Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 8 Summary

Alex Haley

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 medicine man is late in coming.

At night, the adults scamper fearfully into their huts, and Kunta hears the arafang beat the drum in different beats. All of these beats mean something different, and they are written in Arabic on the side of the baobab tree. Kunta Kinte lies awake in the night listening to the drums of his own village as well as the drums from distant villages. They are all beating out tunes of fear and coming evil. Kunta muses that the beats are so clear, they sound like words. As a result, Kunta can decipher exactly what is happening in other villages. He hears plagues in the music as well as famine and sickness. Kunta realizes that other villages must see the new moon in the clouds as well.

At this time before the harvest, the crops, cattle, and goats are particularly susceptible to wild animal attacks. Therefore, the adults and the older children of the village are supposed to be especially vigilant in keeping watch. Kunta and his friend Sitafa do so, but no wild animal comes.

Finally, the medicine man arrives at the village carrying a huge bundle on his head containing gifts from other tribes he has helped. The Mandinka are spellbound as the medicine man takes out some strange items: “a small snake, a hyena’s jawbone, a monkey’s teeth, a pelican’s wingbone, various fowls’ feet, and strange roots.” The medicine man then performs a mysterious ritual full of chants and writhing. His eyes roll back in his head and he falls back as in a faint. When he regains consciousness, the medicine man declares that the evil has left the village.

The Mandinka rejoice at being free from the evil spirits and shower the medicine man with gifts as he goes on his way.