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Black History Month 2018: Explore Your Roots With Kunte Kinte

Saturday, February 10, 2018 1:51
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The Gambia is the smallest country in continental Africa.

It is a penis shaped country that is comprised of both banks of the Gambia River. It is surrounded on three sides by Senegal in West Africa. It kind of looks like a black dick inserted into Senegal.



If you are an American, there is a good chance you have already been exposed to The Gambia without realizing it. The Gambia was the home of one of the most famous Black Fictional Images in history. His name was Kunte Kinte and he was a good boy who wasn’t doing anything when the evil White man showed up and stole him from his village in Africa. He was taken across the Atlantic Ocean, sold into slavery in Virginia and was whipped until he learned his name was Toby.

Probably like many of you, I was unironically exposed to Alex Haley’s television miniseries Roots by Boomers while I was in high school. We were forced to watch this fantasy fiction during Black History Month. Kunta Kinte was a noble savage who just wanted to be free.

Here is the “your name is Toby” scene from the 2016 Hollywood remake of Roots:

The funny thing is, the most famous portrayal of The Gambia in the world isn’t true.

Alex Haley isn’t descended from Kunta Kinte. On the contrary, a DNA test of one his relatives showed his paternal line is from the British Isles. The plantation records on which the story of Kunta Kinte is based show that the whole narrative is false. The slave Toby wasn’t Kunta Kinte. The character Kizzy wasn’t Toby’s daughter. The griot in The Gambia who confirmed Alex Haley’s story through oral tradition was lying. What’s more, the narrative presented in Roots was plagiarized from a book called The African written by Harold Courlander who was a White anthropologist. The iconic scenes where Kunta Kinte is whipped until by the cruel White overseer until he learned his name was Toby as well as his foot being cut off because he was a runaway slave was also fiction.

As we have already seen, the truth is that what is now The Gambia was once part of the Mali Empire and Songhai Empires. The region exported slaves who worked on Malian plantations in the Niger River Valley. Many were sold to the Arabs via the Mali Empire and Songhai Empire through the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade before the Portuguese and the British showed up in West Africa.

It’s true that Senegambia (Senegal and Gambia) was a major source of slaves transported to the New World. The best estimates are that 3 million slaves were exported from this region to the New World. Around 25% of slaves who were brought to British North America were from Senegambia. Senegambians made up a third of the black population in the Chesapeake Bay region in Virginia and Maryland and a quarter of the black population in the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry. Senegambians tended to be among the earliest arrivals as the sources of slaves transported to the New World thorugh Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade shifted south to the Congo and Angola in the 18th century.

Unlike Mali, Niger or Mauritania, the Gambia River which was major artery into West Africa and really was a major source of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The portrayal of White men traipsing through the jungle though in Roots to abduct poor Africans was false. The Africans were sold into slavery on the coast by African kingdoms like any other legitimate article of commerce. Slavery was an African custom and had been the foundation of the West African economy for centuries. The actual descendants of Kunta Kinte in The Gambia later turned on Alex Haley because they expected to get rich from the movie.


In the 18th and 19th centuries, Britain and France contested Senegambia with the eventual result being that France ended up in control of Senegal while Britain ended up in control of The Gambia. The British abolished the slave trade in 1807 and spent the next half century suppressing the slave trade in the region over the protest of Gambians. The Gambia became a protectorate of Britain which introduced peanuts as a cash crop to give Gambians some other source of income aside from slavery.

In 1906, the British finally abolished slavery itself in The Gambia. It is important to remember though that the prevailing economic theory in Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries was laissez-faire capitalism. The British made no effort to develop The Gambia or any of their other colonies. They no effort to develop Britain itself either which was left up to the magic of the free market.

During the Second World War, FDR became the first American president to visit sub-Saharan Africa and what he saw in The Gambia shocked him. According to FDR, The Gambia was a hellhole 5,000 years behind the United States in its economic development. FDR blamed Gambia’s underdevelopment on British colonialism and said it was “the most horrible thing I have ever seen in my life.” He was struck by how Gambian peasants used pointed sticks to cultivate peanuts because no one had ever seen a plow there. The experience prompted FDR to lay the groundwork for African decolonization.


In 1965, The Gambia was boldly launched as an independent nation. It was the last British colony in Africa to be decolonized. Needless to say, it wasn’t launched with great expectations as by that point it had developed a reputation as being the poorest, most backward colony in the British Empire.

The West was surprised when Gambia turned out to be one of the most stable and democratic countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It preserved that reputation until Yahya Jammeh came to power in one of Africa’s many coups in 1994. Jammeh ruled The Gambia for 22 years and was only recently driven out of office after he refused to accept his defeat in a presidential election.

Jammeh had been one of Africa’s most colorful leaders. He has married and kept multiple wives. He claimed that he would rule “for a billion years if necessary” and that Gambia would become the richest nation on earth by 2015. He gave himself the title “His Excellency Sheikh Professor Doctor President” and proclaimed that he was anointed president of Gambia by “The Almighty Allah.

Yahya Jammeh is best known for rounding up thousands of alleged witch doctors and forcing them to drink a magic potion to cure them of their demons. His accomplishments include discovering a foolproof herbal cure for the HIV virus. It requires seven ingredients three of which aren’t from Gambia. Those who are suffering from AIDS also have to quit drinking alcohol, tea and coffee, abstain kola nuts and sex and be healed with the right verses of the Koran.

The Gambia is currently ranked #173 out of 188 countries in the UN Human Development Index. That’s a better score than Mali, Niger, Central African Republic and South Sudan which were never sources of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The Gambia’s economy has pretty much stagnated which is the pattern we see in other African countries. Unless Gambians find a source of vibranium, it will take Gambia a lot longer than 5,000 years to catch up with the rest of the world and cease to be “a hellhole.”


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