The name Kunta Kinte would surely tingle many ears. Kinte is a famous young man born in 1750 and forced into slavery. The roots of the brave and rebellious Kunta Kinte could be traced to the Gambia. An island in the African country was named after the character in the book Roots,which was adapted into a movie; the slavery account of an American Family by American author Alex Haley.
“The Kunta Kinte Island” is a small island in the Gambia close to Jufure village, his birthplace whom Haley claimed was based on one of his ancestors from the Gambia, born in 1750 and enslaved in America till he died in 1822.
The Island was first named St Andrew’s island when it was first discovered in May 1456 by Portuguese explorers after one of their sailors passed away during a travelling escapade. The sailor’s name was Andrew and the captains sought out land until they came across the Kunta Kinte island. Andrew was buried there, and the island was named after him. In 2011, the Island was later renamed Kunta Kinte island to provide it with a better African feel and relation.
Prior to the 2011 renaming, in the 17th century, Polish explorers sojourn on the island and sent couples and pastors to begin an European community in 1658. They were successful until the British captured the island in 1661 and changed the name to James Island.
The island is located in the middle of the Gambia river and joins the Atlantic Ocean. Its location made it a popular island during the best years of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. For slaves leaving Africa through the Gambia, Senegal and other neighboring colonies, usually the last point of departure.
Before it was discovered by the Europeans, the river and the island are significant as a trading route for the Arabs and Phonecians.
The island became a major point for trade and gained popularity during the slave trade era. Europeans that captured Africans stopped on the island for the sailors and captains to take a rest before proceeding on the journey.
The Island witnessed the deaths of many slaves who died of starvation on their journey to Europe. The island had no drinkable water, and the colonisers stored safe drinking water in drums for their use alone. Rebellious salves were kept in cages or dark rooms in the forts built by the British.
The island soon became a successful European settlement and was rebuilt severally by the French and the British and when they had total control, it led to the colonization of Gambia.
In 1807, after the abolition of the Slave Trade by the British Empire, the island became desolate and a defense site for the illegal slave trade on the Atlantic. The island became a good observation point during World War II from 1939 to 1945. Many African soldiers chosen to fight in the war passed through the island as a more secure route to the West.
Currently, the island has become one of the most visited sites by African Americans. In 1996, the Gambian government announced the commencement of an annual event known as the ‘International Roots Homecoming Festival’. A day-long trip to the island is one of the essential aspects of the festival which is also known as Heritage Week.