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History Channel’s ‘Roots’ Paints Picture of Rich African Culture Spoiled by Slavery

Kunta Kinta

(Photo: Screenshot/ A young Kunta Kinta watching Gina dance at a match-making ceremony.


The Monday night premier of History Channel’s “Roots” Part One gave African Americans several generations removed from their cultural traditions a look at a dynamic African heritage before it is viciously ripped away in its ultra-violent, 21st century portrayal of slavery.

The network gave viewers an audio-visual glimpse of a splendid home culture through a young Kunta Kinta.

Kunta is born into the Mandica tribe in lush and green Juffure, West Africa. The Kinta family are a family of warriors brightly arrayed in indigo dyed robes, turbans, shorts and skirts. The matriarchs also don beautiful orange beads and cream colored cowrie shells in their hair, around their necks and waists.

The men have a playful, yet respectful relationship with the women of the village. The village women firmly order Kunta’s father to stay outside of hut where his wife is birthing their son and laugh at his nervous jitters.

Kunta’s love interest Gina jokingly pokes holes in Kunta and the other young men’s pride. The women’s pranks and jokes test the men’s patience but still they live together in harmony.

Gina and the other young women show off their #BlackGirlMagic when they swing their hips in a match-making ceremony, enticing their future husbands to start a family with them.

Older men train the younger ones to become brave warriors.

The entire village encouraged and comforted themselves with their Muslim faith. The Kinta family is honorable and rebuke tribes who sell slaves to the white merchants arriving on their shores.

However the beauty of this idyllic society is rudely interrupted with gruesome scenes of violence.

Twenty-first century film craft means the retelling of the original “Roots” slavery scenes is more sadistic than ever.

Viewers no doubt cringe as tribesmen are decapitated, arms are chopped off, flesh is torn by whips, blood spilled by bullets sprayed from metal cannons.

The Kinta tribe is mercilessly torn apart by a rival tribe’s greed. The Coros sell Kunta and other members of his village to European slavers just as he reaches manhood. Kunta, his uncle Sila and Gina were all given over to the traders and are promptly bound and branded.

On the slave boat they are chained down, force fed and left to defecate and urinate of themselves below deck. The males are shot and thrown overboard when they attempt to fight back or get too sick. The females are raped in the captain’s quarters.

It is in this hardship that the singing tradition truly develops. The captured men and women communicate where the ship’s guns are kept and the condition of missing friends in songs sung in their native tongue.

It is a rare instance of the beauty that can rise from evil circumstances.

Part One of History Channel’s newly remade Roots premiered Monday.

Roots is an adaption of Alex Haley’s Pulitzer Prizing winning novel.  The original ABC miniseries featuring Levar Burton, John Amos and Ben Vereen set viewership records still recognized today.

Part Two is set to air Tuesday at 9 pm, 8 central.


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