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HALEY, Alex

Roots

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[ Kunta ] heard the sharp crack of a twig, followed quickly by the squawk of a parrot overhead. It was probably [ his] dog returning, he thought in the back of his mind. But no grown dog ever cracked a twig, he flashed, whirling in the same instant. In a blur, rushing at him he saw a white face, a club upraised; heard heavy footfalls behind him. Toubob! His foot lashed up and caught the man in the belly just as something hard and heavy grazed the back of Kunta’s head and landed like a tree trunk on his shoulder. Sagging under the pain, Kunta spun…an pounded with his fists on the faces of two black men who were lunging at him with a big sack, and at another….swinging a short, thick club, which missed him this time as he sprang aside…then the black’s club smashed into Kunta once again, staggering him to his knees…His head ready to explode, his body reeling, raging at his own weakness, Kunta reared up and roared, flailing blindly at the air, everything blurred with tears and blood and sweat. He was fighting for more than his life now. The toubob’s heavy club crashed against his temple. And all went black.

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[ Kunta } began to make out-tied to other bamboo trunks--the figures of the other captured people, eleven of them…all guarded closely by armed slatees and toubob…The men …sat with murderous hatred etched in their faces, grimly silent and crusted with blood from whip cuts. But the girls were crying out…

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Kunta struggled and howled with fury as the slatees 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 [man] had brought with him. Kunta was already thrashing and screaming as the iron exploded pain between his shoulders.

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Kunta wondered if he had gone mad. Naked, chained, shackled, he awoke on his back between two other men in a pitch darkness full of steamy heat and sickening stink and a nightmarish bedlam of shrieking, weeping, praying and vomiting. He could feel and smell his own vomit on his chest and belly. His whole body was one spasm of pain from the beatings he had received in the four days since his capture.

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Kunta’s naked back felt an odd vibration from the hard, rough planking he lay on….And then terror went clawing into his vitals as he sensed in some way that this place was moving, taking them away….The anguished cries, weeping and prayers continued, subsiding only as one after another exhausted man went limp and lay gasping for breath in the stinking blackness. Kunta knew that he would never see Africa again. He could


feel clearly now, through his body against the planks a slow, rocking motion…He had shouted so hard that he had no voice left, so his mind screamed it instead, ‘ Kill toubob and their black traitor helper!

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So far, each time the food had come, Kunta had clamped his jaws shut, preferring to starve to death, until the aching of his empty stomach had begun to make his hunger almost as terrible as the pains form his beatings…then he thought of something the kintango had once said- that warriors and hunters must eat well to have the greater strength than other men…Kunta’s fingers clawed into the thick mush. It tasted like ground maize boiled with palm oil. Each gulping swallow pained his throat in the spot where he had been choked for not eating before, be he swallowed until the pan was empty. He could feel the food like a lump in his belly, and soon it was rising in his throat. He couldn’t stop it, and a moment later the gruel was back on the planking.

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Days of talking sought answers to the question: ‘How could the toubob of this canoe be attacked and killed?’ Did anyone have or know of anything that might be used as weapons…The relaying of any information [among the captured Africans] from whatever source seemed about the only function that would justify their staying alive….And more and more frequently there arose disagreements about how to kill the toubob, and when it should be tried….Bitter disagreements began to flare up. One debated was suddenly interrupted when the voice of an elder rang out, ‘Hear me! We must be as one village, together in this place!’ Murmurings of approval spread swiftly within the hold…The new and comforting sense of closeness with the other men made Kunta feel almost less aware of the stink and filth, and even the lice and rats …

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Then, one day up on the deck, the chained people suddenly stood rooted in astonishment and stared- along with the toubob-at a flight of hundreds of flying fish…Kunta was watching, dumbfounded, when suddenly he heard a scream. Whirling, he saw the fierce, tattooed Wolof [tribesman] in the act of snatching a metal stick from a toubob. Swinging it like a club, he sent the toubob’s brains spraying onto the deck; as other toubob snapped from their frozen positions of shock, he battered another to the deck. It was done so swiftly that the Wolof, bellowing in rage, was clubbing his fifth toubob when the flash of a long knife lopped off his head cleanly at the shoulders …

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Top prime---young supple!’ the toubob shouted. Kunta was already so numb with terror that he hardly noticed as the toubob crowd moved in more closely around him. Then, with short sticks and whip butts, they were pushing apart his compressed lips to expose his clenched teeth, and with their bare hands prodding him all over- under his armpits, on his back, his chest, his genitals. Then some of those who had be inspecting Kunta began to step back and make strange cries.

“Three hundred dollars!….three fifty!’ They shouting toubob laughed scornfully. ‘Five hundred!…six!’ He sounded angry. ‘This is a choice young ------! Do I hear seven fifty?” …..