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 slaves, Omoro reveals that to Kunta as well. Some are born slaves. Some were starving and had to beg for sustenance in return for service. Others had been captured as prisoners. The only slaves who are despised are the ones who have committed horrible crimes. Omoro also tells Kunta of slaves who can buy their freedom. Omoro is then impressed when Kunta expresses knowledge about such a slave, Sundiata.
Kunta Kinte is the most surprised to learn that Nyo Boto is a slave and thinks, “That one is nobody’s slave.” Kunta and Lamin pay a visit to Nyo Boto to find out the whole story. Long ago, the toubob burnt her village and stole her along with all of the other members of her tribe. She describes the horrible conditions and beatings as the slaves were led to the boats. However, one slave was sold for a bag of corn. That slave was Nyo Boto. Her name means “bag of corn.” Her new master died soon after, and she has lived in Juffure ever since.
Kunta and Lamin are scared beyond belief, but they have a newfound respect for Nyo Boto.
Finally, Kunta asks his father about a time when Omoro saw toubob on the river. Similar to the story of Nyo Boto, but only watching from the shadows, he too observed the horrors of the white man’s cruelty. Omoro tells of a time when person after person was stolen from Juffure. Omoro wants to keep his children safe, so he tells them:
Never be alone when you can help it. . . .Never be out at night when you can help it. And day or night, when you’re alone, keep away from any high weeds or bush if you can avoid it.
Omoro describes the toubob in more detail. The white men have heavier footfalls, build bigger and unnecessary fires, carry a nervousness you can feel, and smell like a wet chicken. As for what happens after a slave is stolen away in the “big canoe” to a distant land? “No man knows any more about it.”