“Slavery existed before US, but it is interesting that the form it had in Africa was so much more human and humane, as was the natural character of life, extensive knowledge of herbs and vegetation around integrated in medicine and food that were all part of one seamless fabrique of life. Slaves could live with families, owners could not sell them apart from families, owners could only take half the produce of slave labour and slaves could buy freedom far more easily, and what is more slaves were often more wealthy than owners. Slavery was a punishment for guilt or debt unpaid and slaves could not be distinguished from owners by any racial characteristics - which, with hundreds of tribes indigenous to Africa, are how various tribes know others different from themselves.
One does not know from this book if slavery practiced elsewhere - ancient Greece, Arabia or other Islamic societies (India had none according to the Chinese travellers that visited to study in the universities there in ancient times) - was anywhere near as humane as the form described here of African version of slavery, and from, say, writings of Pearl S. Buck one does get the impression slavery in China was closer to that in Africa in that it was not racial but a result of needs of poverty.
But definitely the contrast of the first part with its gentle flow of life could not be contrasted more by life anywhere than that of slavery in US what with using humans worse, far far worse, than animals have ever been used in western society. Perhaps the modern treatment of animals used for food production either for meat or for dairy is comparable, but then the owners do not rape or whip them or chop of their body parts.
Reading this book is very like travelling down a river and then back up to the pristine source of the river surrounded by forest in the mountains. One is expecting the river to plunge down a precipice but is lulled after all the fears and expecting more of the gurgling stream going a ways, when the sudden fall down the precipice (capture of the boy looking for suitable wood for a drum, having planned a trip to the source of his roots in Mali after two trips locally) shocks and horrifies in its brutality, getting worse in every way through the trip with brutal and disgusting conditions, then far more horrible with the slavery in its early days in US (did law allow chopping off body parts of a runaway slave in southern states when the "whites" had their "Give me liberty or give me death" without realising the irony of enslaving others in such brutal ways while fighting for "independence" with their own cousins from across the ocean over taxes, all the while keeping the fruits of not only labour of others but also claiming, owning and selling of their offspring - horror after horror, really, that is not unfamiliar in thought before reading this but becomes something one cannot remain unaware of having read this.
The book does - did - a great service to African US citizens by giving them a validity of their experience and history and hope of finding their roots, and one to everyone else by giving a lot of information and providing a good many details of the heritage and putting usually not mentioned events of history in time frames too. So one learns of how often there were uprisings, how often they did succeed in one place or another, how it was not a silent dumb mass of people who toiled until freed by strangers but a brutalised people who had no hope and yet did the best in every circumstance until even now.
One does wish one could learn of the life various ancestors led when the branches separated - what happened to the village and Kunta's family when he was taken, what about his life after his daughter was sold, and so forth. One does wish Haley had time and thought and success in providing one with some answers. But not knowing is true to the life of those that proceeded along the stream from Juffure to Haley.
And it is thrilling to have him find his ancestor's name in the archives and finally in the very village he lived in. One wishes one could know more about his meeting his long lost cousins.