About Kunta Kinte
Kunta's birth in 1750 in the Mandinka-speaking village of Juffure in The Gambia, West Africa. Kunta is the eldest of two sons of the Mandinka tribesman Omoro and his wife Binta Kebba. Haley describes Kunta's strict Muslim upbringing, the rigors of the manhood training he undergoes, and the proud origins of the Kinte name.
In 1765, Kunta is taken into manhood training. One day that year, he is sent to hunt a bird without a weapon. While hunting the bird he spots slave hunters, runs back to his village and tells the inhabitants what he has seen.
One day in 1767, while Kunta is searching for wood to make a drum, four men chase him, surround him and take him captive. Kunta awakens to find himself blindfolded, gagged, bound, and a prisoner of white men. He and others are put on the slave ship the Lord Ligonier for a three-month Middle Passage voyage to North America.
Kunta survives the trip to Maryland and is sold to a Virginia plantation owner, Master Waller, who renames him "Toby". He rejects the name imposed by his owners and refuses to speak to others.
After being recaptured during the last of his four escape attempts, the slave catchers give him a choice: he can be castrated or have his right foot cut off. He chooses to have his foot cut off, and the men cut off the front half of his right foot. As the years pass, Kunta resigns himself to his fate and also becomes more open and sociable with his fellow slaves, while never forgetting who he was or where he came from.
Kunta married a fellow slave, named Belle Waller and they have a daughter they name Kizzy (Keisa, in Mandinka), which in Kunta's native tongue means "to stay put" (he named her this to protect her from being sold away). When Kizzy is in her late teens, she is sold away to North Carolina when her master discovers that she had written a fake traveling pass for a young slave boy with whom she was in love (she had been taught to read and write secretly by Missy Anne, niece to the plantation owner). Her new owner immediately rapes her and fathers her only child, George, who spends his life with the tag "Chicken George", because of his assigned duties of tending to his master's cockfighting birds.
In the novel, Kizzy never learns her parents' fate. She spends the remainder of her life as a field hand on the Lea plantation in North Carolina. In the miniseries, she is taken back to visit the Reynolds plantation later in life. She discovers that her mother was sold off to another plantation and that her father died of a broken heart two years later, in 1822. She finds his grave, where she crosses out his slave name from the tombstone and writes his original name instead.
The rest of the book tells of the generations between Kizzy and Alex Haley, describing their suffering, losses and eventual triumphs in America. Alex Haley claimed to be a seventh-generation descendant of Kunta Kinte.
Haley's sources for the origins of Kinte were oral family tradition and a man he found in The Gambia named Kebba Kanga Fofana, who claimed knowledge of the Kintes. He described them as a family in which the men were blacksmiths, descended from a marabout named Kairaba Kunta Kinte, originally from Mauritania. Haley quoted Fofana as telling him: "About the time the king's soldiers came, the eldest of these four sons, Kunta, went away from this village to chop wood and was never seen again."