown overboard. More medicine is given. Those who give strength to other men, fostering communication, die. There is no more hope. Even Kunta's shacklemate passes away and lies rigid beside Kunta.

Upon his next...

(The entire section is 525 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 40 Summary

After reaching land for the first time after months at sea, Kunta and those still alive in the hold are absolutely terrified. They are herded to the deck, and extra care is taken in making the prisoners look presentable. Tar is put into festering sores and heads are shaved clean. The men are given strange toubob clothes to wear.

Suddenly, Kunta is accosted by smells, disgusting smells that waft from the land of the white man. Soon, toubob by the hundreds gather on the shore as some important-looking white men hold cloths over their noses and inspect the prisoners. Kunta and the other men are finally forced from the ship and down the plank.

Kunta has a quiet urge to escape but is bewildered by so many things....

(The entire section is 447 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 41 Summary

After seven days of being kept in the brick holding cell, Kunta watches as toubob come in bringing even newer clothes. The white men make all of the prisoners put on what Kunta considers to be strange-looking attire: pants and shirts. While this is happening, Kunta hears the sounds of the toubob getting louder and louder outside. Many white men are gathering for some kind of meeting.

The prisoners sit there, terrified, as three of them at a time are led to the middle of the white men. When it is Kunta Kinte’s turn, he has to be whipped with a leather strap in order to be submissive enough to endure the auction. White men circle him and probe all of his bodily parts to inspect them. Then one white man begins to shout...

(The entire section is 444 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 42 Summary

As the group stops for the night, Kunta Kinte is chained securely to a pole. After the black driver (the one Kunta has been referring to as the “slatee”) leaves Kunta alone, Kunta wonders whether the blacks on this plantation might free him. His hopes are dashed, however, when the blacks who live near the big white house simply gather around him and laugh. Kunta marvels at how these black people could laugh and jeer at their own kind. What is wrong with them? “They looked as Africans looked, but clearly they were not of Africa.”

In the early evening, Kunta imagines himself desperately raging against his chains. Kunta knows, however, that this is not the time to try for escape. Although Kunta is given two small...

(The entire section is 455 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 43 Summary

Kunta is excited at first as he runs and runs through the forest of brambles and thorns. However, it isn’t long before Kunta comes to yet another set of fields with another white house beside it. Kunta realizes that he has simply run through a tiny patch of forest in between two identical toubob farms. He panics and, as dawn breaks, desperately tries to find the most inconspicuous place among the bushes to hide.

Within minutes, he hears the first howling dog. Then he hears a second one even closer. Kunta scrambles to find a more secluded place in the deepest thicket of thorny bushes. It isn’t long before a cluster of dogs, toubob, and blacks is upon him. The dogs spring up at him to knock him down and snap close to...

(The entire section is 413 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 44 Summary

Kunta spends four days in the hut, spread-eagle on the floor in chains. Each night he hears the black people singing and is bewildered again by their stupidity. Each morning, though, Kunta feels a special closeness to the sun, the same sun that rises in Africa. After praying as well as he can in that position, Kunta begins to inspect his chains and shackles. They cannot be broken. Kunta pays special attention to the small holes where “narrow metal things” are placed to make a “click” before the shackle opens. Desperately, Kunta tries to bite off his chains and cracks a tooth in the process.

Finally, the driver comes into the hut with a pair of shackles with a chain between them. These are meant to bind Kunta’s...

(The entire section is 586 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 45 Summary

Kunta decides to approach life with a look of “blankness and stupidity” so that the white men believe Kunta to be subdued. This is the best precursor to a good escape.

Kunta doesn’t let anything go undetected. He keeps his eyes alert in the cabin of the cook, who has all sorts of utensils that can be useful to Kunta. Kunta notices the uselessness of spoons but looks longingly at the forks and knives that can be used to stab. On this particular morning, Kunta’s breakfast is disturbed by the squeal of a pig being killed and boiled. Kunta is disgusted at these people who prefer herding filthy swine to herding useful goats.

Kunta is still in awe when he sees Allah in nature. These thoughts help unite him...

(The entire section is 423 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 46 Summary

In the fall, Kunta Kinte is given the job of harvesting and storing the pumpkins. Kunta has learned many of the toubob words now, and although he does not wish to communicate, he shows that he understands. Kunta notices other plants being harvested as well. Kunta takes special notice of the tobacco, something that is forbidden by Allah. Kunta feels the same way about tobacco as he does about swine.

Kunta notices that the women don’t tie their hair the same way as the women back home and they beat their clothes against folded pieces of tin to get them clean in the wash water. Kunta wonders why these women don’t do things “properly” as they are done in Africa.

After all of the crops are harvested and...

(The entire section is 531 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 47 Summary

Kunta’s ankles, festering with pus, cause concern for even his masters now. To Kunta’s surprise, the overseer orders Kunta’s leg chains removed. With his leg fetters gone, Kunta rejoices and immediately runs away again. This time he runs toward the heavier forest; however, Kunta is being followed. Samson has been watching Kunta. Because of Kunta’s weak ankles, Samson is able to give repeated blows to Kunta’s chest and abdomen. Kunta is caught again. Samson simply kicks Kunta and throws him into his hut.

Kunta and Samson keep their secret, but their hatred for each other still exists. Kunta realizes that he must go “through the motions” of doing the white man’s work in order to be trusted so that he can...

(The entire section is 418 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 48 Summary

The only two slaves who will now acknowledge Kunta’s presence are the woman who cooks and the older man who plays the fiddle. The others avoid Kunta like the plague. Kunta doesn’t know why, but Samson is nowhere to be seen. It isn’t until a few days later when Kunta again sees Samson. Samson also has a back that is now full of red welts, so he has been whipped as well. Kunta realizes now that Samson was somehow responsible for Kunta’s obedience.

Kunta is watched at all times; he is even watched by other slaves. Riding high upon his horse in the fields of crops, the overseer needs no excuse to rain blows down upon Kunta. In his extreme loneliness, Kunta begins to have imaginary conversations with the members of...

(The entire section is 419 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 49 Summary

Again and again, Kunta stands in his vigil by the outhouse, watching the road. Kunta begins to pick up rocks and kill a rabbit that hops nearby. He deftly skins the rabbit (as his manhood training taught him to do in Africa), cuts the rabbit meat into strips, and dries the strips in his hut. The dried rabbit meat will serve as sustenance while Kunta flees in the tobacco cart. Kunta also makes a knife using a bent blade he finds and a piece of wood that he whittles. Most importantly, though, Kunta makes a “saphie” to wear around his shoulder. In the saphie, Kunta places a rooster feather, a bird bone, a horse hair—all to keep him spiritually safe, strong, and successful in his escape mission.

After another day of...

(The entire section is 580 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 50 Summary

Lapsing in and out of consciousness, Kunta Kinte lies tied up in the center of a strange cabin. He is horrified every time he looks down at his bandaged, right half-foot. During one of the times when Kunta is conscious, a “toubob … carrying a small back bag” comes in. This doctor seems angry at whoever put Kunta in this position, examines Kunta’s foot, takes Kunta’s temperature, and leaves some medicine for Kunta.

Finally, Kunta Kinte sees “Bell”—a short, stocky, and strong woman who is tending to Kunta. She desperately tries to give Kunta his medicine which tastes absolutely horrible. Kunta is finally able to choke it down, however, mostly out of weakness. The doctor gives Bell some extra instructions...

(The entire section is 409 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 51 Summary

Kunta Kinte, of course, realizes he is on a completely different farm. Kunta marvels at the differences between the two. This new place is in much better condition. Even the slave cabins are whitewashed and in good repair. Some of the slaves even have their own vegetable and flower gardens. Kunta has some furniture in his simple cabin as well as a fork, knife, and spoon. Kunta can’t believe the stupidity of the new “massa” for allowing Kunta to have these things.

Kunta still avoids any contact with the other slaves on the plantation. He waits to go to the outhouse until all the others have gone to the fields. Bell no longer visits his cabin now either. Kunta eventually has to visit the cooking hut himself and is...

(The entire section is 893 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 52 Summary

Every day, after work is done but before supper, Kunta Kinte retreats to his cabin to say his evening prayers to Allah and to practice writing in Arabic on the dirt floor. He thinks of Fiddler in a similar way as he thought of a wandering musician or a storytelling griot back in Africa. Everyone in the village would gather around to listen there, too. In this way, Kunta rationalized his new companionship with the older black slave of the plantation. Because of the importance of Kunta’s prayer and study, “it seemed to him he could remain himself without having to remain by himself.”

Kunta creates an interesting, albeit simple, way of recording the passage of time. He would drop a small stone into a dried...

(The entire section is 579 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 53 Summary

It isn’t long before summer is over and the harvesting starts. Even Bell is called out from the house to work in the fields. Kunta has a hard time keeping up with his own work of gardening and tending to all of the plantation’s animals as well.

After the harvesting is done, the whole plantation gathers for a dance. Fiddler plays and all of the slaves dance in imitation of the farmwork they do every day. It reminds Kunta very much of the harvest dancing the Mandinka would do at the harvest festival, so much so that Kunta can’t help but tap his foot in time with the music. Unfortunately, after the harvest dance, Fiddler gets drunk and pays Kunta a visit in his cabin. Kunta is disgusted by Fiddler’s alcohol...

(The entire section is 401 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 54 Summary

Soon it is Christmastime again, and this year, Kunta decides to at least pay attention to the celebrations. Kunta can’t believe all of the food that Bell is cooking. Then, after the feast, in the middle of the day, all of the slaves gather around the white house’s windows to sing Christmas carols. Then Fiddler is summoned to play the fiddle for all to hear. During all of this, Kunta can’t help wondering why the slaves seem to enjoy all of this so much. How could they be happy if, at best, they are kept as pets that cannot survive on their own? Kunta wonders whether he is now any different than they are.

Kunta is glad about the friendship he has with Fiddler, despite the differences between the two of them. Kunta...

(The entire section is 474 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 55 Summary

Kunta is amazed at how much more there is to know about slaves like Fiddler. In fact, Kunta realizes that he doesn’t know Bell or the gardener very well either. Kunta decides to try to get to know them as well as he knows Fiddler. Kunta begins with the gardener, who tells him that slave catchers, like the ones who cut off his foot, do that job because they can’t afford to own slaves of their own. Then the gardener tells Kunta about how William Waller doesn’t have an overseer because he trusts his slaves to oversee themselves. Waller only insists that his slaves follow his rules to the letter. Unfortunately, the gardener doesn’t share what these rules are.

Suddenly, the gardener begins singing a song in an...

(The entire section is 444 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 56 Summary

Bell doesn’t say a single word to Kunta some time, until one day when she comes running out of the big house with news of fighting in Boston. The master has to immediately go to a big meeting in the county about the trouble. Between what Bell hears in the big house and what the driver hears when he takes William Waller to these different meetings, the slaves get a pretty good idea of what is really going on.

The Boston Massacre has occurred and the plantation owners of Virginia worry about the English offering freedom to slaves who will fight for the king. Bell says she heard about the First Continental Congress up at the big house. In reality, Bell had actually read the news in a newspaper. Only Fiddler and Bell know...

(The entire section is 502 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 57 Summary

Kunta’s reverie is disturbed by some other terrible news. William Waller’s driver has drawn an escape map for a runaway slave. Because he broke one of Waller’s rules, the driver is sold at the next auction. The plantation is abuzz as to who would replace the driver. It isn’t long before Bell calls Kunta into the big house to talk to William Waller.

Kunta enters the big house and is amazed at all of its grandness: rugs on the floor, paper on the walls, books, furniture, gold and such. The master is most impressed that Kunta doesn’t drink and seems loyal. Waller mentions, with a scowl, what happened with the previous driver and threatens to sell both Kunta and Bell if anything like that were to happen again....

(The entire section is 451 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 58 Summary

Kunta Kinte drives his master to John Waller’s plantation almost daily now, on account of the fact that William Waller absolutely adores his little niece, Missy Anne Waller. Everyone notices that William smiles more (probably replacing the love for his own dead wife and child with love for his little niece), but Kunta doesn’t care and is amazed at how much the other slaves do care. Kunta Kinte simply does his job and keeps to himself as much as he can.

On one of Doctor Waller’s many house calls, Kunta sees a black woman nursing a black child on one breast and a white child on the other. Kunta is disgusted by this and is absolutely revolted when he finds out that black nursemaids are commonplace in the...

(The entire section is 413 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 59 Summary

As Kunta is resting, waiting for his master at a different plantation, he is shocked to see white people trudging back from the fields with the slaves. Furthermore, these white people even have their cabins right among the slave cabins on slave row. Kunta is so amazed that he asks the other slaves on the plantation about these strange white ones.

Kunta learns about indentured servants and how many of these white people are called “crackers” or “poor white trash” and are actually worse to black people than the white masters. Even the slaves admit that these white people are so very poor that the slaves would rather be slaves than to live as “white trash.” Kunta begins to resent these lower-class white people...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 60 Summary

Kunta Kinte is sad about the status of his relationship with Fiddler. When Kunta was made buggy driver, Fiddler was given all of the gardening duties that the gardener couldn’t handle anymore and that Kunta used to attend to. Furthermore, Fiddler used to be the one to tell great and grand stories; however, now it is Kunta who hears the most interesting news and tells the tales every time he returns from a drive. Fiddler doesn’t even play his fiddle much anymore unless he earns money for it on another white man’s plantation. Kunta is amazed when Bell talks about Fiddler’s plan to buy his freedom.

Kunta drives Master William Waller to these celebrations where Fiddler plays his fiddle and gets paid. They are...

(The entire section is 548 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 61 Summary

The two men grunt with satisfaction when they figure out that both of them prefer to squat on the floor rather than sit in a chair. Suddenly, the man begins to talk about his upbringing. He is from Ghana, from the Akan tribe. Even though the white people call him Pompey, his real name is Boteng Bediako. Kunta tells Boteng all about Juffure, the Mandinka tribe, and his family. When Boteng hears that Kunta is thirty-seven years old, he wants to give Kunta a piece of advice. Through a story from the land of Ghana, Boteng imparts to Kunta one of the most important things that Kunta is to learn: To survive in the land of the white man takes patience and a hard shell.

Kunta marvels at how this man would be his father’s age,...

(The entire section is 398 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 62 Summary

Back at the Waller plantation, none of the slaves (Fiddler and Bell and the gardener included) can figure out why Kunta is acting so very strange. Even William Waller asks Kunta whether he is feeling okay. The reality is that Kunta was “rocked to the core” of his soul by his meeting with Boteng from Ghana. There is excitement about meeting a fellow African, yes. However, Kunta’s excited thoughts soon turn to dread when he can’t remember the names of any of the members of his own Mandinka tribe other than his family.

Over the years, Kunta seems to have forgotten everyone. “Without even realizing it, Kunta had forgotten who he was.” Kunta becomes more and more irritated by slaves such as Bell, Fiddler, and the...

(The entire section is 537 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 63 Summary

Now when Kunta thinks about Juffure, he feels nothing but emptiness. If Kunta still lived there, he would have a few sons by now. Yet Kunta still did not like to think about taking a wife. One of the reasons is that Kunta feels that jumping over a broom to signify marriage is a silly idea for such a special occasion. As a Mandinka man of more than thirty rains, he should choose a woman only sixteen rains old. However, Kunta thinks nothing of the girls that age in this land. They are just as giggly here as they were in Juffure.

The first woman Kunta seriously considers is Liza, the cook on Doctor Waller’s parents’ plantation. Liza has certainly shown interest in Kunta. However, because she lives on another...

(The entire section is 415 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 64 Summary

Kunta deals with his dilemma about Bell by polishing all the different parts of the master’s buggy. When he feels warm and soft toward Bell, Kunta polishes slowly and softly. When he feels irate and irritated toward Bell, he polishes fast and furious.

Kunta even begins considering things a bit more controversial, such as how much pull Bell has with the master of the plantation and how that could lead to an advantage for both of them. He also considers how Bell knows how to work magic with plants, not only with the poultice but also with certain leaves that stop his eyes from itching. However, Kunta could never approve of her pipe-smoking habit or of the way she dances by wagging her bottom every which way.


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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 65 Summary

Master William Waller approves the marriage of Kunta and Bell, and preparations begin for the Sunday before Christmas. Even little Missy Anne gets excited and shouts it all over the plantation when she hears that Bell is getting married. Everyone wishes Kunta and Bell congratulations over the coming weeks. Finally, the day arrives. Even Kunta’s previous master, John Waller, and his wife attend with Missy Anne. There is another person who arrives from Enfield, though, who is the guest of honor in Kunta's eyes: Boteng Bediako, the qua-qua drummer from Ghana.

With everyone gathered around the garden, the laundry woman of the Waller Plantation, Sukey, begins the ceremony. Sukey’s words echo the usual wedding ceremony...

(The entire section is 405 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 66 Summary

It isn’t long before Kunta worries that Bell has some kind of secret that she won’t tell Kunta. Kunta feels as if Bell doesn’t trust him. One day, Kunta tells Bell some things that he overheard Master Waller saying. Specifically, there was a doctor in New Orleans who had a slave for many years. The doctor taught the slave absolutely everything he knew about the medical profession. As soon as the doctor thought his slave had learned enough, the doctor set the slave free. As Bell completes the story herself, Kunta asks how Bell got her information. She replies, “I got my ways.”

Kunta had just promised himself to start withholding the information he hears when Bell approaches Kunta one day after dinner with...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 67 Summary

Kunta is a bit saddened that he doesn’t have quite the same relationship with Fiddler and the gardener as he did when he was single. Still, even though everyone is not as quick to share stories, Kunta does feel more accepted by the slaves of the plantation, almost as if his marriage to Bell makes Kunta a part of them at last.

One day, the gardener and Fiddler tell Kunta about the census the white people are having in Virginia. Fiddler says that the white people are participating just to make sure that the whites still outnumber the blacks. Fiddler tells Kunta about how in the West Indies, there are so many slaves on sugar plantations there that blacks outnumber the whites one thousand to one. Kunta is astounded at how...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 68 Summary

Kunta notices that Bell is acting strangely. She doesn’t talk nearly as much and sighs all of the time. Bell is pregnant and tells Kunta by placing his hand on her belly and smiling. Kunta is beside himself with joy. Sure that their child is a boy, Kunta imagines Bell as a woman of the Mandinka tribe in Africa carrying his baby on her back and working on her plot of rice outside the village. In fact, Bell’s pregnancy brings Kunta Kinte closer to Africa even than his visits with the drum-playing Ghanaian.

By using his gourd and the stones within it, Kunta figures out that he is twenty-two years old now. Kunta continues in his solitary state that Bell calls “his Africanisms” until Bell awakens in...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 69 Summary

Kunta despises the fact that Missy Anne is enamored of Kizzy. Missy Anne now visits her uncle twice a week just so she can spend hours playing with Kunta’s daughter. Meanwhile, the four-year-old Missy Anne keeps exclaiming, “Cain’t she be mine?” Ironically, Bell smiles at Missy Anne’s treatment of Kizzy. Despite Kunta's fear and anger, Bell knows that a close connection between Missy Anne and Kizzy could very well end up keeping the family together. Kunta, however, simply wishes that his master would get married so that he wouldn’t be so involved with his niece. Kunta notices that there are quite a few of Master Waller’s female patients who aren’t sick at all; they simply want the doctor's attention. Still, William...

(The entire section is 418 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 70 Summary

Now the plantation is abuzz with news from a country called Haiti, a country with a population made up mostly of slaves shipped from Africa. The plantation owners in Virginia are first in an uproar that the few rich white people in Haiti (who own thousands and thousands of slaves) look down at the poorer whites who can’t afford to own slaves. The slaves on William Waller’s plantation snicker to each other out of earshot at something so surprising to their master but not at all surprising to them. In fact, the plantation owners are even more appalled that the white people are mixing with the black people so much in Haiti that many blacks wished to prove they were not of African descent at all. These “colored” people, being...

(The entire section is 552 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 71 Summary

One afternoon, Sukey comes frantically looking for Fiddler. Sukey tells Fiddler that she hadn’t seen the gardener at breakfast and that he hasn’t shown up to each lunch together, either. No one has seen the gardener anywhere. Sukey flies to the gardener’s door and knocks to no avail. Even Kunta, driving Master Waller back from a visit with a patient, feels a strange, somber feeling on their return to the plantation.

Sure enough, Fiddler steps into the gardener’s cabin and finds his body lying peacefully in bed, as if asleep. The gardener has passed away. As is slave custom, his straw work hat is placed on the door so that the other slaves can pay their respects after returning from the fields that day....

(The entire section is 533 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 72 Summary

Kunta is bothered by the gardener’s death for even longer than the other slaves. Finally, Bell snaps Kunta out of the doldrums by mentioning Kizzy’s second birthday. Kunta decides to make Kizzy a present: a very special doll with skin polished to shine of ebony.

Missy Anne will be at the Waller plantation for the entire weekend of Kizzy’s birthday. Master Waller promises Missy Anne that Kizzy can celebrate her birthday in the big house among the whites. This upsets Kunta Kinte to no end. He does not want Kizzy to have this kind of relationship with a toubob. To make things worse, Missy Anne now insists that Kizzy spend an entire day (almost every week) at John Waller’s plantation. Of course, William Waller wants...

(The entire section is 577 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 73 Summary

Kunta takes William Waller to church every other Sunday. He is amazed that plantation owners like his own master would never offer a ride to a poor white person but see nothing wrong with being in the same church with one or nodding their hat in greeting. Kunta does admire the white person’s way of quieter worship, though.

Now Kunta’s thoughts turn toward the “meetings” that Bell attends with much of slave row. Kunta has always made some excuse not to go, but this time she insists because it is Kizzy’s christening. What Kunta doesn’t realize is that Bell has Master Waller himself ask Kunta to drive her and her friends.

When Kunta inquires, angrily, about why Kizzy has to be christened and the...

(The entire section is 474 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 74 Summary

Kizzy is seven years old; therefore, Bell starts taking her to the big house in order to begin work. Kunta Kinte is unhappy about the prospect of Kizzy doing any kind of toubob work, but he understands the importance of Kizzy working in the house as opposed to the fields. Bell is thrilled with Kizzy’s “accomplishments” of being able to dust shelves, wax floors, and polish the forks, knives, and spoons. Kunta, however, can feel only anger when he hears Bell giving Kizzy instruction on how to be a good, personal maid to a mistress. This is because Bell considers Master Waller to be a “good” master, one of the “quality white folks.” Kunta believes there to be no such thing as a “good” master.

Even William...

(The entire section is 452 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 75 Summary

Kunta drives Master Waller to an important meeting in Fredericksburg. They stop at one of the Waller family plantations along the way. The cook there, Hattie, refused to speak to Kunta for a while after he married. Hattie is one of the women who was romantically interested in Kunta, but Kunta chose Bell instead. Hattie, still interested in Kunta, begins talking to him again. Hattie begins by commenting on the cuteness of little Kizzy: a prefect transition to a larger conversation with Kunta.

They visit in the kitchen of the “big house.” Kunta looks on with amazement at all of the preparation that goes into serving a big dinner for white people. Kunta is usually never in a kitchen for more than a few moments (as that...

(The entire section is 525 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 76 Summary

Kunta performs a special ritual every day before dawn. He has done this for years, and it has caused everyone to joke that Kunta can see in the dark because he gets up so early. He awakens, walks to the barn, and in the privacy among the hay bales, Kunta Kinte turns to the East and prays to Allah. By the time Kunta feeds the horses and returns, Kizzy is fed, dressed, and ready to work for the day.

Kunta begins to notice a field hand slave named Noah who has distinct features from the Jaloff tribe. Noah is not much older than Kizzy and reminds Kunta of himself. Noah says little but sees all. Kunta often notices Noah watching Kizzy, especially when Kizzy and Missy Anne are playing together. Kunta begins to catch Noah’s...

(The entire section is 521 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 77 Summary

In 1800, the slaves on the Waller plantation are scared to learn that William Waller’s brother, John Waller, is coming to keep an eye on things at the house for a few weeks. John Waller is Kunta’s former master who drinks and smokes and treats his slaves poorly. Kunta tries not to show his displeasure, but he knows that Bell and Kizzy will be without him for that week. Kunta will be driving the buggy for his own master to attend an important meeting—the reason William Waller has been called away.

Bell is disgusted with John Waller’s treatment of both the slaves and even of the plantation house. Bell is considering this when a white man approaches the house and asks to speak to John Waller. In a few minutes, John...

(The entire section is 479 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 78 Summary

Most of the slaves who participated in the Richmond uprising, even Prosser, have been imprisoned. The plantation owners are feeling a lot better now that Thomas Jefferson is president.

All the slaves on the Waller plantation are surprised to hear the stories about how much Jefferson’s slaves adore their master. Fiddler declares that it’s only because he’s mixing his blood with all the young black womenfolk like Sally Hemings. The slaves aren’t quite sure how they feel about Jefferson. They talk about how he believes white people and black people are just too different to be able to live together. Jefferson also feels they should be shipped, gradually, back to Africa.

Here the conversation changes....

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 79 Summary

Kunta drives the buggy as he listens intently to what William Waller says to his favorite cousin about the substantial sums a slave owner receives for quality slaves. Master Waller mostly worries that Virginia is losing its best workers. Both Waller and his cousin worry there are too many free black people; William thinks strict laws will maintain order. He recognizes that the black population has a monopoly on many good trades. Finally, Waller admits how much he despises the slave traders.

Kunta finally has some good news to report to his friends on slave row: Master Waller has no intention of selling to the hated slave traders. The conversation shifts to talk about slaves buying their freedom. Everyone looks at...

(The entire section is 425 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 80 Summary

Things have never been more glum on the Waller plantation. Fiddler’s playing no longer sounds the same; his spirit is broken. He now wanders the plantation hardly even nodding to anyone, never telling stories. Further, there is a horrible fever sweeping the county. Most slaves on the plantation come down with the sickness, even Kunta.

Bell notices one evening that Kunta isn’t acting like himself, even complaining when backrubs begin to hurt. The next morning, Kunta is unable to get out of bed. The doctor—and master—William Waller comes down to observe Kunta. Waller admits it’s the dreaded fever causing so many deaths to both blacks and whites; however, because of the number of urgent house calls, he demands...

(The entire section is 415 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 81 Summary

Missy Anne is now fifteen, and there is a change in the games she and Kizzy play when she isn’t away at school. Although Missy Anne insists on “playing teacher,” she actually is teaching Kizzy to read. Often Kizzy feigns slight failure just to see the delight on Missy Anne’s face when Kizzy gets a letter correct.

Kunta has mixed feelings about this. Kunta is proud of his daughter for gaining such a wonderful and difficult skill, but he's terrified Waller will learn Kizzy can read. That would definitely end the friendship between Missy Anne and Kizzy and also might get Kizzy sold off the plantation.

Even after Missy Anne leaves, Kizzy sits up late studying words in either an old book from Missy Anne...

(The entire section is 415 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 82 Summary

Kunta eavesdrops outside as Bell chides Kizzy for flirting with Noah. Kunta is very surprised because he never suspected this, thinking the two were purposely avoiding each other. Kunta isn’t sure what to think about the entire affair because in Africa a father always makes sure of good breeding before a match is made. In the United States (and as slaves), there is no way to be sure of something like good breeding.

What Kunta does like about Noah is that any baby would be as black as can be. Kunta is disgusted even hearing about lighter skinned babies, always a product of a white master or overseer raping a slave. Kunta secretly thanks Allah that he doesn’t know of anyone who had that tragic experience. In fact,...

(The entire section is 401 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 83 Summary

A week after Kizzy turns sixteen, Noah is gone. Only Kizzy and Kunta exchange knowing looks about Noah’s plan of escape. The slaves begin their morning with breakfast and then realize that Noah is not among them. First, they are angry that Noah overslept; but not finding him in the cabin, they know something is amiss. After searching the entire plantation, they know they have to tell Master Waller. Bell suggests they not tell him until after his breakfast.

When Bell breaks the news to Waller, he wonders whether Noah is just philandering among other plantations. He says Noah will be sorry if he actually is trying to escape. Waller gives Noah until the next morning before Kunta is asked to hitch up the buggy for a ride...

(The entire section is 395 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 84 Summary

Kizzy is sold to a slave trader immediately. That trader sells Kizzy to her new master, Tom Lea. The first night on the run-down Tom Lea plantation in North Carolina, he appears at Kizzy’s ragged cabin door. Smelling booze on his breath, Kizzy can tell what he plans to do. Sure enough, he subdues her by force and rapes her brutally until she blacks out. When she comes to, a black woman is cleaning Kizzy’s private parts from the soiled mess. Kizzy lies there, spent in despair.

Kizzy wonders about her mom and dad. Would Bell and Kunta remain on the Waller plantation? Had their disregard for the rules in trying to save Kizzy caused them to be sold, too? Then Kizzy wonders about Noah. She wishes she had allowed Noah to...

(The entire section is 408 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 85 Summary

Kizzy is pregnant. The only good part about this is that Tom Lea no longer shows up as often in Kizzy’s cabin. Kizzy has no idea why she is feeling sick all the time or how to bring a baby into this world. She muses on the stories Bell used to tell about storks bringing babies, but then she realizes that women might have to push them out somehow (just like she saw a cow do once).

In 1806, Kizzy has her baby and immediately is alarmed that this baby boy is definitely what Kunta Kinte would call a disgusting “high-yaller” color. Kizzy is so ashamed that she’s actually glad Bell and Kunta can’t see their first grandson. Kizzy wishes again that she had made love to Noah.

It’s Miss Malizy who finally...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 86 Summary

The birth of George brings a bit of joy back to the Lea plantation. The old slave everyone calls Uncle Pompey, who never gave a second glance to Kizzy before, now coos at her son. When Kizzy brings George to the field for the first time, Uncle Pompey points to a new little shelter he made for the baby under the shade of some nearby trees. Kizzy is very moved. She now can work in the fields, tending to her baby whenever he cries. The two other field hands, Sister Sarah and Miss Malizy, squabble over who gets to carry little George back to the cabins when the day is done. Still, at night, Kizzy does her best to keep George awake as long as she can before breastfeeding him and allowing him to fall asleep. She is still terrified that...

(The entire section is 403 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 87 Summary

Kizzy’s little George is three now and as confident and spirited as ever. George spends his time determined to help the adults, which often sends them into fits of laughter instead of thanks. George becomes famous for such “helpful” tasks as toting firewood one stick at a time, racking ashes onto the floor in front of the fireplace, and filling up a water bucket so full he can’t lift it. With all the praise everyone gives him, Kizzy decides to keep quiet about George’s new abilities. George’s pride is already starting to show.

One day George asks his mom why he isn’t black like she is. Kizzy gives him a simple explanation: people are just born in different colors. Still, George seems to ask about his color...

(The entire section is 411 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 88 Summary

George turns six, and Tom Lea makes George work in the fields. George “helps” as well as he helped with bucket-filling. Still, George always smiles and lifts the others' moods with his “characteristic good spirits.” George is so independent and self-reliant for his age that Kizzy can’t help but feel pride for him.

George amuses Kizzy at night telling stories about wildlife and singing slave spirituals. He also amuses himself whittling or drawing. Kizzy is scared George might learn to write. She keeps her solemn vow never to write again.

Kizzy misses news she would hear after Kunta’s buggy rides. Because Lea drives himself and the field hands stay in the fields, the slaves know nothing about what...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 89 Summary

Tom Lea allows George to help Mingo with the prize-winning chickens more and more. George is amazed at the specific foods given to these birds. He also notices the similarity between Mingo (with his hands scratched so many times by spurs) to the old “catchcocks” (with their many spur scars as well). One day, George hears Mingo telling Tom Lea that there will probably be forty good trained birds for the cockfights this year.

Tom becomes more confident in George's ability to handle his prize birds; therefore, he demands that George leave his mother’s cabin and stay in a new cabin by the chickens that both Mingo and George can build. Of course, the hard part about his new arrangement is telling Kizzy. Feeling the...

(The entire section is 685 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 90 Summary

When George visits slave row on Sundays now, he struts like a chicken himself. Tom Lea has been telling everyone who will listen that he is apprenticing George, a “natural born” cockfighter. The news from outside the plantation now has to do with new immigrants coming to the United States. Specifically, these immigrants are taking lots of jobs that would have otherwise gone to free blacks. George is amazed and admits that he would never know about any of this stuff unless a chicken told him.

Another reason for George’s frequent Sunday visits is that he longs for Miss Malizy’s good food from the kitchen (as Mingo is not much of a cook). Still, it isn’t long before George gets restless and hightails it back to...

(The entire section is 447 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 91 Summary

One Sunday, George takes his weekly trip to slave row and discovers almost immediately that something isn’t right. Sure enough, Kizzy grabs George and yanks him inside the cabin. Seeing George’s confusion, Kizzy explains about another slave uprising, this time in Charleston, South Carolina. Supposedly a black man named Denmark Vesey convinced hundreds of blacks to kill any white they saw on that very Sunday night. A few black slaves told their masters about the attack and stopped the entire thing cold. However, Tom Lea goes off immediately to a big meeting about this issue, while Mrs. Lea points the shotgun at anyone who moves. In fact, Kizzy is so worried about George getting caught away from the chickens that she shoos him...

(The entire section is 414 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 92 Summary

Another Sunday, it’s Mingo who presents an idea to Tom Lea. Mingo makes the case that even the birds that get injured in the cockpit can often be coaxed back to health to fight again. However, these birds, called “culls,” are fit not for the main fights but only for the “hackfights” led by poor whites and free blacks. Mingo suggests that this is a perfect way to get George started truly handling and fighting the cocks. Ironically, it’s also the way that Tom Lea began making his fortune.

After Tom Lea agrees, both Mingo and George rejoice. They have secretly been working on training George for hackfights for months now. Still, George can’t find the words to thank Mingo. It’s one of the few times when...

(The entire section is 476 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 93 Summary

On one of their many buggy rides to the main fights, Tom Lea starts talking to Chicken George almost as an equal. Tom Lea is often asking Chicken George what he is thinking about. Whenever Chicken George lies and tells Lea that he isn’t thinking about anything, Lea gets mad about blacks not speaking their true intelligence. Chicken George tells Tom Lea the truth: that most black folks are scared of white folks. Tom Lea is flabbergasted by this (especially considering the recent slave uprising in Charleston).

Eventually, Tom Lea compares his own young life with that of Chicken George. Tom Lea admits that he is one of ten children who all lived in only two leaky rooms on ten acres of rock not fit for growing any food....

(The entire section is 406 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 94 Summary

In 1827, Chicken George wakes up on the morning of his wedding day in a panic. It is expected that he will have his new cabin completed by this day, but he still has so much work to do (mostly because he wasted so much time in the past weeks). He finishes putting the hinges on the front door that Uncle Pompey made and stained himself. Then he mixes up some whitewash and completes the outside of the cabin. Then he saunters inside, where he views the tub that he has for bathing right in the house. He gets the tub ready for his wedding day bath. Afterward, he gets dressed up quite fancy for his wedding day, with a blue shirt, a yellow suit, a black belt, bright orange shoes, and a green scarf. Chicken George even wears a new black...

(The entire section is 459 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 95 Summary

The morning after his wedding, George is back down with the cocks, and Matilda is knocking on the big house door requesting a hoe for the fields. It isn’t long into the first day of work when Matilda asks whether the slaves have regular prayer meetings. After hearing they do not, Matilda begins planning a prayer meeting of her own for every Sunday afternoon.

Matilda begins talking to the few other slaves along slave row about how Chicken George came courting her. Because George was shocked that she wouldn’t make love with him until they were married, Matilda thought she would never see him again. However, next time he came around, he asked her to marry him. Kizzy pipes up to say, “I wants me some...

(The entire section is 452 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 96 Summary

Chicken George has been out running around and philandering almost every night. This particular morning, he stands outside his and Matilda's cabin with slurred speech and a swagger to his walk. His lies hurt Matilda the most. Chicken George promises that both he and Mingo had simply been chasing loose chickens all night. Matilda knows better. But being the good and honest wife that she is, Matilda tells Chicken George that no matter what he does, she will always be there for him when he comes home. Still, Matilda gives Chicken George a strict warning from the bible about reaping what one sows. Of course, Chicken George has to sleep with the chickens instead of with his wife.

With a renewed sense of duty, Chicken George...

(The entire section is 412 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 97 Summary

A full year later, the fear and anger inspired by the Nat Turner slave revolt finally begins to subside. Ironically, after the worry about the revolt abates, George and Tom are closer than ever. In fact, Tom kicks the dust one day and asks why one of George’s children hasn’t been named after Tom. George is surprised and pleased. He names his fourth son Tom Lea. Both Chicken George and Tom Lea hope and pray that there are not other serious slave revolts for as long as they both live. It made life horrible for both of them and inspired nothing but anger and fear on the part of the plantation owners and their slaves.

Chicken George and Tom Lea are preparing to travel all the way to New Orleans, Louisiana, to fight...

(The entire section is 406 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 98 Summary

Before leaving for New Orleans, Tom Lea and Chicken George have to pick up a custom-made wagon for the trip. Tom Lea and the craftsman argue about the price, and then Tom and George drive the beautiful new buggy home, complete with its twelve crates for the chickens. On the ride home with the wagon, Chicken George contemplates his plan to have his firstborn son, Virgil, become Mingo’s replacement after Mingo’s health deteriorates to a certain point. George worries about the chance that Tom will try to bring in an outsider. George also wonders how he would ever convince his family, seeing how much all of them hate George’s absence so much.

Unfortunately, while Tom Lea and Chicken George are gone to get the new...

(The entire section is 416 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 99 Summary

As Chicken George continues his grieving for Mingo, he considers the differences between the two of them. Mingo preferred the company of the birds to the company of people. Chicken George is exactly the opposite; however, George truly does need someone to help him care for the birds (especially when he is away). Chicken George longs to train his Virgil just as Mingo trained Chicken George.

Chicken George finally makes his way, determined, up to slave row to convince Matilda and Kizzy. George won’t let either of them talk before he is through with his explanation. Chicken George brings up the point that if they don’t propose Virgil as a helper, then the next time George goes away with the master, Tom Lea is bound to...

(The entire section is 490 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 100 Summary

Even though Tom Lea never mentioned the huge cockfights in New Orleans again, both Chicken George and Tom had enough cockfighting in the immediate vicinity to keep them busy.

In 1836, Chicken George hears just as much national news as ever on his cockfighting travels. For example, bitterness toward white men seemed to grow and grow. Chicken George even hears about the Seminole Indians down in Florida killing United States soldiers with no mercy. Furthermore, Chicken George gets word of the Alamo, where hundreds of Mexican people massacred white man after white man, including important lawmen, such as Davey Crockett. Finally, Chicken George hears news of President Van Buren forcing the lion’s share of Indians west of...

(The entire section is 519 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 101 Summary

One day, Chicken George approaches Tom Lea with a beautiful pitcher made of wound metal wire. Proudly, Chicken George explains to his master how handy his son Tom is with metal and fire. Tom Lea isn’t impressed. Chicken George sees that he is going to have to press the issue further, so he continues explaining that Tom is very dependable as well as handy. Finally, Chicken George gets to the point of telling Tom Lea that George’s son Tom would make a wonderful blacksmith. Tom Lea doesn’t like the idea, but Chicken George keeps suggesting ways that Tom's being a blacksmith could save Tom Lea some money. Tom could fix hoes, blades, knives, sickles, and tools and even shoe horses. The neighboring plantation owner, Mr. Askew,...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 102 Summary

Tom stays on the Askew plantation until Thanksgiving, when the family welcomes him home for a visit. Everyone is there to greet Tom with hugs and kisses except for Little George (whom Chicken George is teaching to tend the chickens) and Ashford (who preferred the company of women off of the Lea plantation). Even the ailing Uncle Pompey comes out of his cabin to greet Tom.

Tom is overwhelmed with love for his family, whom he missed so much while he spent his first months learning to blacksmith. The family’s love and respect overwhelm Tom. Even though Chicken George teases Tom a bit at dinner about neither making money nor shoeing horses yet, the family can tell that Chicken George is just as proud of Tom as the rest of...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 103 Summary

Chicken George is beside himself with excitement because the rich Mr. Jewett has agreed to fight chickens with Sir Eric Russell of England. As a result, the biggest cockfight of the year has been planned, with a pot of $30,000 and side bets of $250. In preparation for the big fight, neither Chicken George nor Tom Lea is seen by anyone as they prepare their chickens for the cockfight of the century against the prime stock of the Englishman.

The only two people upset about this cockfight are Mrs. Lea and Matilda. Tom Lea demands their savings of $5,000 from the bank to bet on the cockfight. Likewise, Chicken George demands and receives their savings of $2,000 to bet as well. Even being the dutiful wife that she is,...

(The entire section is 613 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 104 Summary

With Chicken George away in England, no one is good enough to tend Tom Lea’s chickens. Lea tries to teach “L’il George” and then Lewis, but he ends up doing most of the training himself. Tom Lea’s birds are losing more fights than they are winning. Even worse, Tom Lea has taken to drinking to ease his pain. The entire slave row fears being sold away.

About this time, Matilda steals away to tell Tom “that she saw him as the family leader” with Chicken George away in England. Sure enough, Tom has turned into a highly skilled blacksmith. With his quiet ways, Tom has won everyone’s heart. Tom confides to Matilda that it just might be better for the family to be sold away from Tom Lea (as long as they stay...

(The entire section is 411 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 105 Summary

It isn’t long before the family admits that life on Master Murray’s plantation is a whole lot better for them than it was on Tom Lea’s. The Murrays “soun’s like good Christian peoples.” However, the lack of Chicken George, Kizzy, and the others still weighs on the hearts of the Murray slaves. It turns out that Master Murray doesn’t know much about either farming or owning slaves. Originally from the big city of Burlington, Master Murray didn’t move out to the country until his uncle left him this plantation.

Master Murray, casually commenting that he might need an overseer, listens to Tom and the others when they tell him that the slaves will be happy to raise a bumper crop of tobacco without any...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 106 Summary

Mr. Edwin Holt, the owner of the Holt Cotton Mill, has been admiring Tom’s blacksmithing work for a long time. Mrs. Holt desires for Tom to make some “decorative window grills” for their big house, so Mr. Murray writes out a traveling pass for Tom to discuss it with the Holts further. Only Tom could accomplish the delicate work that Mrs. Holt proposes: each metal grill containing twisting vines with leaves and flowers. As Tom measures the windows, it is the first time he sees Irene working within the house. Tom can’t get her out of his mind. Tom feels sure that this beautiful, copper-colored young lady must already be spoken for. Tom finds himself unable to sleep at night, thinking about Irene.


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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 107 Summary

Because of the Holt’s devotion to Irene, they insist on having the wedding and reception at the Holt plantation. Ironically, even considering the beauty of the occasion and the richness of the decorations, it’s the delicate metal rose Tom gives to Irene that steals the show.

Tom is both happier and more talkative after his marriage to Irene and her subsequent move to the Murray plantation. He enjoys eavesdropping on the white folks who come to his blacksmith shop to get their horses shod or tools fixed. Tom begins to learn lots of news from around the country. He hears bitterness toward the white abolitionists. He also hears about the presidential prospect named Abraham Lincoln who wants to free the slaves.


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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 108 Summary

Chicken George returns to the Lea plantation shocked by the disrepair of his old homeplace. Seeing an old woman sitting hunched over, Chicken George finds that it’s Miss Malizy. Unfortunately, Miss Malizy’s mind is long gone. She only partially recalls that he is Chicken George, who frantically asks where his family is. Miss Malizy absentmindedly responds that they are all gone with only her and Tom Lea left. When pressed, Miss Malizy says that Kizzy has died and rests under a tree near the edge of the property. Chicken George yells out in grief. He doesn’t want to rattle the senile Miss Malizy, who has just told him his wife and children have been sold; he runs to the big house yelling Tom Lea’s name.

Tom Lea...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 109 Summary

Chicken George rides to the Murray plantation and meets Irene along the way. She is astounded to see the man she has only heard about. She introduces herself and explains that she is Tom’s wife, about to give him yet another grandchild.

Everyone rushes in from the fields, the big house, and the blacksmith shop to see Chicken George and hear of his return. First, he tells everyone the bad news of “Gran’mammy Kizzy’s” death. Over supper, George tells the family about his experiences in England fighting English chickens and about how upset he was when Sir Russell made him stay one extra year. Finally it was time to return and George talks about the harrowing journey back to the United States. After braving plenty...

(The entire section is 411 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 110 Summary

In 1860 the news around Tom’s blacksmith shop echoes more and more the prospect of war. All of the Southern white men are complaining about the new president, Abraham Lincoln, because he wants to free the slaves. No one can believe that freedom might actually be achieved in their lifetime. The slaves all seem to know that if the dreaded “Yankees” win the pending war, perhaps freedom for slaves will be assured. Still, they have hope.

It isn’t long before Master Murray is talking with his dinner guests about South Carolina seceding from the union. Now they know there is going to be a war, but none can believe that white men will fight about the ownership of black men. The slaves on the Murray plantation aren’t...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 111 Summary

Tom and Irene have another girl, Ellen. The day after Ellen is born, Matilda reminds Tom of the importance of telling the family story from Kunta Kinte on down. Tom admits that if someone ever forgot to tell the story to any newborn infant, surrounded by kin, the ghost of “Gran’mammy Kizzy” would terrorize them all.

The Civil War rages and news of battles reaches the Murray plantation almost daily. The air is hot with numerous Confederate battles fought and won. White plantation owners laugh at Lincoln losing personal friends on the battlefield.

The Murray slaves begin to lose hope of freedom. In 1862, things get worse when Mr. Cates (now Confederate “Major” Cates) informs Tom that, at Mr....

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 112 Summary

The North and the South continue fighting. Tom hears more news at his shop, but luckily doesn’t have to shoe horses for the Confederates anymore. Tom’s mood is lightened a bit when he hears the white plantation owners getting more upset about the way the war is going. Tom begins to hope again that someday he and his family might be free.

About this time, Ol’ George mentions that he has to “’tend to some business” and will be back as soon as he can. Matilda, Irene, and the other slaves talk extensively about what George may have needed to “’tend to,” but none remembers him mentioning any family, only that his crops were destroyed. The mystery is solved when Ol’ George returns with his wife, Martha....

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 113 Summary

On the first of January, 1863, Matilda flies to slave row with the news that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation “dat set us free!” Although at first the slaves celebrate with great joy within the privacy of their cabins, their happiness soon turns to despair when they realize that nothing changes within their daily lives. All the Emancipation Proclamation did was make the Confederacy (and the white plantation owners) more bitter toward Lincoln.

The North wins most major battles now, but the slaves don't allow themselves to rejoice anymore until the following year when news of General Sherman’s victories reaches their ears. Finally, Charleston, South Carolina falls. Then Richmond,...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 114 Summary

The Murray family has to admit that Chicken George’s “promised land” is lacking when they get a glimpse of it: a few storefronts, a few white people, and no real roads. Even a few white children, rolling hoops in the dust, stop and glare at the large wagon train coming through to join the town. Chicken George tells everyone this just shows it’s a new settlement and that “ain’t nothin’ it can do but grow.” Their mood is better when they get a look at the soil, rich and black. Each small family unit is given thirty acres of land.

All of the families live out of their covered wagons while they begin clearing the land, planting crops, and building cabins. Ol’ George and Martha happily live by their...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 115 Summary

The New Hope Colored Methodist Episcopal Church becomes more than just a place for worship and services: it becomes a school, too. The teacher, Sister Carrie, does her best with the materials contributed by the community of believers and teaches all grades in one room. Her students range in age from twelve (Tom’s oldest, Maria Jane Murray) down to six (Tom’s youngest, Elizabeth Murray). Elizabeth becomes the most capable student in the Murray family and begins to teach her own father to read and write. Elizabeth is also so good with numbers that she becomes the bookkeeper for her father’s blacksmithing business, now one of the most prosperous businesses in the town of Henning.

Soon, Elizabeth falls in love with...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 116 Summary

Irene’s daughter, Cynthia, ecstatically proclaims that a young man named Will Palmer asked to walk her home. Cynthia confides this mostly to Irene; Tom tends to be particular about who dates his daughters. Irene mentions that Will Palmer has had his eyes on Cynthia for two years, glancing at her during church services. The oblivious Tom, however, has not noticed this and immediately inquires about the quality of Will Palmer’s character. Cynthia again asks if Will Palmer can walk her home from church, and Tom says he will consider it. Cynthia is heartbroken at not receiving immediate approval.

Irene knows that for Tom, nobody is good enough for his daughters. Although Tom knows this already, Irene explains again that...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 117 Summary

In 1895, Will and Cynthia Palmer welcome their first baby girl: Bertha George Palmer. Immediately after the birth, Cynthia gathers the whole family together and tells the ancestral story all the way back to Kunta Kinte. Will Palmer admires Cynthia for her devotion to family, but he can’t help feeling a bit sad that it seems that Cynthia’s ancestry monopolizes the family name. Perhaps this is why Will Palmer begins spoiling little Bertha from that day on.

Will Palmer makes Bertha’s crib with his bare hands. When Bertha is six, Will ensures there is a credit on her account at every candy store. When Bertha is fifteen, Will buys her anything she wants from the Sears Roebuck catalog and hires a piano teacher from...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 118 Summary

Switching to first person, Alex Haley describes growing up as the favorite of Grandpa Will Palmer, Alex being the son Will never had. Bertha stays in Henning with Alex while Simon stays at Cornell to finish his degree. Alex spends his first years exploring the nooks and crannies of the W. E. Palmer Lumber Company, having fun and imaginary adventures, and following his grandpa everywhere. Little Alex is devastated when Will Palmer dies. Simon Haley comes home from Cornell to take over the lumber business.

Alex becomes very close with Grandma Cynthia. The summers are spent on the front porch listening to stories from visiting family members such as Aunt Plus, Aunt Liz, Aunt Till, Aunt Viney, and Cousin Georgia. Many...

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 119 Summary

Alex Haley sets off on what will become an ancestral journey. As he ponders where to start, his mind rests on the graying old ladies who told him vivid stories while rocking on the front porch in Henning. Instead of beginning with the few historical details (such as his ancestor’s name “Kinte” and the few African words that have the “k” sound predominating), Alex Haley decides to begin where his inspiration began: on that front porch with oral history. Alex figures out that the very youngest of the graying old ladies would be “Cousin Georgia,” Georgia Anderson. With all the other old ladies dead and gone (including his own grandmother), Alex sets out to visit Cousin Georgia.

It turns out that when Georgia...

(The entire section is 385 words.)

Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 120 Summary

From Kansas, Alex travels to the National Archives and finds the North Carolina census records from after the Civil War. There he sees the blacksmith, Tom Murray, recorded as well as his wife, Irene. Alex even sees that his own “Great Aunt Liz” was six years.

Now Alex focuses on “ko” and “Kamby Bolongo” to figure out the tribe. Alex’s friend George points him to a group of African linguists. One oral historian, Dr. Jan Vansina, is particularly interested in how this story was passed down. He is certain the sounds come from the Mandinka language. A “ko” probably refers to a “kora,” a stringed instrument made from a dried gourd covered with goatskin. “Kamby Bolongo” probably comes from the word...

(The entire section is 582 words.)