The Black Christian’s Tale
Equiano’s Travels Paper
The pursue of a true identity, seeking your inner purpose, and how to achieve freedom no matter how far they seem to be from you – those are a few words that could describe the Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography, written in 1789. Within this search for freedom and self-discovery he adapts to a completely new lifestyle, and delves into a complete set of new beliefs of life in general – he becomes an Englishmen in manners and mentality, and becomes a Christian. And throughout his real identity pursuit he encounters many obstacles, but mainly the ones of surviving the horrors of slavery, and becoming a free black man in London. Olaudah Equiano was an African man that lived in the Western part of Africa. The tribe in which Equiano lived was in modern day Nigeria, and it could be considered more civilized than the others of the area due to their manners. His family held a high position in the tribe hierarchy, and Equiano’s father was the chief of the tribe. Equiano’s tribe had their own beliefs and culture - they were circumcised, they washed their hands after funerals to prevent spirits to get in their houses, they were polygamist, and were extremely superstitious (belief in spirits, rituals, and offerings to the spirits). At the time he lived in Africa, slavery was at its peak, and they would constantly hide and run from other Africans that wanted to kidnap people from tribes to insert them into slavery, and that occurred to Equiano himself. He was captured in his tribe, along with his sister. At first, he was enslaved by African families, in which treated him well, almost as part of his family, a kind of domestic servitude with a certain kinship of that family towards him. As the book goes on, he goes from family to family until he reaches the coast and is sent to England. Equiano was terrified with this experience of leaving his home country and his people. He felt scared and in the midst of white men, something he had never seen before, he strongly believed that they were unwell spirits that would eat him. Equiano was at this time very young, but he understood the concept of slavery, in which he disagreed and did not fully comprehend why slavery was taking place, and he took it as an unfair thing to do to his countrymen - “Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friends to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrificed to your avarice? (28).” He saw the Englishmen as cruel people that traded Africans in order to satisfy their needs and luxury of getting the work done without spoiling their hands. After a while of Equiano’s living in England and a few trips with his master Pascal, he was named differently than his African name – his name was Gustavus Vasa (and even before this name another master had named him Jacob). Equiano would not give up his African identity at first, (“I at that time began to understand him a little, and refused to be called so […] and when I refused to answer to my new name, which at first I did, it gained me many a cuff (31).” However, after a while, he started to give in, as he saw himself in London, a place filled with wonders and cultural richness. Equiano adapted himself quite well to the nature of the British, as he no longer saw them as spirits; it was quite the opposite, he now was quite interested in their culture, and how they coexisted with each other with organization, politeness, and manners, “[…] I grew a stranger to terror of every kind, and was, in that respect at least, almost an Englishmen. […] I now not only felt myself quite easy with these new countrymen but also relished their society and manners. I no longer looked upon them as spirits, but as men superior to us, and therefore I had the stronger desire to resemble them, to imbibe their spirit and imitate their manners. (38).” Equiano at this point considered himself an African that envied the British...
Cited: Equiano, Olaudah. Equiano’s Travels. Long Grove: Paul Edwards, 2006.
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