30 year Anniversary of “ROOTS” RELEASED ON DVD By Andre Austin The DVD is out celebrating the widely watched mini series which came out in 1977 based on Alex Haley’s book Roots. Through oral history that was passed down from generation to generation, Haley knew a little bit about how to track down his family tree with confirmations through written records found in museums and again, from an oral historian, known as a Griot. One of Alex Haley’s family members informed him as a boy that, “They said he (Kunta or Kintay) had been brought across the ocean to a place they called Naplis, and he tried four times to escape from the plantation of his first owner, Massa John Waller. After his fourth attempt he was offered the choice of castration or having a foot cut off. Because he chose the foot, said grandma; I’m here to tell about it. The African told Kizzy that the massa’s brother, Dr. William, had bought him and nursed him back to health. Though John Waller had named him Toby, the African always angrily insisted that the other slaves call him by his real name, which was pronounced “Kunta”. As Kizzy grew up, according to the old ladies on the porch, Kunta taught her words from his own language. He called a guitar a “ko”. He would point to rivers and say something like “Kamby bolongo”. Kizzy remembered this story and passed it on to Chicken George, who later told his children, and so on all way down to Alex Haley. In the stories grandma and the others had told Alex, there were fragments of words from an unknown tongue spoken by the African who said his name was Kunta Kintay, called a guitar a ko, and a river Kamby bolongo. If he could find out what the language was, Alex might be able to unlock the door to his own past. When Alex got home he knew there was somebody he had to see. Only one cousin was living, cousin Georgia. She was now in her 80’s . She said, “ yeah boy, dat African say a guitar a koy, and he was out choppin’ wood intendin’ to make hisself a drum when dey cotched im.” Alex went to an African linguistics expert, Lan Vansina of Belgium. He was able to confirm that the sounds of the two African words passed on were from the Mandingo people. He said, without question, the word bolongo meant a large river. It probably referred to the Gambia River.” Alex Haley then went to Gambia to talk to a Griot, who held the oral history of his tribe and or country. The Kinte clan, the Griot said, began back in the 1500’s in a land called old Mali. After some years the clan traveled to Gambia. The Griot added one of the many time fixing references in the narrative identifying the date of events: “But it was about the time the King’s soldier’s came... He added a salient biographical detail. The eldest of these four sons, Kunta, went away from this village to chop wood and he was never seen again.” Alex sat there feeling as if he was carved of rock. What that old man in Africa had just uttered dovetailed with the very words his grandmother had always spoken during his boyhood on a porch in Tennessee. Projecting back six generations to Kunta, that must have been in the mid eighteenth century, and since slavery was a maritime industry, conducted predominately by England and her American colony, Alex figured there might be a record somewhere in London of a military expedition to Gambia around that time. And he was right. After weeks of digging among British parliamentary records Alex discovered that a group called Colonel O’Hare’s forces had been dispatched to protect Fort James on the Gambia River from attack by the French in the spring of 1767. Alex looked at Various repositories here and there where in London it held a maze of old shipping records. Finally, in the British Public Records Office one afternoon, He was halfway down a list of thirty-odd sailings on my 1023rd set of records when his finger traced a line that read: “Lord Ligonier, registered in London, Captain Davies, sailed from Gambia River July 5, 1767, destination Annapolis” with a cargo that included 140 Africans. In New York Alex remembered he came across a book several months before in the Library of Congress: Shipping in the Port of Annapolis, 1748-1775. Lord Ligonier had docked in the port of Annapolis on September 29,1767. Haley was able to track down Kunta’s sales price at about $850.00. He also found a specific record of when and where he was sold. Grandma had said Kunta had been sold to a Massa John Waller, who named him Toby, and later, after his foot had been cut off, he had been sold to John’s brother, William Waller. Since slaves were considered just property just like horses or plots of real estate, Alex reasoned that there might possibly be a record of Kunta’s sale from one brother to the other somewhere among the state legal deeds on file. Finally, Alex found a deed dated September 1768 transferring 247 acres of land from John to William Waller. On the second page, like an afterthought, were the words: “And also one Negro slave named Toby”. Alex sat staring at the document, unable to believe my eyes. It was impossible, but Alex had done it: he traced a man who had been dead for almost two centuries all the way from his home village in Western Africa to a plantation in America. . . I dropped a tear when I first read how Alex discovered his roots. And I wish that someday, somehow, I would be able to trace my family roots as far back as he did. Alex Haley has been criticized for writing the first one hundred pages when Kunta was in Africa. Haley wanted everyone to know that slaves had a past, one that went farther back in time before we came into contact with whites. He also devoted those first hundred pages so the reader could view the African as a human being who had a civilization and culture that wasn’t aided directly by the palefaces who wanted to exploit him. Get the DVD and watch it with your whole entire family.