Meet Olaudah

Olaudah Equiano achieved a status equal to the celebrities of today, owing to the widespread public acceptance of his 1789 book, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African, written by himself. The book led Olaudah Equiano to become the wealthiest living African in the English speaking world of his time.

In the classic, all-time bestseller, Olaudah tells the story of his kidnap from the interior of where is known today  as Eastern Nigeria. In the opening page of his narrative, he writes of the land of his birth; “This kingdom is divided into many provinces or districts, in one of the most remote and fertile of which, called Eboe, I was born in the year 1745, situated in a charming fruitful vale, named Essaka.”

Captured at about the age of eleven with his sister by local slave merchants, Olaudah was soon to be separated from his sibling and carried westwards and southwards for several months until he reached the sea where he was sold to a slave ship bound for West Indies.

As a slave, Olaudah’s brilliance, quick wit,  integrity and affable personality stood him out. He was variously named Michael, Jacob and  Gustavus Vassa, the final name he officially bore till his death. Olaudah traveled widely with his master Lieutenant Pascal, and ended up spending time in England where he was the recipient of some form of education.

With his second master Robert King, a Phildelphian follower of the Quaker doctrine, Olaudah gained experience as a navigator and ship clerk. On board the ship, he continued with his learning, going on to become fluent in written and spoken English, and in arithmetic.

Olaudah was later to purchase his freedom from his Quaker master  in 1766, only about ten – eleven years after his kidnap from his homestead. Even as a freed slave, Olaudah still suffered severe indignities in the hands of several Europeans and Americans he encountered. The ill- treatments did not kill Olaudah’s spirit but rather fired his resolve to fight against the despicable institution of slavery. He began to raise an outcry against the oppression of people of African descent within and outside of the institution of slavery.

Soon after his freedom, Olaudah was converted to the Calvinist movement. His new found faith was to define his choices, beliefs and actions as clearly reflected in The Interesting Narrative.

Olaudah Equiano was hugely influential in the first ever attempt at the resettlement of freed slaves in Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1787. After his work with the Sierra Leone resettlement came to an end, he released The Interesting Narrative and travelled extensively to promote his book.  The phenomenal success of the book raised enemies for Olaudah, especially in the camp of the anti-abolitionists who questioned the authenticity of the accounts of The Interesting Narrative. His masterful command of the English language was also perplexing to native English speakers.

Years later, some scholars continue to question Olaudah Equiano’s roots in the West African land of ‘Essaka’ as claimed in The Interesting Narrative. In several responses during his lifetime, Olaudah Equiano responded to clear the air regarding his place of birth and his uncommon command of English language. The Star newspaper of 27 April 1792, outrightly questioned Olaudah’s claims of being a native African. The Newspaper was soon to publicly apologise profusely in writng to Olaudah after he presented evidence of his West African origins. These responses still stand valid today.

In life and in death, Olaudah Equaino has ridden high. He lived to fight for the freedom of his people and in death, his book is a constant reminder to the African that in analysing his present and predicting his future, he must have a clear, distinct and unbiased knowledge of his past. Regrettably, more than 200 years after Olaudah Equiano’s transition, this knowledge remains largely scarce.

Olaudah Equiano –  Resources:

1. Free e-book  of The Interesting Narrative : http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15399/15399-h/15399-h.htm

2. Free audio book of The Interesting Narrative: http://www.booksshouldbefree.com/book/the-interesting-narrative-of-the-life-of-olaudah-equiano-by-olaudah-equiano

3. A critical biography of Olaudah Equiano:    http://www.brycchancarey.com/equiano/biog.htm

4. A brief summary 0f Olaudah’s life:               http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/equiano1/summary.html

Related Video

1. Amazing Grace:   Website: http://www.amazinggracemovie.com/    Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6Cv5P9H9qU

2. Amistad:  Trailer: : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KP0hwVVUTac

3. Roots:    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_A2o8ICcIQ

4. 1000 years of West African superpowers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEqqmmY6bLo

5.  African contribution to early modernity:

6. European distortion of Africa history: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5f0JxwR-0k

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