Roots: The Saga of an American Family Additional Summary

Alex Haley


(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...

(The entire section is 1093 words.)


(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...

(The entire section is 878 words.)


(Novels for Students)

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.)