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The InterestingNarrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African
Vocabulary to be familiar with…• Assailant – an attacker• Countenance – someone’s face• Alleviate – to relieve or reduce (like pain)• Copious – great amounts• Dejection - discouragement
The youngest son of a village leader, Equiano, wasborn among the Ibo people in the kingdom ofBenin, along the Niger River. He was "the greatestfavourite with [his] mother." His family expectedhim to follow in his fathers footsteps and become achief, an elder, a judge. Slavery was an intregal partof the Ibo culture, as it was with many other Africanpeoples. His family owned slaves, but there wasalso a continual threat of being abducted, ofbecoming someone elses slave. This is whathappened, one day, while Equiano and his sisterwere at home alone.
Two men and a woman captured the children.Several days later, Equiano and his sister wereseparated. Equiano continued to travel farther andfarther from home, day after day, month aftermonth, exchanging masters along the way.Equianos early experiences as a slave were not alldisagreeable; some families treated Equianoalmost as a part of the family. The kind treatment,however, was about to end.About six or seven months after being abducted,Equiano was brought to the coast, where he firstencountered a slave ship and white men.
As it was for all slaves, the Middle Passagefor Equiano was a long, arduous nightmare.In his autobiography he describes theinconceivable conditions of the slaves hold:the "shrieks of the women," the "groans ofthe dying," the floggings, the wish to commitsuicide, how those who somehow managedto drown themselves were envied.
The ship finally arrived at Barbados, where buyerspurchased most of the slaves. There was nobuyer, however, for the young Equiano. Less thantwo weeks after his arrival, he was shipped off tothe English colony of Virginia, where he waspurchased and put to work. Less than a monthlater, he had a new master -- Michael HenryPascal, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. Under thismaster, who owned Equiano for the next sevenyears, Equiano would move to England, educatehimself, and travel the world on ships underPascals command.
In 1766, Equiano bought his freedom. He found work in thetrade business in the West Indies, then in London. In 1773,he took part in an expedition to try to discover theNorthwest Passage, a route through the arctic to thePacific Ocean.Back in England, Equiano became an active abolitionist. Helectured against the cruelty of British slaveowners. Hespoke out against the English slave trade. He worked toresettle freed slaves.By 1789, the year he published his autobiography, OlaudahEquiano was a well-known abolitionist.