As I was watching Roots for the umpteenth time this week, I was really struck by one moment of dialogue which I had forgotten about.  In the scene I was watching which was early in the film, a Mandinka warrior-chief, Kintango, is teaching a group of young men who are preparing to take their place as adults in a rural African tribe.  The teacher is instructing these young men in the philosophy and values of the tribe so that they will be ready to assume responsibility in the community as leaders, heads of households, and warriors.   The young men are apparently going through some sort of boot camp to complete their preparation.  During one class, the teacher asks the young men what they would do in a hypothetical battle situation, but the main protagonist, Kunta Kinte, gives the wrong answer as he suggests that he would be ruthless with the enemy.

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. 

 


Comments

Islam is famous religion in all over the world and it gives the best rules and regulation. Being a Muslim i believe in it but some peoples are not good. But it does,t mean Islam is not good. Islam gives the address of Allah.

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    I'm a retired soldier, having spent 23 years of my life serving our country, actually 30 years when you count the reserve and National Guard time as well.  I believe in servant leaders, following the example of our Lord, and I believe in giving back to the troops once one has attained a certain status or level of success in life.  But I also believe in fighting back against corruption and incompetence wherever you find it if it hurts people.  Our national values were worth dying for.  They are also worth living for.  A man or woman can actually live a life by these principles of humility, service, love, duty, and honor, and have a significant impact on the world around them...if you have the dedication to see it through. 

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