Olaudah Equiano Slave Narrative





Olaudah Equiano Slave Narrative

In the American literature canon, Olaudah Equiano’s narratives were distinctive as they held as they were particularly important and influential in the 18th century (Richards & Sandra,70). The narratives by Olaudah are mostly based on his experience as an enslaved man who was able to buy his freedom. The experiences date to when he was sold to a Royal officer at the age of 11 years from the kingdom of Benin until he rose to be a prominent figure spearheading the campaigns to abolish the slave trade (Equiano).

The most common form of slavery that was known to Americans was the slavery in which an individual was considered as someone’s legal property, the chattel slavery. This form of slavery allowed people to be bought, sold or even owned forever and was supported by many powers in the 18th century. Olaudah’s narrative writings and songs that developed from the period were aimed at opposing the pro-slavery propaganda through the development of his experiences and other horrific treatment that the African slaves were subjected to giving a rather unique perspective into the American chattel slavery methods (Richards & Sandra,70). Most of these narratives were guided and influenced by the thoughts of abolitionists.

The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano was first published in the 1700s in London represented various styles such as the slavery, travel and spiritual narratives that are considered to be integral and important parts of the African American literature (Richards & Sandra,70). This essay is written to analyses and find patterns that are developed in telling collection of stories and examine the structural elements of the writings that are used in telling the stories. Mentioning Equiano’s narrative, the essays seek to analyze the musical genres such Spiritual, gospel and work songs with highlights of traditions, subversive language, governance and identity that were developed from the Narrative Life of Olaudah Equiano.

Spiritual genre is usually the type of American folk music that was developed by Africans narrating the suffering of slaves as they articulate their longing for freedom and passion of religion during and after the era of slavery (Ammerman & Tatom). The slave narratives helped in the creation of music that developed hope and a sense of belonging. These songs often covered their traditions as they remembered their homeland in instances like the abduction of Equiano from his African home and be sold to a royal solder who owned him and controlled his life hence lacking his identity. The narrative by Equiano develops a spirituality concept in that he often attributes and regard the good things to him as the works of divine providence as shows whereby he acknowledges that his sufferings were great but comparing them with his fellow countrymen, he regarded himself as a favorite of the heavens. The spiritual nature of songs developed from this narrative was well understood in the context of the experiences the African American slaves had experienced. These songs are often adapted by the audience over a period of time as they are understood and collectively composed (Ammerman & Tatom). As the narrative life of Equiano tries to depict the horrors of slave trade is the same as songs that are created from the slave narratives try to articulate the suffering and longing for freedom of the slaves just like Equiano was able to be a freeman finally despite being prosecuted and discriminated because of his color(Equiano). The spiritual songs mostly used subverting languages with double meanings as some surface meaning may be a cry and a longing for a place in heaven that might in the real sense be a cry for freedom and desire to escape slavery that Equiano used as a form of language in his writing.

Gospel genre is a type of music that was created by slaves’ narratives that tend to tell their stories articulating their longing (Will & Lawrence). These kinds of songs developed can be traced to the early 17th century as the content of the songs normally tend to emphasize on messages of God, salvation, the kingdom of God and development of other biblical instances. The songs developed from slaves’ narratives tend to praise the mighty God and acknowledge their privileges to a mighty God. As from the introduction, Equiano introduces self as a pious Christian, whose conversion religious meant some form of freedom that would be referred to the manumission from slavery. This kind of manumission represents a certain form of salvation. Referring to biblical texts shows a front piece in governance through the life story of Equiano. With the tradition of a protestant Christian Equiano in his narratives tells his story as a testimony of Gods actions in his life. In order to be accepted by his American and British audience, Equiano uses religion that develops gospel genre songs to maneuver and be accepted as a credible writer although forces of acculturation take over to dismiss the religious perspective of Equiano (Equiano). Equiano uses religion for his readers to accept their racial identity and also be racially aware and critique the society with religion piety whereby he quotes on the authority of Moses and the Egyptians. The biblical texts help to show governance and develop a sense of identity for the audiences. The African slaves included the biblical contexts in songs to express their anger of bondage (Will & Lawrence).

Work songs around the world are traditional songs developed by labourers for many different occupations such as the agricultural picking of cotton or even industrial building of roads (Nagy &Gregory, 14). These songs helped to keep work moving slowly as their purpose was to increase coordination and reduce boredom at work. These were mostly developed after emancipation whereby most Africans felt that the spirituals should be left behind with slavery. Some of these songs were developed in a creative for in that they showed Africans working in restriction some form of light (Nagy &Gregory, 19). From the narrative by Equiano show that from their abduction the adults were out to work, Work songs would develop from the sails to make the work flow smoothly as Robert King had tasked Equiano to work on the ships so as to enable him to buy his freedom (Equiano). Equally selling tumblers and fruits would help in the generation of the work songs genre. Even after freedom, Equiano continued to work at sea with Dr Charles Irving. Even though he never worked at the plantations several events made him question faith as his friend was kidnapped and taken to work at the plantation where he worked at until his death. He quotes prophet Micah on what makes any event important. The working recorded by Equiano was to develop the economy, social and educational conditions that were poor in Africa (Equiano).

Equiano refers to himself as almost an English man after he was signed to be a freeman and no longer a property of another person, whereby he could make his own decisions without control (Mottolese & William, 160). The poetry developed in this narrative shows how Equiano regard the good things to him as the works of divine providence as shows whereby he acknowledges that his sufferings were great but comparing them with his fellow countrymen, he regarded himself as a favorite of the heavens

Non-fictional prose of the narrative is presented as the literature work of Equiano’s in his book were based on facts and real-life events that happened to him. These events were developed in the narrative as his journey from birth as a free man through which he was sold as a slave to the moment he bought his freedom and started to fight for the abolition of slave trade as an abolitionist. The conclusion of his introduction, Equiano noted that he was not foolish to expect literary reputation but rather he wanted his book to offer satisfaction to his numerous friends under whose request the book was written with the promotion of humanity interests that would be fully attained at the end. The prose in this book developed from the instance where Equiano explains how he was abducted from Africa, giving details of his abduction and its consequences (Equiano).

The genre of prose is developed in the writings of this interesting narrative as the work could be described with the use of neoclassic prose that was developed primarily as the age of reason (Khosa, Maurice & Kalitanyi). It was hard for the author to project and report his experience as a slave to the audience that did not consider him or other slaves as part of their society but rather an alien thus the encompassing of drama and the subversive language to attract the attention of the reader from the period in which he describes his homeland capturing the attention of the whites(Mottolese & William, 160). The age of reason saw his writing and the narrative as an integral part as it played a big role in the abolition of slave trade. With part of the narrative written as an enslaved African giving the horrors of the slave trade first-hand the neoclassical prose was intended to reach and influence most of the abolitionists (Khosa, Maurice & Kalitanyi).

“Accordingly, he signed the manumission that day; so that, before night, I who had been a slave in the morning, trembling at the will of another, became [sic] my own master, and completely free. I thought this was the happiest day I had ever experienced…” (Equiano) this statement meant that the author on purchase of his freedom he was for once a freeman which many other slaves had dreamt of, thus an essential part of the narrative towards self-identity and awareness. This accomplishment saw him govern himself as a man and no longer a property although the consequences of being still subjected to discrimination and persecution as a black man he was able to make decisions and control his life. The narrative depicts the early life of Equiano as an African slave who had no identity but despite all that he perseveres to shape one (Wiley, Michael, 165).

Even though the author identified himself with British culture, religion and manners he is aware of his African roots whereby despite the view of the Britons that African were backwards he argued that they were not any much different as they only lacked information (Equiano). The life of Olaudah Equiano develops all genres of literature with spiritual and gospels and works songs being derived from quotes whereby he referred to God and attribute his life to divine intervention and experiences of the author as a slave and a freeman. The autobiography written by a former slave shows the on matters of governance and how the Africans slaves were regarded as legal property (Wiley &Michael,165). They lacked identity until the purchase of their freedom whereby they are able to make decisions on their own despite discrimination and persecution as black people. At the end of the narrative, the author after showing the horrors and other terrific episodes that befall the African slaves, he made clear that abolition of the slave trade was his intent. Equiano uses subversive language to undermine the normalization of slave trade and ownership of people as property through the use of emotions and his experiences and horrors as a slave to influence the rise of abolitionists undermining slavery and advocating for the abolition of slave trade.

Works Cited

Ammerman, Nancy Tatom. Sacred stories, spiritual tribes: Finding religion in everyday life. Oxford University Press, 2013.Boulukos, George E. “Olaudah Equiano and the Eighteenth-Century Debate on Africa.” Eighteenth-Century Studies (2007): 241-255.

Equiano, Olaudah. The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano. Broadview Press, 2001.

Equiano, Olaudah. The Life of Olaudah Equiano: Or Gustavus Vassa, the African. I. Knapp, 1837.

Khosa, Risimati Maurice, and Vivence Kalitanyi. “Migration reasons, traits and entrepreneurial motivation of African immigrant entrepreneurs.” Journal of Enterprising Communities: People and Places in the Global Economy (2015).

Mottolese, William. “” Almost an Englishman”: Olaudah Equiano and the colonial gift of language.” Bucknell Review 41.2 (1998): 160.

Nagy, Gregory. “Genre and occasion.” Mètis. Anthropologie des mondes grecs anciens 9.1 (1994): 11-25.

Richards, Sandra L. “Writing the absent potential: Drama, performance, and the canon of African-American literature.” Performativity and performance. Routledge, 2013. 64-88.

Wiley, Michael. “Consuming Africa: Geography and Identity in Olaudah Equiano’s” Interesting Narrative”.” Studies in Romanticism 44.2 (2005): 165-179.

Wills, Lawrence M. The quest of the historical gospel: Mark, John and the origins of the gospel genre. Routledge, 2002.