Kintango corrects him, teaching him about honor in combat: “No, the goal of war is not to kill. The goal of war is to win. By surrounding the enemy, you would force him only to fight more desperately. If you surround him on three sides and leave him an escape route, he will leave your land and there will less blood spilled on both sides. For a warrior of the Mandinka, courage is not enough. “
Kunta Kinte responds, apparently trying to defend his opinion: “But sir, won't an enemy who escapes alive fight you again?”
But Kintango responds patiently: “It is impossible to kill an enemy. You may end a man's life, but his son becomes your new enemy. A warrior respects another warrior, even he is his enemy. A warrior kills only to protect his family, or to keep from becoming a slave. We believe not in death, but in life, and there is no object more valuable than a man's life. The way of the Mandinka is not easy, but it is best.”
The Mandinka in the film are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa. In the 13th century, the Mandinka, who were originally from Mali, won their independence from other nations and formed their own empire which stretched across a huge area in West Africa. The philosophy that Kintango teaches in this dialogue is a very noble philosophy, encouraging honor in combat rather than domination and cruelty. This is a great philosophy, but one which few modern militaries follow. Although we do have the Geneva Convention of 1949 which supposedly limits cruel treatment in war, but so many nations have violated the provisions of this treaty that I’m not sure it has any more validity. Additionally, even if military forces in the various industrialized nations give lip service to “civilized” warfare, it is a common psychological habit to belittle and disparage the enemy so that there is not as much trauma to the killing of the enemy. The thinking is that, they are not as fully human as we are, so it is not as serious a moral issue to kill them. Obviously killing the enemy is a necessity if one expects to win wars, but portraying the enemy in a blanket fashion as ignorant, evil, subhuman, etc., is just setting the conditions for war atrocities as young, inexperienced troops succumb to the propagandistic portrayals and begin to believe that the enemy really isn’t fully human.
That is why the philosophy that Kintango teaches in this scene of Roots is one which is so critical for all nations in keeping the violence of war contained to humane boundaries. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure that this is an accurate portrayal of the true beliefs of the people, in the period portrayed in the movie or in current times. After a series of conflicts following the founding of their empire, roughly half of the Mandinka converted from their native animistic religion to Islam. Since many of the tribe were already converted to Islamic beliefs during the period portrayed in the film, and since the script shows numerous signs that all of the characters are following Islam, then it would be safe to assume that they were also following all the tenets of Islamic belief. I have written on this before, but the historical practice of Islamic people usually does not follow such a noble philosophy as Kintango espouses. They are typically very ruthless with all the people that they capture and are cruel to anyone that does not convert to Islam or to anyone that converts out of their religion. Moreover, cruelty is so common in Islamic societies, especially toward women and children.
I pray that we will all examine our hearts today, and if there are un-Christian thoughts of any other groups of people, especially stereotypes, that we will ask God’s Forgiveness and ask for His Wisdom and Power in helping us to change.