Olaudah Equiano’s Argument against Slavery was his Life Experience
Olaudah Equiano, also known for majority of his lifetime, Gustavus Vassa. He was born in the year 1745 in now what is known as Nigeria. In the novel, The Classic Slave Narratives, he shares his own experience of what it was like to live as black in that time period of when he was born until he died. Vassa was kidnapped as a child for slavery and to this day any human being can read about how it really was back then living as a slave first-hand, I believe there are few events in my life which have not happened to many (Equiano 30). People today when he or she first thinks of slavery, it would be a man or a woman under control of a master doing work all day, although Equiano explains differently and shows there are several different aspects of slavery and it was a new life, not the best of course.
The first aspect Equiano touches on in his narrative is the kingdoms and the provinces inside the kingdom around where he grew up. The part of Africa he mainly speaks about is known as Guinea, it carries along the coast of Senegal to Angola. Equiano most talked about kingdom in his narrative is the kingdom of Benin, Both as to extent and wealth, the richness and culture of the soil, the power, and the number and warlike disposition of its inhabitants (Equiano 30). In the kingdom of Benin, every government-based situation weather that be a transaction or a crime, was dealt with in the Benin kingdom by the elders and chiefs. Equiano’s father was one of the elders who belonged to the kingdom of Benin, many others knew he belonged to that specific kingdom because they used a technique known as a mark of grandeur (Equiano 31). The people of the kingdom would have a cut across their forehead, down to their eyebrows. As stated above, many of the crimes were also dealt with in this kingdom. The chiefs and elders were the ones to make the decision of what to do with the captive. There were usually two choices either death or become a slave. The different types of crime Equiano talks about is kidnapping and adultery. The life of marriage is also a very different way than how it is today or even years ago as well, The men, however, do not preserve the same constancy to their wives, which they expect from them (Equiano 32). Equiano talks about an instant where a wife and a mother goes to another man while married and the man is determined for death for her, but the elders denied it because she was pregnant. Men do not expect their wives to go to another man while married, they would request to put her to death if that were to happen, but it is okay for a man to do that his wife. At this day in age, clearly a lot of concepts in life are completely peculiar.
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In the village where Equiano is from, many of the people there are a mix of dancers, musicians and poets. He encounters the fact of when a triumph takes place, maybe a return from battle, they rejoice in a dance, The assembly is separated into four divisions, which dance either apart or in succession and each with a character peculiar to itself (Equiano 33). The only source of music they had were guitars, drums, and a sticcado. Beside from the dances, Equiano also describes that the men and women of the village dressed fairly the same, It generally consists of a long piece of calico or muslin. This is usually dyed blue, which is our favorite colour (Equiano 33). In a typical day of a women slave, she will mainly be spinning and weaving cotton, dyeing the cotton, and then make garments. The women will also make vessels and tobacco pipes. The men are typically the ones to do the labor work or fight in battle.
During a meal, the master will always sit alone and eat, while the slaves are put somewhere private and eat last. Equiano states that before eating, cleanliness is the most important factor which is why they must wash their hands. The food mainly consists of bullocks, goats, and poultry. The seasonings used are pepper and salt which is made from wood ashes. The vegetables used are plantains, eadas, yams, beans, and Indian corn. Equiano describes that the living arrangements are vastly different between the master and the slaves. The master will have a large piece of land that in enclosed with either a wall made of bricks or a fence. There is a building which is known as the principle building, which is the sole purpose for the master. The slave’s enclosure consists of a building that never exceeds one story in height, They are always built of wood or stakes driven into the ground, crossed with wattles, and neatly plastered (Equiano 35). The day houses are left with sides open, however where the slaves sleep the sides are covered with a mixture of cow dung. Our beds consist of a platform, raised three to four inches off the ground, on which are laid skins, and different parts of a plantain tree. Our covering is calico, the same as our clothing (Equiano 35). Being covered in bed with the same material as the clothes a person has on his or her back is something that is very uncommon nowadays but to the slaves it was at least one thing to them.
The last major aspect Equiano refers to is Religion. Religion plays a very big part in the culture and in the time period where he is from. From the narrative, Equiano states that the natives believe in the belief that there is one Creator of all things who lives in the sun and smokes a pipe. The natives also believe in the transmigration of souls, or in other words reincarnation. Those spirits who are not transmigrated, they believe always attend them, and guard them from bad spirits, or their foes (Equiano 40). Some of the natives who do believe in the reincarnation would put a separate plate of food and a drink down for their spirit who are protecting him or her. One of the ceremonies that are held by the natives is the people of the land will make a shout all at the same time with having rattles in his or her hands, making a great noise for a blessing from Heaven. In their native culture, the natives also practiced circumcision. The children were also named from an event happening around the time of their birth. Equiano was named Olaudah, In our language it signifies, ‘vicissitude or fortunate, also ‘one favored and having a loud voice and well spoken’ (Equiano 41). The natives are also very cleanly of themselves. This habit was a part of their religion, which lead to having many washes and purifications. Unlike today, they did not have churches or places of worship, they only had priests who would make their way through the land to offer a blessing or prayer.
In conclusion, Equiano goes into such detail about his experience firsthand as how slavery truly was in his narrative. He goes from aspect to aspect giving the reader an in-depth perception of how his time as a slave was. From reading this narrative, a reader can compare living into today’s world, slavery free, to that world where slavery was a common ground. This narrative truly shows how far the world has come from that time period to this time period and thinking about that is utterly remarkable.
Gates, Jr., Henry Louis. The Life of Olaudah Equiano The Classic Slave Narratives, Mentor, 1987.