Life of Olaudah Equiano Essay

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Oluaduh Equiano

The Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African Written by Himself is a two-volume memoir of the author's being bought and sold like cargo during the heyday of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Divided into twelve chapters, The Life of Olauduh Equiano begins with the author's description of his own people and culture in West Africa. From the outset, Equiano uses a tone of humility and warns the reader that he understands that in writing his memoir is succumbing to a type of pride or vanity. He tells the reader exactly why he is writing his memoir: not to create a literary masterpiece but to share a story that he feels is truly unique even among Africans. "I believe there are few events in my life, which have not happened to many…did I consider myself a European I might say my sufferings were great: but when I compare my lot with that of most of my countrymen," he states, he has been blessed (p. 8). Describing the culture of West Africa, the author refers to the Guinean kingdoms that extended as far as Abyssinia. He describes West African culture with detail, writing about food, government, and gender norms.

Chapter Two starts the autobiography proper. Here, Equiano and his sister are kidnapped. Equiano is the youngest of his parents' sons and hence the "favorite," (p. 31). He was already being groomed to be a warrior, and actually watched from his perch in a tree while his kidnappers raided the compound. Equiano was aware even at his young age that something like this might happen, and describes the kidnapping as his "fate," especially as none of the adults were around at the time to help. Their mouths were bound and hands tied as the kidnappers carried them through the woods. After several days of camping the kidnappers separated brother and sister from one another even "while they were clasped in each others' arms," (p. 33). Equiano's early days in captivity were spent in Africa, but eventually he was hauled to the coast.
Here for the first time Euiano encounters people who speak languages he does not understand. He also happens to see his sister and they scream upon their reunion, while the human traffickers allow them their brief moment of emotional bonding. "I was more miserable, if possible, than before," when they were once again separated (p. 37). Equiano was brought to Tinmah, which he describes lovingly as "the most beautiful country" he had seen in all of Africa (p. 39).

For two months, Equiano lives happily among the wealthy, even though he is a slave because he is treated well. Equiano's brief spell of happiness among the lush cocoa nut trees vanishes, as his is taken away again "even among the uncircumcised," (p. 40). He suffers six or seven arduous months traveling with a surly band of human traffickers, passing through various hands along the way until reaching the sea and beholding the slave ship. He felt acute "terror" as he was hustled on board by people with strange complexions, "horrible looks, red faces, and long hair," (p. 41). He states, "I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me," (p. 43).

The trans-Atlantic voyage is grueling, and included stop-overs in the West Indies while the chattel are being bought and sold. "This is a new refinement in cruelty," which "adds fresh horrors even to the wretchedness of slavery," states Equiano (p. 52). The author also notes that the slave traders are "nominal Christians," meaning they profess to love God while treating people terribly in the name of greed (p. 52). He lands in Virginia, and at first sees no fellow Africans. He is left alone on a plantation and is more sorrowful than ever.

However, Equiano is soon sold again and put on board another ship bound for England.….....

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