Average – Roots By Alex Haley

Omoro told his sons that after their manhood training, his two older brothers Janneh and Saloum had left Juffure, and the passing of time brought news of them as well-known travelers in strange and distant places. Their first return home came when drum talk all the way from Juffure told them of the birth of Omoro’s first son. They spent sleepless days and nights on the trail to attend the naming ceremony. And gone from home so long, the brothers joyously embraced some of their kafo mates of boyhood. But those few sadly told of others gone and lost—some in burned villages, some killed by fearsome firesticks, some kidnapped, some missing while farming, hunting, or traveling–and all because of toubob.

Omoro said that his brothers had then angrily asked him to join them on a trip to see what the toubob were doing, to see what might be done. So the three brothers trekked for three days along the banks of the Kamby Bolongo, keeping carefully concealed in the bush, until they found what they were looking for. About twenty great toubob canoes were moored in the river, each big enough that its insides might hold all the people of Juffure, each with a huge white cloth tied by ropes to a tree like pole as tall as ten men. Nearby was an island, and on the island was a fortress.

Many toubob were moving about, and black helpers were with them, both on the fortress and in small
canoes. The small canoes were taking such things as dried indigo, cotton, beeswax, and hides to the big canoes. More terrible than he could describe, however, said Omoro, were the beatings and other cruelties they saw being dealt out to those who had been captured for the toubob to take away.

For several moments, Omoro was quiet, and Kunta sensed that he was pondering something else to tell him. Finally he spoke: “Not as many of our people are being taken away now as then.” When Kunta was a baby, he said, the King of Barra, who ruled this part of The Gambia, had ordered that there would be no more burning of villages with the capturing or killing of all their people. And soon it did stop, after the soldiers of some angry kings had burned the big canoes down to the water, killing all the toubob on board.

“Now,” said Omoro, “nineteen guns are fired in salute to the King of Barra by every toubob canoe entering the Kamby Bolongo.” He said that the King’s personal agents now supplied most of the
people whom the toubob took away–usually criminals or debtors, or anyone convicted for suspicion of plotting against the king–often for little more than whispering. More people seemed to get convicted of crimes, said Omoro, whenever toubob ships sailed in the Kamby Bolongo looking for slaves to buy.

“But even a king cannot stop the stealings of some people from their villages,” Omoro continued. “You have known some of those lost from our village, three from among us just within the past few moons, as you know, and you have heard the drum talk from other villages.” He looked hard at his sons, and spoke slowly. “The things I’m going to tell you now, you must hear with more than your ears for not to do what I say can mean your being stolen away forever!” Kunta and Lamin listened with rising fright. “Never be alone when you can help it,” said Omoro; “Never be out at night when you can help it. And day or night, when you’re alone, keep away from any high weeds or bush if you can avoid it.”