Monday, March 26, 2007

For anyone who has ever wondered about my blogging identity, Equiano, here is the beginning of an explanation. Olaudah Equiano was a slave in the 1700s of extraordinary intelligence and ability who not only survived, but thrived despite terrible odds. Naturally, I make no claims of comparable horrific experiences; Equiano's suffering and that of the millions of other slaves of his time is incomprehensible to us in the west today, but on reading the account of his life and travels some years ago, I was deeply inspired by his story. I identified strongly with his ability to adapt from one nation and country to another. His vivid descriptions and articulate remonstrations are both reminder and warning to all of us for the need to recognise each other as human beings, and we have much to learn from him in our contemporary world.

Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in England. Elsewhere in the world, the slave trade continued unabated, but for England this was the first step towards a more equal relationship between people, and the first step on a long list abolitionists were working towards. In fact, it was not until 1833 that Britain outlawed slavery entirely, but yesterday marked parliament finally abolishing the British trade in people.

It seems appropriate then, to reread the writings of England's most famous slave. The edition I use (which makes for riveting reading) is edited by Paul Edwards, EQUIANO'S TRAVELS: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African. I will post highlights of his life over the next month. We begin the story with Equiano's capture at the age of 11:
One day, when all our people were gone out to their works as usual and only I and my dear sister were left to mind the house, two men and a woman got over our walls, and in a moment seized us both, and without giving us time to cry out or make resistance they stopped our mouths and ran off with us into the nearest wood. Here they tied our hands and continued to carry us as far as they could till night came on, when we reached a small house where the robbers halted for refreshment and spent the night. We were then unbound but were unable to take any food, and being quite overpowered by fatigue and grief, our only relief was some sleep, which allayed our misfortune for a short time. The next morning we left the house and continued travelling all the day. For a long time we had kept to the woods, but at last we came into a road which I believed I knew. I had now some hopes of being delivered, for we had advanced but a little way before I discovered some people at a distance, on which I began to cry out for their assistance: but my cries had no other effect than to make them tie me faster and stop my mouth, and then they put me into a large sack. They also stopped my sister's mouth and tied her hands, and in this manner we proceeded until we were out of sight of these people. When we went to rest the following night they offered us some victuals, but we refused it, and the only comfort we had was in being in one another's arms all that night and bathing each other with our tears. But alas! we were soon deprived of even the small comfort of weeping together. The next day proved a day of greater sorrow than I had yet experienced, for my sister and I were then separated while we lay clasped in each other's arms. It was in vain that we besought them not to part us; she was torn from me and immediately carried away, while I was left in a state of distraction not to be described. I cried and grieved continually, and for several days I did not eat anything but what they forced into my mouth. (pp. 13-14)


Blogger Lee said...

Thanks for posting this. (I spent 18 years in Zimbabwe, BTW.)

8:10 pm  
Blogger Dorothy W. said...

I love your blog name, and am fascinated by Equiano (I've read his narrative multiple times). Have you read Vincent Carretta's biography, Equiano, the African? I thought it was quite good.

9:01 pm  
Anonymous danielle said...

Now I see why your blog name sounds familiar. I also connect it in my mind with Aphra Behn--now I need to go and look her up again--I tried reading her last summer, but got distracted. I came across the name in my readings. Interesting story!

3:10 am  
Blogger equiano said...

Welcome Lee! Given that more than 4 million Zimbabweans are now living abroad you are not alone! Let's hope the country receives some respite from Mugabe soon.

Funnily enough Dorothy, that was how I found your blog, searching for Equiano related sites online I found your review of the Carretta and have been reading you ever since. Still haven't read the Carretta though!

Danielle - makes total sense that you connect Behn and Equiano in your mind because of the way slavery is so vividly recounted by both. I think she is a little earlier, and of course Oroonoko is fiction, but she too was considered groundbreaking, so they have quite a bit in common.

9:07 am  

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