The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano as written by him is an account of his life story and outlines the ups and downs he went through as a slave since he was captured in 1756, how he was sold from one slave owner to another, how he managed to buy his freedom and moved to London where he married a Lady from an English family and became a leading member of the trade abolitionist movement. It vividly describes his encounter with different people and how he and other slaves were treated and also his experiences as a black immigrant in the Eighteenth Century. In one of his narrations, he brought to light the story of the Zong Massacre where the ship owners killed African slaves in transit by throwing them overboard to claim compensation. This went into showing the inhuman nature of slave owners and slave merchants. The book also shows the role he and others played in the British Abolitionist Movement. He played a major role in the movement as well as in resettling some of the Africans that were taken as slaves especially in Sierra Leone.
The book was written mainly to those who engaged in the slave trade, stakeholders in the slave trade, and the general public to create awareness of the situation and to show that Africans were also humans who had rights as everyone else did. It played a major role in influencing the abolition of the slave trade due to its revelations. The book was written at a time when the slave trade was the order of the day and it, therefore, came at the right time as an awareness creation tool and as a way of speaking out against the slave trade in America and England and this goes to reinforce its relevance at the time.
Outline of the Book
The first part of the book which is an introduction contains a description of Equiano’s worlds which outlines and describes the different worlds in which he lived as a child up until he was an adult. Up until he was eleven years old he lived in Nigeria among the Ibo tribe in Isseke Village after which he was captured into slavery in different countries, at first it was in the West Indies, then America, and finally the British Navy after which he was able to secure his freedom. Apart from the different places he lived in physically, it also shows his experiences in different worlds in terms of his childhood, his slavery, his world as a free man, and as an activist against the slave trade. His worlds revolve around life in the Eighteenth Century.
The second part of the book contains the body of the document with different chapters dedicated to different subjects of the biography with caption illustrations and footnotes to guide readers of the book in understanding the activities of this period. It also contains a map showing the detailed traveling routes Equiano took, complete with a chronology of events that occurred during this time, questions for consideration, illustrations, and a bibliography list from the editor. The book places Equiano’s encounters in the context of the slave trade in the Atlantic and includes some of the most recent information about the general history of the period and slave trade.
In the first chapter where Equiano describes the nature of life in his birthplace, he mentions the practice of slavery where chiefs and other esteemed members of the community are allowed to own slaves. The mode of punishment for major crimes such as adultery and kidnapping is slavery. Allison points out this controversial issue since Equiano seeks to fight against the same form of slavery that members of his tribe are engaged in. Equiano also describes how the esteemed members of their tribe are treated by giving his father’s example. Master of the family as he refers to him shows that he has a position above other members of the family and he is thus accorded special treatment. For example, he eats alone and lives in a house separate from others. In the same way, slaves and masters in the countries in which Equiano had been enslaved did not share premises. The rest of the family members are always at his service (Claude 29) This is controversial in that Equiano was actively involved in the fight against the slave trade as was practiced in another country yet in his place of birth it was being practiced all the same which begs to bring the question, had he not encountered the problems of slavery would he have been so much against it?
Equiano also mentions that they sold their slaves to men who came from other places but goes ahead to note that they had committed heinous crimes in a manner that seeks to justify their treatment while suggesting that they somehow deserved it (Claude 31). His conversion to Christianity is also mentioned in the book and this has always been a point of criticism as many authors see it as having been his leeway to acceptance by the English. His conversion is also seen as a way of being reborn and attaining new freedom that is freedom of the soul since he had already achieved physical freedom.
Evaluation of the Book
The book seeks to sensitize people on the happenings of the slave era in different countries and on this basis I believe it has done so. Though it is mostly a personal encounter, it can be related to the encounters of others since most of those engaged in the slave trade and those who bought slaves treated them in a more or less similar manner. Some were a bit reasonable and offered slaves the opportunity of learning. It is from such an opportunity that Equiano was given that he was able to learn how to read and learn and come up with his book which provided people with an encounter with slavery as narrated by him. It also sought to fight against slavery by showing Africans are also human and thus should be treated as such.
The book’s literary style, quality of imagery used and description of Equiano’s life are surprising considering that it was written by a black man who was previously a slave. It was one of the first and best works produced by a former slave and displays a vast mastery of the language. It also shows a certain level of objectivity on his part as he mentions that there was also slavery by Africans themselves. In most cases, people who give personal accounts especially on matters such as slavery fail to mention this fact in a bid to portray their societies as being perfect and devoid of such issues and as such fail to bring out objectivity and deny people knowledge of the truth.
There are areas in which Equiano compares African religious rituals to those of the Jews perhaps as a way of showing that they are not any different from them and therefore they should not be treated any differently just because their skin color is different and they are not refined in their ways like the English and other Whites are. The book was written with other historical encounters of the era other than those of Equiano in mind which feeds into its credibility since it does not only rely on his narration but also other historical facts.
There are areas in the book, especially in the first chapter where he describes having been treated well by one of the families that took him while he was in transit to the port, that tends to suggest that he was happy in the homes where he was treated well even though he still was a slave. This to me shows that he was okay with being a slave as he was treated well, thereby making my time and again slightly question his commitment to the total abolishment of the slave trade.
The book makes a good read and shows the problems that slaves went through even in securing their freedom and is also a good advocate against the slave trade in general. It attaches importance to the life of slaves by showing that they are also human and should be treated as such. The end of the slave trade was a major development in humanity and the era in which it occurred should be treated as a major lesson to those who still practice it in secrecy. Everyone deserves to be accorded equal rights based on the fact that they are human.
Olaudah, Equiano. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Written by Himself. New York: Bedford St. Martins Publishers, 2006. Print.