Alex Haley's monumental tribute to his forebears provides not only the perfect antidote for Blacks in a society that perpetually miseducates us about our ancestral homeland, but also an unblinking and unflinching view of slavery.
This was the book that made Americans of all races and creeds care about this country's shameful past in a way that many never had before. The book points out the role of Arab slave traders in the problem, but it should be noted that under their auspices such problems stayed on African soil until the arrival of the toubob.
Haley does a brilliant job of getting inside the heads, hearts and souls of his forbear, Kunta Kinte and his family, however fictional certain aspects of the story may be. He warmly and lovingly re-creates both the positive and negative aspects of life in the village of Juffure, The Gambia, detailing their family lives, educational system, religious life, and their complex system of government. We learn about griots, who are highly reminiscent of the wandering minstrels of Medieval Europe, who through their songs and stories, pass the history of their people from one generation to another.I could feel the hot,arid climate of that region from just reading!
If people never read any other part of this epic saga, I would at least encourage them to read Chapter 24 in which Haley gives a brief but college-level education about the great kingdoms of West Africa, including Mali, the Kingdom where the world's first University was built in Timbuktu.More so than Europeans, Americans have a harder time accepting Africans as people of acheivement with a noteworthy history, even though they know that the earliest civilizations of man began on that continent, and that Africans have had thousand of years to figure out many things for which our culture does not give them credit.
It was to the University of Timbuktu that Kunta Kinte had purportedly planned to travel when sometime in the summer of 1767, he was chopping wood to make a drum and was attacked by four men who killed his pet dog, knocked him unconscious, and after a demeaning process of being chained, shaved, and branded by his abductors, had him loaded aboard the Lord Ligonier, and shipped to America on a filthy and horrifying journey, where he touches terra firma again at the docks of Annapolis, Maryland on September 29, 1767.
Every emotion Kunta must have felt as he lost control of his life, identity, name, and physical personage is registered. We feel his bewilderment, at dealing with his first view of an alien culture, Native Americans, innumerable degradations, first encounter with snow during one of four attempts to escape, and his pain when his foot is severed. His humbling discovery of his need for love is especially saddening.
Kunta's overwhelming resentment at the docility of the other slaves is replaced with understanding of their survival tactics. He befriends a gardener and fiddler after being sold to a kinder master, and he meets Belle, several years his senior, whom he eventually marries, and has a daughter named Kizzy.
Massa Waller's daughter, Missy Anne teaches Kizzy to read, and Kunta Kinte's life ends in the heartbreak of permanent separation from his daughter when the teenager writes an illegal pass for her sweetheart, Noah, and is sold from the Virginia plantation to a more sadistic master in North Carolina, who rapes her repeatedly and by whom she has her son, George.
In the midst of their dehuminization, we learn how the slaves manage to sustain a culture, learn and discuss current events, to love each other and have honorable relationships, even though the auction block may part them forever, and to periodically assert themselves and settle scores with their oppressors.While reading this story, I was reminded of how professors have warned that whatever Europeans did to others for so long boomeranged in two world wars.
The story follows the triumphs and tragedies of Chicken George and his descendants and finally ends with Alex Haley's emotional quest to trace his heritage and ascertain the truth about stories he was told in his boyhood.
Ultimately, Haley compensates for his ancestors' losses merely by his presence at the dock at Annapolis on the 200th anniversary of his ancestor's disembarkment there.
Whereas Kunta Kinte's abduction was lamented in 1767, two centuries later, in an underrated moment that is probably one of the most sacred in literary history, Haley visits Juffure and reconnects with those of his ancestral village who address him by his forebear's name.
Happily, the circle is complete and the world made to care about events that claimed more lives than Hitler's Final Solution.
Kunta Kinte's memory is honored with an annual festival in Annapolis, and every September 29th, a promising African American is given a scholarship in his name.
Hence, the Gambian who had once hoped to study at the University of Timbuktu has his waylaid ambitions fulfilled through others. There could not be a more fitting tribute to his memory.