Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter Summaries

Alex Haley

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.

Omoro spends the next seven days deciding on a suitable name for his firstborn son. This is an important job for the Mandinka warrior, considering that the child is believed to possess seven traits of the person for whom he is named. Omoro also visits each mud hut in the village and invites each family to the ceremony where his son will be named. 

The all-important eighth day dawns, and the villagers gather joyously, bringing ceremonial offerings. Triumphantly, a small piece of the baby's hair is shaved while everyone praises the baby's health. The drums begin to beat and the alimamo says a prayer to Allah asking for a long life, family pride, and honor.

The moment arrives, and Omoro takes his son, whispers to the baby his very own name, turns to Binta to whisper it to her as well, and then lifts this firstborn high in the air while the arafang (the future teacher of the child) proclaims the child's name: Kunta Kinte. The entire Mandinka tribe from the village of Juffure rejoices at the sound of the drums and voices.

Kunta Kinte is named after his grandfather, Kairaba Kunta Kinte. The grandfather was a holy man who saved the village from famine many years ago. The arafang then enthralls the assembly with his plethora of stories of all of the Mauretanian forefathers going back more than two hundred years. However, the ceremony is not complete until Omoro retreats alone, under the stars, with Kunta and, holding him up to Allah, says, "Behold—the only thing greater than yourself."

It is only now that the ceremony is complete.