A TV drama that re-awakened tragic memories of African slavery

 kuntakinte.jpg Roots: The Saga of an American Family, commonly known as “Roots”- a novel and film by the same name, by Alex Haley, is perhaps the most popular work of art the world-over on the horrors of African slave trade. Although written in 1976, more than 100 years after the initial abolition of the trade in human beings, or slave trade across the British empire in 1807, and more than 400 years since the trans-Atlantic slave trade ; because of scarcity of any in-depth movies on the subject, Roots which was initially set as a novel and later designed for TV series, quickly won minds the world-over, watched by 160 million people during the first year of it’s projection only. This was a record number, considering the scarcity of TV screens at the time.

For many decades since, it remained the most watched TV programme, and until this day, only two other programmes, Mash (final episode) and Dallas (”who shot JR?” episode) have surpassed it. It’s success lay in the fact that although slavery was part and parcel of many western countries, it was treated with caution, since the subject has always been regarded with controversy. It was thus Roots that truly dramatised it for the very first time. kuntakinte.jpg 

In fact, the feeling is ever as fresh as it was during the first year of it’s screening, whenever, and wherever it is being broadcast-the main reason being that most of the literature on the slave trade on black people, mainly from Sub-Saharan Africa has been written with such a way that they lack consistency and impartiality, and many time, the sentiment is either lost or exaggerated along the way. But whatever the case, the one striking thing that most writers from any scientific spectrum on slave trade have pointed out is that the commerce was simply put: nasty, cruel, barbaric and outrageous and inhumane.

In the midst of animosity, Roots, which was purported to be founded on the true life story of the author’s ancestry provided one of the much needed missing-link that people definitely longed to see or at least understand, that is, can descendants of former slaves possibly trace their ancestry or roots? That is the one million dollar question. Roots which does not provide any definite answer nevertheless teaches that it is only by tracing their African roots that these descendants of former slaves can understand their own selves.

The Movie

The plot of Roots is about the capture, transportation, enslavement and brutality of million of Africans that were transported from the continent, across the atlantics to America. The main protagonist, Kunta Kinte, shown to be strong from birth in The Gambian , at his small native village of Juffure, where he is treated with respect, and an icon in many ways according to the film, is attacked and captured in a forest by four whitemen at the age of 17, in 1767, where he was looking wood to make a village drum. His attempt to fight for his life is to no avail, as he is seriously hit by the four invaders, to the extent that he faints. He later awakens, to his greatest dismay, only to discover himself a prisoner of the white men, stripped naked, completely bound and blindfolded for no crime committed. All along, he treated worst than an animal, being flopped always, especially as he tries to escape on a good number of occasions, and refusing to abandon his “primitive” name Kunta Kinte, in exchange for another name chosen for him by his masters.

In one typical instance of his attempted escape, his masters after concluding that enough was already enough with Kunta Kinte, ask him to chose between having his private part or his leg cut. After initially staying silent, he decides on the latter in the wake of snake beatings.

Kunta Kinte’s is later sold to another plantaion where he gets a little bit better treatment, and even allowed to Bell, another black slave girl he meets at the plantation. They are blessed with a daughter Kizzy. Kunta Kinte, never missed an opportunity to tell his wife and daughter his story of captivity and enslavement from Africa, and how he plans to return back to his roots with all his American roots. He cautions them in the event where he dies before his mission is accomplished, his descendants must do same and return to their original roots.

Their beautiful daughter, Kizzy, who mistakenly learn how to read and write-a right forbidden to slaves, pays the price by being sold away to another slave master, called Lea, thus perpetually separating her from her family. On arrival, Lea rapes her, whereupon she becomes pregnant for George, whose ability in training chickens for fights will later earn him the nickname, “chicken George”. His mother, narrates his grand father’s story to Chicken George, just the way Kunta Kinta told it himself. The story is so touching that it’s Kunta Kinte’s image, and not Lea’s that George grows with.

He too is later separated from the mother, and he marries and have his own family at a different plantation, whereupon he too passes across the ever living message of Kunta Kinte.
All in all, Alex Haley carries us through seven generations of Kunta Kinte.

Alex Haley who claims every claim in the story was as accurate as possible, at the end of the story only leave us doubting, how fertile his imagination can be. There is every reason to suspect some of the plots were imagined and spiced up, to give colour to the story.

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