Reflective Essay – Roots by Alex Haley

The book, “Roots” written by Alex Haley, captured and helped my understanding of imperialism and colonization and what they looked liked from the non-white perspective. Alex Haley went way back to his roots from Africa and begin to do research on his ancestor, Kunta Kinte, who is the main character in the book, Roots. He traced back his roots all the way to Juffure, a village in Gambia, West Africa. In this book, he focuses on slavery as a major key factor and how the beginning of colonization begun. It all happened in the spring of 1750 when Kunta Kinte was born. As Haley talked more about colonization and how the Africans were being captured by the white men, it all came down to understanding imperialism and colonization.
Before I did not have knowledgeable information about the whole history of slavery and colonization of Africans. I only knew that Africans were captured by white men and were sold to other white men as slaves, the white men or the masters usually treat their slaves violently, and the slaves work on their master’s plantation. But after I read Roots, it was all clear to me and a little more familiar with what I use to know about colonization and imperialism. There were some events in the book that got my attention because they showed what imperialism and colonization looked like in the non-western perspective.
The white men took a lot of things away from the Africans. One of the event that I thought it was interesting was when the elders got together and sat around a fire and talked about what the white men did. The arafang, who usually stands before villages got so frustrated about the white men that he just had to say “Why do we count only those taken away by the toubob? We must count also the burden baobabs where villages once stood. He has killed more in fires and in fighting him than he has ever taken away!”(120). Then one of the senior elders said, “For toubob money, we turn against our own kind…greed and treason – these are the things toubob has given us in exchange for those he has stolen away. Even worse than toubob’s money is that he lies for nothing and he cheats with method, as naturally as he breathes. That’s what gives him the advantage over us (121). The white men think that they can just come in and take whatever they want from the Africans because they have more power over themselves. This had caused a lot of anger and frustrations to the Africans but there is nothing that they can do to stop the white men. The white men are just taking advantages over the Africans and have left the Africans to suffer and face poverty because of lack of resources in the villages as well as damaged villages made by the white men.
Together with imperialism, came the understanding of colonization. With that being said, I thought that slavery was one of the main events that were focused on in Roots. It all came together when Kunta Kinte was captured by “toubob”, a term they used to identify the white men. After Kunta got captured, I read that everything from there onwards was just plain violent. The toubob’s bashed and hit the captured Africans in every way possible and even branded the Africans. Haley mentioned that “Kunta struggled and howled with fury as the slates grabbed him again, wrestling him to a seated position with his back arched. Eyes wide with terror, he watched as a toubob withdrew from the fire a long, thin iron that the white-haired one had brought with him. Kunta was already thrashing and screaming as the iron exploded between his shoulders. The bamboo grove echoed with the screams of the others, one by one. Then red palm oil was rubbed over the peculiar LL shape Kunta saw on their backs” (154). It was really terrible and heartbreaking to imagine how the Africans were treated. Throughout their journey to America on the slave ship, the Lord Ligonier, they suffered more pain. Haley stated that “The whips lashed down amid screams of pain as one after another pair of men went thumping down into their aisleways” (161). It was very violent and a lot of blood was lost from just receiving beatings from the white men.
In addition to getting continuous beatings from the white men, the Africans themselves were betrayed by other African men who decided to do the toubob’s dirty work from money. Kunta said,“They offer me cover, yet they keep me in chains; and my own people not only stand by and let it happen but actually do the toubob’s dirty business for him” (205). The Africans were chained on their way to America, lost of hope and continuous fear of torture from the white men. Also, there was a new disease that the people on the ship experienced on their journey to America. It was known as “the flux” and it got spread rapidly. A lot of people died from hunger and disease while others survived. After the journey when they arrived in America, the captured Africans were sold to other white men. The Africans who were brought by white men worked on their master’s plantation and settled there with their masters. Kunta Kinte was one of the surviving African that got sold as a slave and was bought by his master, “Massa John Waller” [for $850] “who had a plantation in a place called Spotsylvania County, Virginia” (665).
In conclusion, after reading Roots, I realized that poverty and slavery were two of the main factors that the Africans faced during their time of suffering and torture from the white men. These two factors had captured and helped my understanding of imperialism and colonization and what they looked liked from the non-white perspective. After reading this book and understanding the whole history of African American imperialism and colonization, I think that it was one of the greatest novels that have helped me to imagine and understand how life was back then and how slavery existed. Before I had a general idea of what slavery was and this book helped me understand and learn more detailed information about slavery by providing examples. The book not only gave examples of the main events but also a slave’s daily life activities. It made it more real. Therefore, Roots has increased and depended my knowledge in slavery during imperialism and colonial period.

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