Alex Haley’s much-celebrated novel Roots, which narrates the saga of Kunta Kinte—an African kidnapped and sold into slavery—and his family, brings to the fore a mindset that goes beyond the issue of injustice and racism. Integral in the life of warrior who had been destined to lead his tribe in fulfilling the tasks of manhood is the possession of his name: Kunta Kinte. The Kinte mark is synonymous to courage and strength of character, as well as the legacy of pride in identity and sense of one’s self; this is the basis of the intriguing story of Kunta and his significance to his descendants to this day.
Despite the torturous situations he had been put through, the biggest concern of Kunta was his master’s deliberate change of his name to ‘Toby’. Notwithstanding his abrupt and obviously illegal shipment to America and the forced installment in a plantation in Virginia, what Kunta firmly rejected was the control exerted over his identity and individuality, which was entirely embodied by being a Kunta. As with many slaves during his time and after, Kunta and his assigned name existed to reinforce the power of the white master; the African slave need only answer to the designated tag, due to the fact that they were stripped of all their rights. But Kunta maintained the importance of his name to his own existence, even to his ultimate goal of freedom and liberty from the constricting bonds of slavery. Kunta did not find success in escaping from his hell, but kept the value and importance of his name to heart; his union with another slave produced his precious daughter Kizzy, named formally as Keisa—‘to remain’ or ‘stay put’ in Kunta’s native language. Clearly, Kunta’s appropriation of meaning in his daughter’s name reveals a continuation of a revered African tradition, which is to identify offspring based on the kind of future earmarked for them. In this case, ‘to stay put’ is Kunta’s expressed wish for his daughter, to never leave his side as he did his own family in Africa. But as slaves had no control over their masters’ decisions, Kizzy was eventually forced to leave her parents, thus violating the parameters assigned by Kunta in giving the name.
The legacy of Kunta Kinte, to his supposed descendant Alex Haley and to all African Americans, is in the preservation of identity and sense of self, for out of those the elusive values of self-respect and pride are gleaned. In a world and age where power is abused and humans are judged by the color of their skin, the unwavering stand of Kunta Kinte to remain true to his origin, family, and tradition is an example of courage and bravery—the very values instilled upon him in his youth. This is perhaps why the Kunta Kinte in the novel and the real-life inspiration of the author is the quintessential model for the African American community: despite the odds, which were the greatest anyone in Kunta’s place could ever endure, he held on to his name as the symbol of his being, as well as of his fellowmen. While Alex Haley, arguable as heir to the honor and dignity of the Kunta Kinte name, rightfully presented the historical facts behind Kunta’s life, it may also be concluded that the exemplary determination to uphold one’s identity and pride is enough to travel throughout centuries and generations—all because of a name.