Equiano’s village of Igbo people
Equiano argues that the Igbo people had a strong system of law and marriage. A council of elders, of which his father was a member, solved civil, commercial and criminal disputes. Crimes, such as adultery, were heavily punished. In addition, marriage was one of the most important aspects of the society and always involved ceremonies and heavy bride prices (Lovejoy 341). The Kingdom had many singers, dancers, poets and musicians. Most cerebrations involved artistic performances. The people had a simple and plain manner of dressing, with no difference between men and women clothing (Equiano 23). The economic activity was predominantly agriculture. They cultivated cotton and a wide range of food crops in addition to rearing cattle, sheep, goats, and poultry. The Igbo land was abundant and extremely productive. As for religion, the people believed in one Creator who lived “in the sun” and controlled major events such as war, birth, life, death and nature (Equiano 23). They practiced circumcision and believed in the existence of spirits. In addition, there were wise men, priests and magicians.
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By providing a comprehensive analysis of the Igbo people in the first chapter, Equiano attempts to influence Europeans to consider slavery as a problem that was disrupting humble lives in Africa. He attempts to make Europeans realize that the Africans were normal people who deserved their rights.
The name “Olaudah” implies good fortune, and Equiano considered himself “a particular favourite of heaven.” In what ways was he fortunate?
It is important to note that Equiano considers himself fortunate rather than a victim of slavery primarily because he compares his life with that of other people forced into slavery. In addition, he compares himself with other African people who were captured and enslaved in Africa. From this perspective, Equiano can be considered lucky to have lived a better life and achieved freedom.
First, unlike most of the children captured from the African villages, Equiano exchanged hands several times and was lucky to live for a few months with several masters. Almost all his masters were kind and treated him like their son rather than a slave. Secondly, when he arrived at the coast, Equiano was lucky to find an immediate buyer and together with 244 other slaves, he set off on a long voyage across the Atlantic. Thirdly, upon his arrival to Virginia, Equiano was lucky to be bought by Michael Pascal, a member of the British Navy (Carretta 78). White settlers bought most of the slaves and made them work in their farms, where life was difficult. Labour was intensive while discrimination was a common phenomenon (Equiano 52). Thus, he escaped the intensive farm labour. Equiano was lucky to lead a life of a voyager rather than a common slave. In addition, Equiano was lucky to have a kind master who allowed him to train as a sea captain, thus achieving unique skills.
Michael Pascal and other traders who worked with Equiano were kind to him, and treated him as a friend. For instance, Pascal went to an extent of allowing Equiano do his own “side business”. Finally, with proceedings from his side business, Equiano was lucky to buy his own freedom, something that was quite difficult for African slaves (Lovejoy 338). Although he always possessed the fear of being sold like other slaves, he always escaped the predicaments facing other African slaves. While most slaves maintained their African names, Equiano was lucky to have been given a different name by his master.
His new name, Gustavus Vassa, made it hard for other people to associate him with Africa. In addition, he was named after a Danish ruler, who pioneered the country’s freedom in the year 1521. It can therefore be argued that rather than being subjected to oppressive conditions, he was treated honourably unlike all other slaves (Carretta 78). He was therefore among the few African slaves who had the opportunity of mingling with other Europeans and enjoying many benefits, among them travelling across the continent with his master. In addition, he was lucky to have witnessed several historical battles, an opportunity that was rarely enjoyed by other slaves.
It is also worth noting that Equiano was lucky to receive formal education, which helped him find employment as a clerk. In addition, his education allowed him to write his story and travel widely across Europe and America (Carretta 78). He was always eager and ready to learn, citing in his book, that he embraced every opportunity that presented itself to him. Unlike other slaves, Equiano envied his masters’ literacy, and had a passion of one day ‘speaking with the books’ as he thought they were doing to his masters. Most of the Europeans that he met treated him with respect, and on one occasion, two sisters by the Miss Guerins, funded his education. Equiano had an interest in Christianity, and this made it easier for him to mingle with other Christians, and created opportunities for his education.
Carretta, Vincent. Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man. Atlanta, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2000. Print.
Equiano, Olaudah. The Life of Olaudah Equiano, or, Gustavus Vassa, the African. Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications, 1999. Print
Lovejoy, Paul E. “Autobiography and Memory: Gustavus Vassa, alias Olaudah Equiano, the African”. Slavery & Abolition 27.3 (2006): 337-344.