Monday, February 04, 2008

Olaudah Equiano, A Slave (ca. 1745-1797)

In about 1756, Olaudah Equiano was captured at the age of eleven from his African village and sold into slavery. With many other miserable, mistreated slaves, he was dragged across the African continent and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean. After ten years of slavery, he was allowed to buy his freedom. He became an eloquent advocate of the abolition of slavery.

According to the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Olaudah Equiano was “the most influential African abolitionist writer in both America and Britain.”

The Norton Anthology of English Literature editors, M. H. Abrams and others, tell us that Equiano’s life story “was an important contribution to [the abolitionist] movement, not only for its explicit arguments against the slave trade but also for its demonstration that someone born in Africa could be humane, intelligent, a good Christian, and a free and eloquent British subject.” Many British people at that time believed otherwise.

The web site of the Equiano Foundation tells us that

At the age of forty four he wrote and published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African. Written by Himself, which he registered at Stationer's Hall, London, in 1789. More than two centuries later, this work is recognized not only as one of the first works written in English by a former slave, but perhaps more important as the paradigm of the slave narrative, a new literary genre.

Equiano’s entire book , The Interesting Narrative . . . , may be found online at the Gutenberg Project . It is fascinating reading. Equiano is the basis for a character in the British-made movie Amazing Grace, the true story of William Wilberforce, who led the decades-long fight against slavery in Great Britain.

To be continued--

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