Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Olaudah Equiano: Facts about His People and Place of Birth

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Olaudah Equiano: Facts about His People and Place of Birth

Article excerpt

Introduction

In every generation, we find people of extraordinary skills, wisdom, vision, dedication, and discipline. Their story often forms a beacon of light or stepping-stone to success for the succeeding generation. This is the case about the story and autobiography of Olaudah Equiano. His story is one that will certainly inspire every ambitious and enthusiastic youth who hopes to rise to prominence, either in education or in any other life career. His story, I believe, would also inspire those who desire to be pioneers and pacesetters in their area of calling. After reading his autobiography, I feel challenged to pursue my education with fresh vigor and vitality in order to become an inspiration to those who would read my biography in future.

Equiano's narratives have lately become the focus of some controversies by his critics who are neither Igbos nor inhabitants of Essaka. These people question, out of ignorance, the authenticity of Equiano's autobiography including the story about his people and place of birth. In this essay, my aim is to explore Equiano's world, with the intent of unraveling the truth about his claims. To do this, a look at the regions, various cultures and traditions of the Igbo tribe in Nigeria (especially, in the 17th century) would be of immense help. These will help to either establish or discredit his claims and narratives.

WHO IS EQUIANO?

Olaudah Equiano (Gustavus Vassa) claims to have been born around 1745 in the village of Essaka (Issaka) in the interior of modern-day eastern Nigeria. He is an African American who claims to be an African slave kidnapped from his village, Essaka (an Igbo land--written 'Eboe' in Equiano's Narratives), at the age of eleven. According to his narrative, after being shipped through the "Middle Passage" of the Atlantic Ocean, he was sold to a Virginia planter. A British Naval officer, known as Captain Pascal, later bought Equiano as a present for his cousin in London. Equiano had assisted his slave merchant master and worked as a seaman throughout the North American continent. However, he later bought his freedom after ten years of enslavement. He was kidnapped from his village at a very tender age, so Equiano could only recall his childhood in Essaka, where he was dressed in the traditional attire of his people--the "greatest warriors."

His unique recollection of traditional African life before the advent of the European slave trade is praiseworthy considering the technological and literary level of his time. Equiano is reputed as the first African-born former slave to write the story of his life himself, without the help or direction of white writers or editors of his time, as his predecessors had. His narrative, which is actually written by himself, is widely viewed as a form of autobiography, which during the nineteenth century gained popularity worldwide because of its compelling firsthand testimony against slavery. According to an online foundation dedicated to Equiano, for "more than two centuries now, this work is recognized not only as one of the first works written in English by a former slave, but perhaps more important as the paradigm of the slave narrative, a new literary genre" (Olaudah).

Equiano's life on the high seas is noteworthy too. He not only traveled throughout the Americas, Turkey and the Mediterranean, but also participated in petitioned the Queen of England in 1788 who later appointed him to the expedition to settle Blacks from London in Sierra Leone, a British colony on the west coast of Africa. Although his dream was to become a Christian missionary to Africa, and to return to his beloved native country, Equiano did not achieve these goals.

OLAUDAH EQUIANO'S SLAVERY

The Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to reach Benin, an empire with its headquarters in Nigeria. A strong bilateral trade developed between them with the Portuguese trading European goods and guns for tropical products and slaves from Benin. …

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