A major character in Alex Haley's Roots (1976), Kunta Kinte was, according to Haley, his maternal great-great-great-great-grandfather, discovered after extensive genealogical research and several journeys to Gambia.
The first son to Omoro and Binta, Kunta Kinte, a Mandinka, is born around 1750 in Juffure along the Gambia River. After a mostly idyllic youth in which he is schooled in Islam and initiated into the Mandinka ways, Kunta Kinte is captured in 1767 and shipped to the United States. Arriving in Annapolis, he is sold to John Waller and renamed Toby. As punishment for three escapes, his foot is amputated. He is then sold to William Waller, becoming Waller's gardener and driver. His initial disgust with the other slaves eventually turns to admiration for their ability to mask their true feelings and to resist the cruel demands of the slaveowners. Kunta Kinte grudgingly accepts his condition and marries Bell, a domestic slave, with whom he has a daughter named Kizzy. Kunta Kinte teaches Kizzy African words and culture, a legacy handed down through the generations until Haley hears them as a child from relatives. The reader last sees Kunta Kinte grieving for his daughter after she is sold for helping her lover escape.
In the novel, Kunta Kinte is depicted in heroic fashion, intelligent, resourceful, introspective, and courageous, a Mandinka warrior who never abandons his Islamic faith. He is meant to symbolize both the tragedy of American slavery and the heroism of those who endured it.
Roger A. Berger