It is apparent that Olaudah Equano is a Nigerian native who was born in 1745 in Eboe. At the age of 11 years, the young lad was captured and sold to West Indies as a slave (Eqioano Interesting Narrative 32). From a careful review of literature, the young boy spent most of his time serving captains in slave ships.
In line with this, one of his masters named him as Guastavas Vassa, which he used in his entire period as a slave (Eqioano The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings 94). Needless to say, Equiano began to develop awareness of his lowly status as a slave and this compelled him to turn to European religion.
Moreover, he began to adopt the capitalist business adventures where he became an enlightened character of his time. Shortly, he started to participate in European wars, religion and business. Therefore, it is against this backdrop that this paper intends to analyze Equiano as a complex character during the enlightenment period. Moreover, this paper will examine how his awareness coerced him to turn to European religion and business practices and whether he adopted or finally embraced his “roots”.
It is imperative to note that Equiano was largely involved in serving merchant masters and captains in the ships. During this time, the lucrative slave trade had intensively grown and this made Equiano to travel to places such as Carribean, Pennysylvania, Georgia, England, Holland and Gibaltar.
Through all this period, he witnessed the sale of other slaves though he was never purchased. Instead, he remained in the slave voyages travelling to numerous places as a servant to the slave dealers (Eqioano Narrative of the Life of Olaudah 191). He realized that slavery was associated with low status since individuals who were sold as slaves hardly went without food, good education and other basic amenities. However, he was later sold to perform light tasks in a plantation in Virginia (Eqioano Interesting Narrative 94).
Notably, he did not reside in Virginia for long when a British royal navy purchased him as a present for his allies in England (Eqioano The Life of Olaudah Equiano 94). It is definite that the experience in the ship voyages and in Virginia brought awareness to Equiano. He realized that he needed to work hard to buy his freedom (Eqioano The Life of Olaudah Equiano 250). Moreover, he became concerned of his lowly status as a slave and this impels him to turn to a European religion.
This is after he arrives in England where he is exposed to Christianity by his newly found friend Robert (Eqioano 105). It is worthy to note that Christianity dictates that individuals should be free to experience liberty. Therefore, this propelled Equiano to embrace the religion with the anticipation that he would eventually be freed from slavery and that his status could improve.
Still while he was in England, he had the opportunity to engage in minor trade ventures where he saved a lot of money that eventually brought about his freedom in 1776 (Eqioano The Interesting Narrative 126). In this case, it is arguable that the slavery experience impelled him to adopt European capitalist and business practices where he eventually became an enlightened individual in 18th century.
Evidence can be derived from the fact that he even attended school in 1967. Moreover, even after he settled and worked as an assistant to Dr Charles, he continued with the abroad transactions (Eqioano The Interesting Narrative 38).
In my own perspective, I do not agree with the argument that Equiano neglected and largely ignored his treasured cultural background by engaging in other activities with Europeans.
This is due to the fact that he used religion, wars and numerous forms of trading opportunities to liberate himself from slavery. Moreover, chapter one of his book reveals that slavery was socially acceptable in those centuries since his village men in Nigeria sold their fellow men as slaves (Eqioano Narrative of the Life of Olaudah 190).
Nevertheless, to some extent, he betrayed his “roots” in numerous ways. For instance, in his native land, their religious beliefs were different from those of Christianity. In this case, they believed in a mighty creator who was part and parcel of the son in governing events of nature. Moreover, they never believed in eternity, swearing or abuse. Cleanliness was crucial and hence they believed in purifications and washing.
Additionally, they did not have places of worship since sacrifices were made by priests in shrines. Nevertheless, he abandoned his religious beliefs and embraced Christianity. Moreover, he embraced the western culture yet it was contradictory to the Christian doctrines (Eqioano The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings 63). For instance, the whites enslaved African slaves yet the bible allows freedom for all.
It is obvious that the character of Equiano is quite complicated contrary to what can be seen. The complexity of his character can be judged from the fact that he fought against acts of slavery and also participated in it for some time. For instance, in England, he engaged himself with minor expeditions that were related to slavery.
Moreover, in chapter one, he defends slavery that was practiced by his people. He stated that slavery was driven by social factors and those who were sold as slaves were kidnappers, war captives and adulterers (Eqioano The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings 29). He defended the African slavery since he noted that the one practiced in West Indies was very cruel.
In this case, one could not expect him to take part in such a transaction since he even witnessed the brutality faced by his fellow natives who were sold as slaves in West Indies. As a matter of fact, one can argue that Equiano faced a lot of psychological pressure. In this case, he was to continue with the slave expeditions in order to earn him some money to buy his freedom. Unfortunately, the latter case tends to contradict his character.
However, he later condemned bitterly on the rationale behind slave practice. As an abolitionist, he used Christianity as a weapon to attack the slave masters (Eqioano The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings 132). He challenged his European masters and this brought forth revolutions of thought, a factor that made the 18th century to be regarded as an age of enlightenment.
In addition, it also worth to mention that this period was characterized by myriads of rebellions that were mainly against the inhuman treatment in the whole affair of slave practice. While the entire 18th century period could be regarded as an era of positive change, there were those individuals who were definitely against it. Therefore, Eqioano has been depicted as an instrument of change that was most needed to counter and possibly end the practice of slave trade in spite of the fact that he faced numerous failures in course of this pursuit.
Equiano, Olaudah. “Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. New York: Dover Publications, 1997. Print.
Equiano, Olaudah, The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.
Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Middlesex: Echo Library, 2009. Print.
Equiano, Olaudah. The Life of Olaudah Equiano. New York: Dover Publications, 1999. Print.