Assignment Instructions – Portrait of Olanudah Equiano
Olaudah Equiano reflected upon his life as a slave and his path to freedom in his memoirs. We will read three chapters from his memoir—a book first published in 1789 by abolitionists seeking to end slavery. After reading about his life story in these three chapters, reflect upon what you now know about colonial America and slavery in an essay. There are many directions you can take in this essay. Feel free to incorporate additional questions, but be sure to start with these.
- How would you describe Equiano’s path to freedom?
- What surprised you about his experiences in Africa, on a slave ship, at work, and as a free man?
- What role did his religious beliefs play in his life?
Sample Answer – A Reflection Olaudah Equiano Life As a Slave, Path To Freedom And Colonial America and Slavery
Olaudah Equiano is a biography of an African slave who struggled to free himself from slavery. Equiano was born in Eboe; current Nigeria in 1745. He was kidnapped at his home together with his sister when he was only eleven. He was later separated from his sister and taken in as a slave in unfamiliar place but by his tribesmen, he was later sold to out and landed in a homestead where he was treated as member of the family, but this did not last for long. He was shortly taken away and boarded in a ship in unfamiliar place across shore in Africa. He was sailed by whites to a foreign country; West Indies, in a journal which was full of fear, despair and horror experience. Some people died on the way, while other starved with little to eat as their masters had enough to eat and throw away. Equiano stayed briefly in Virginia, and later sold to serve ships captains of British navy vessels and slave ships. During this time he got an opportunity to travel from one country to another. He had different bad experiences in these countries especially when he started trading to earn himself personal earnings. He however management to overcome all and to save enough money to secure his freedom in 1766 from Robert king who was his master since 1763. This paper reflects on Equiano life as a slave and his struggle to freedom.
Equiano Path to Freedom
Equiano path to freedom was not easy. It took so many years and great level of determination, discipline and God’s grace. Equiano stated thinking about his freedom immediately after he was captured. He kept note of the direction he was taken to from his home with the hope to escape any time he gets an opportunity. He even tried to alert passersby at the initial stage of his journey when he was still together with his sister. However, he was unsuccessful. After killing a chicken by accident and hide in fear of his masters reaction, he realized that running away from his master, which he had planned to do any time he had chance would be a bad idea, since those who were searching him were sure that he would not come out of the wood alive (Equiano 13). The hopes of ever being free and reuniting with his family faded when he was sold out to a different place far from home. However, at this place he was treated quiet well that the idea of running away did not cross his mind. Nevertheless, he was shortly sold to a foreign nation, an aspect that killed his dream of seeing his family ever again. Although Equiano dream of going home was no more, he still yarned for his liberty even in the foreign nation. He had seen free negros during his service as a slave in the ship, and he knew that this was possible. He tried to find chances to escape during his duties, having experienced how bad the recaptured slaves were treated he knew it was not a good idea. Moreover, he never had the ability to run far since a slave never had anything of his or her own. He owned nothing and hence, he could not have survived for long after running away. In addition, whites were well known for mistreating blacks at any slightest opportunity. It was thus not very easy to run away and survive their wrath, especially when one seems to depend fully on them for survival.
Equiano situation changed when he was sold to Mr. King who was running merchant businesses with help of a ship captain. Mr. King promised him his freedom but at a fee of 40 sterling pounds. This was not a small amount to be raised by a slave who does not own his time. However, Equiano was considerably lucky,Mr. King’s captain seemed to have developed special liking to Equiano due to his job efficiency. The captain requested his master to permit his to be sailing with Equiano as his right hand man. He gave convincing reasons for preferring Equiano over whites who were economically based, and their master permitted Equiano into the sailing business (p. 51). It is here that Equiano considered using the travel from one country to another to sell products from one end to another. He started with very few cents he had at the beginning and managed to grow his earnings with time. However, this was not without challenges which included diseases, being harassed by the foreigners, and in some cases having his good seized by force. Being a Negro, he could not get assistance from the authority.However, Equiano did not lose hopes. He kept on trying and improving. He also seems to have God’s favor upon him. His captain started assisting him to handle brutal whites who could confiscate his goods. His master also bought a new larger ship which gave him a chance to carry more goods (p.56). Eventually, Equiano was able to afford his freedom and his master was good enough to honor his word (p. 58).
What surprised me about Equiano Experience in Africa, on Slave Ship, at Work and as a Free Man
What surprised me in Africa is how other Africans were being used by whites to enslave their own. Equiano was captured by Africans and his trade from the time of kidnapping to the ship he was being exchanged among African. It is quite surprising to see how fellow countrymen would snatch someone’s children without second thought to enslave them in western nations. What surprised me most is that the reaction of Equiano first African master after the death of his daughter. He seemed to be highly affected by his daughter death, although he could afford making other children kidnapped and separated from their parents. His reaction demonstrated a twist in his emotions and humanity.
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What surprised me most in the ship is how cruel whites were with Africans. The ship was overcrowded such that people died of suffocation and hunger. This happened when the whites had enough to eat and to throw in the sea. This episode made me think that it was easier carrying enough slaves that they could sustain than having the ship crowed only to have some die and suffer. Surprisingly, even after neglecting most of African in the ship to die, they did not permit them to commit suicide. In (p. 19), the ship crew used their boats and later died into the water to save the life of Africans who considered death as a better option and punished the one that they saved for trying to escape through death. In my opinion, they could have treated them better by trying to preserve their life if they wanted them alive. The chaining of African in a ship which took months in the sea was considerably inhuman, especially due to congestion and lack of enough food. Chaining them reduced their chances of survival. Generally, the white took so much trouble to get African slaves, but did very little to keep them alive. In actual sense they subjected them to hardships that could increase their chances of death. This contrast is surprising and can be used to demonstrate not just their inhuman nature, but also their inefficiency in doing business. Another surprising thing in the ship is the African perception of whites. They kept on thinking that whites intended to eat them at the end of the journey or kill them for some weird sacrifices. The idea of being eaten is laughable to some extent.
At work, Equiano was liked by either his master or a close family member of the family. This ensured that he was treated much better in his life compared to other slaves. He was somehow favored by God to receive kindness from the people who were known to be cruel to Negros. It is also surprising how discipline and honesty earned him a clear path to freedom in the long-run. Equiano was always sold to a good master following his discipline. It is this discipline and good manners that landed him to Mr. Robert King who eventually facilitated his freedom. it was surprising to see Equiano demonstrate a higher level of efficiency more than even whites employed to do so, mostly after being properly educated. I am surprised by Equiano ability to learn. He was able to work in the deck effectively despite having no previous experience. He was also able to learn clerical work and to be among the most trusted and efficient slaves. I am also surprised by the fact that Equiano worked for so long in the sea but did not see the importance of learning to swim. He once almost drowned for lack of the ability to swim (p. 30). Surprisingly, the whites he was working with him always protected him and this was considerably surprising. In other cases, they could have used this inability to harass a Negro.
As a freeman it surprised me how Equiano was able to rebuild his life and became successful. Freedom seems to be very valuable since after getting it his quality of life was improved a great deal. I was surprised by his master’s decision to retain him as an employee after he had granted him his freedom as slave. This shows how much his master loved and trusted him. He must have treated Equiano fairly when a slave that he never feared that Equiano would destroy him when free. He even considered leaving the management of his ship under his care after the death of its captain. This demonstrates an example of a health relation between a master and a slave, something that was considerably rare among the whites when handling Negros in this era (p.68). Another surprising thing is that, Equiano never tried to go back home after his freedom. He instead focused on building his life in England where he earned a living via the sea.. This was unexpected, based on the circumstances under which he left his home.
Role of Religious Belief Play in Equiano Life
Initially, Equiano had religious beliefs that matched that of Jews. He was later baptized and became a Christian. Since that time Equiano based his trust in God. He presented any hard situation to God with hope that God will make a way. His faith was considerably strong that he always had a breakthrough in hard situations. He depended on God to be delivered from slavery and shortly after he got a new master who promised him freedom at a fee (p.40). He also trusted that God would heal him when he acquired fever in Georgia and his desires were fulfilled. His trust in God strengthened when he purchased a bible and got to read and understand what God expected of him. This made him work hard to obtain his freedom. He prayed God for help when his fruits basket were seized from him and he got his back, and even after giving the other man denied his bay three-quarter of his, he still made unimaginable profit. His trust in God eased his struggle and made everything possible.His connection with God was considerably strong even after he became a free man. In (p.69) Equiano talks of the recurrent dream that was warning him about the danger ahead in the sea. This dream turned out to be a vision which surely came to pass. His vision made him play a great role in trying to save the ship and its cargo and occupants from drowning. He also interpreted the occasion as God’s punishment to him for cursing the vessel which was his source of livelihood and repeated for doing so. In (p.83) Equiano was yet again faced by the danger of death from fire, and only trusted God for his survive. I was saved from the fire and only had God to thank for this. His reliance and trust in God for deliverance from different forms of dangers in life has been cited in various other occasion.