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Olaudah Equiano, a native of the African province Eboe and author of The Interesting Narrative experienced the cruel and inhumane life of a slave. From the age of eleven, when he was kidnapped by slave traders, until he reached the age of 21 he was subjected to a lifestyle so harsh that he often saw death as an attractive alternative. Many of his countrymen, who existed in the same, if not a worse lifestyle, did in fact chose death to escape the brutally barbaric and torturous treatment that was the life of a slave. The Interesting Narrative expands upon Equiano's experiences and walks the reader through a humbling reality of one mans life. Most importantly the memoirs found within speak for the character of Equiano, his strength in the face of adversity, his undying faith in God, and his incredible resolve in unfavorable situations. He faced slavery on several fronts, in his native Africa, the West Indies, Europe and America.
Though the treatment he received and the people he encountered differed, he suffered through each with two ruling principles: do unto all men as you would have them do unto you, and honesty is the best policy (119). Through his admirable characteristics as a man and the unenviable experiences he endured in his life, Equiano's opinions on slavery, the slave trade and the nature of Man solidifies the truth that no man is intended to be treated as slaves were and he who invokes slavery is merely a disgrace to the human race under God regardless of social stature. As a young boy in Eboe, Olaudah was exposed to slavery among his own people. His father, being an Embrenche or chief man in the province, who decided disputes and punished crimes, along with an assembly of the other chief men, often punished those guilty of adultery, kidnapping or other heinous crimes to slavery or death. On other occasions the people of Eboe were forced to battle in defense of their land against other provinces or districts.
The prisoners that were captured in these wars were made to live as slaves and were occasionally sold or traded to outsiders; however, they did no more work than other members of the community. Their food, clothing, and lodging were nearly the same and in fact, some of the slaves have even slaves under them (40). It cannot be argued that this is benevolent treatment, to hold a man against his will, though they undoubtedly were living under better conditions than even a prisoner of war might today. Still yet the perception of slavery to a young boy, as in Equiano's case, was not too cruel. It was a fate reserved for those who were guilty of crimes against other members of the community or the province as a whole, and justifiably so. As Olaudah would soon discover slavery as he knew it was a far cry from the heartless, oppressive and abusive version the white man had created.
At age eleven, while left unattended by any adults, both Olaudah and his sister were kidnapped by two white men and a woman, taken from their home in Eboe, never to see their family again. The white mans version of slavery would soon become a nightmare-like reality. The next day the two siblings were separated and for the next ten years Olaudah would live a life of uncertain misery. Each time he would begin to reconcile with his present situation, as undesirable it may be, he would be awakened out of (his) reverie to fresh sorrow, and hurried away (53), only to be thrown into a new masters world of oppression, with new fears.
Although, Equiano's masters generally treated him well in comparison to his fellow slaves, whos owners commonly flogged them for things as menial as allowing water to boil over, he paid witness to many inhumane events, and heard of even worse. He was in constant fear of being sold to human butchers, who cut and mangled the slaves in a shocking manner on the most trifling occasions, and altogether treat them in every respect like brutes. (105) Beyond these fears, slaves were forced to labor unmercifully for their masters and in return were underfed and ill-treated as ignorant men whos lives were valued less than that of a white prostitute unworthy of her own race. In defense of the enslaved, would we not all be considered ignorant if we were forced into a new culture, with a foreign language and different customs? Equiano speaks of this treatment and slavery as an unmerciful, unjust and unwise act.
The total disregard for human lives that is shown through slavery is inexcusable; it illustrates a self-serving nature, oppressing another man to feed ones own greed. In the later stages of his life, after buying his freedom Olaudah pleaded with the Queen in favor of the wretched Africans that they may be raised from the condition of brutes and lifted to the rights and situation of men. (232) The white mans greed and lack of humanity quickly turned slavery into a global commodity. Human lives were traded for material possessions and sold to the highest bidder. Soon to be masters would look over slaves who had been herded into a yard, as if they were at a grocery store looking for the best tomato. Here, after selection, they are separated from relationships and friends to add fresh horrors even to the wretchedness of slavery. Equiano asks, Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and our friends to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? (61) Furthermore, the conditions they were to endure in crossing oceans as cargo werent even suitable for a pack of rats.
The Africans, who were most likely kidnapped from their homeland, were cramped below the deck of the ship where they were afforded not even enough room to turn over. Many died from suffocation, others from the horrible smell of rotting bodies, likely their kin. The shrieks of women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole scene of horror almost inconceivable. (58) Is their any argument in favor of this treatment? It is no wonder so many of these African natives would prefer death to slavery. Of slave trade Olaudah comments, Surely this traffic cannot be good, which spreads like a pestilence, and taints what it touches! Which violates the first natural right of mankind, equality and independency. (111) I am unable to comprehend the fact that there were enough people who viewed this sort of treatment as justifiable to create a global market for slavery.
Any belief in God was hypocritical, people obviously lived in absence of moral values, and humanity was a thing of the future. In the existence of mankind, slave trade is hands down the most regrettable act ever committed. Many truths regarding the nature of Man in the 1700 s are uncovered in Equiano's The Interesting Narrative. Slavery was in existence among humans for over a century before it was faced with strong opposition. The inhumane treatment of the African natives was left unattended throughout the duration and a prejudice against them was all but expected, much of which remains today. It becomes evident that man sought first to serve himself before any regard to the well being of those around him was paid.
This greed, so strong, has the ability to overpower rational thought in many instances, as is illustrated in Equiano's memoirs. The prosperity and convenience of life that could be achieved through slavery allowed the white men to overlook their transgressions in the oppression of the African slaves. Equiano points out; one cannot suppose that the dealers in slaves are born worse than other men. Men are a product of their upbringing and their surrounding environment and, had the pursuits of those men been different, they might have been as generous, as tender-hearted, and just, as they are unfeeling, rapacious, and cruel. (111) Ironically, the dealers in slaves are doing just that, assuming that Africans are born worse than themselves, establishing a dominion over his fellows which God could never intend!
Nonetheless, the authors point is well taken; we are all influenced from birth by the inequities that surround us. Case in point: Fewer people in our generation are racially prejudice in comparison to that of our parents; with each generation you go back the number grows larger. Our great-grandparents were born into a predominantly racist society, only through time has this view become the minority opinion. However, the most compelling truth recognized in this book is mans tendency to value less the life of someone who is not of the same origin, someone who has not had the same experiences or is not like them in many ways. Certainly, Gustavus master would not have sold his own son for any amount, nor would he have allowed his son at the age of 14 man battleships at the simple request of the captain. The master would hold his own kin in a different light.
As do we all. This being said, though slavery is abolished and very rarely is an injustice of that magnitude ever encountered, it is quite evident that the make-up of man and his inherent nature remains, only more tamed through time. Olaudah Equiano suffered an undesirable fate of torture, cruelty and pain from the age of eleven, when he was striped of his freedom. Life had lost its relish when liberty was gone (120), but with great resolve, strength in the face of adversity and most importantly faith in God, he outlasted his oppression. His ensuing book, The Interesting Narrative, chronicled his life and the arguments he developed against slavery, the slave trade, and the insights he gained on the nature of Man. Today his thoughts are shared by many, slavery was a great injustice to an entire race and the trading of these individuals on an open market was an inhumane act committed by disgraceful men.
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