Friday, March 28, 2008

Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano was the 11 year old son of an African tribal leader who was kidnapped in 1755 from Nigeria.The following is an African chant mourning the loss of Equiano:

"Who are we looking for, who are we looking for?
It's Equiano we're looking for.
Has he gone to the stream? Let him come back.
Has he gone to the farm? Let him return.
It's Equiano we're looking for."

Olaudah was one of twelve million Africans in South America who were taken and sold into slavery. He was one of the most prominent black campaigners in the anti-slavery campaign. He was an ex-slave who, by the 1780s' lived as a free man in London. He is mostly remembered for his 1789 autobiography. It tells of his kidnapping in Nigeria, being sold into slavery, His journey to the West Indies, his life as a slave and his struggle to buy his freedom. In his autobiography he describes his voyage on a slave ship. The following is a brief summary of his experience.

"Let it suffice to say, that I was lost to my dear indulgent parents and relations, and they to me. All my help was cries and tears, and these could not avail; nor suffered long, till one succeeding woe, and dread, swelled up another". Brought from a state of innocence and freedom, and, in a barbarous cruel manner, conveyed to a state of horror and slavery... The grievous thoughts which I then felt, still pant in my heart; though my fears and tears have long subsided, yet it is still grievous to think that thousands more have suffered in similar and greater distress.

"Being in this dreadful captivity and horrible slavery, without any hope of deliverance... beholding the most dreadful scenes of misery and cruelty, and seeing my miserable companions often cruelly lashed, and cut to pieces, for the most trifling of faults; this made me often tremble and weep... For eating a piece of sugarcane, some were cruelly lashed, or struck over the face to knock their teeth out."

When I was forced to the lower deck, I was greeted by the worst stench I had ever experienced in my life. This stench combined with the sound of other crys, made me lose my appetite while on board. It made me wish for death, suddenly it seemed as though death was a friend to me and I welcomed it. Soon after I was brought aboard the ship, two white men offered me some food, and when I declined to eat it, they grabbed me by my hands, laid me down, tied me up and flogged me severely.

I will never forget "The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, that rendered the whole scene of horror almost inconceivable... I expected every hour to share the fate of my companions, some of whom were almost daily brought upon deck at the point of death, which I began to hope would soon put an end to my miseries. Often did I think many of the inhabitants of the deep sea were much more happy than myself. I envied them, the freedom they enjoyed, and often wished I could change my condition for theirs. Every circumstance I met with, served only to render my state more painful, and heighten my apprehensions, and my opinion of the cruelty of the whites".

There were other men during this journey that were whipped hourly due to their refusal to eat. Their refusal to eat was one more attempt made by Africans to kill themselves to avoid spending anymore time on the ship. Olaudah, who was not used to the water and feared it, contemplated jumping overboard to his death many times during his journey. However, he was never able to do so, because he was watched too closely by guards.

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