THE INTERESTING NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF OLAUDAH EQUIANO
By Ülvi Gitaliyev
Olaudah Equiano lived a life more interesting than most people can ever dream of. He went from a prince to an enslaved person, a sailor to a captain and finally, a free man. His book taught its readers that equality between races is not just possible but also beneficial for humanity as a whole. It offers a glimpse into the abolitionist mindset in the 18th century and how the modern struggle for equality took its first steps.
Published in 1789, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano dealt with some of the greatest moral issues of 18th century English society: slavery and god. The book takes us first to Nigeria, where Equiano was born as the son of a chief, and then to the African coast, where he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the West Indies. After being a sailor, part-time merchant, and accountant, he makes enough to buy his own freedom and begins to travel the world, including Turkey, Italy and the North Pole. Eventually, he settled in London, from where he wrote the book.
For most of his life, Equiano lived under the shadow of the British Empire. He adopted the English language and customs and was both sold and made his wealth in the markets of the British Empire. His life was very much defined by decisions taken by the British Empire at this time. Equiano was also influenced by the act of slavery itself. While at first he merely saw himself as a member of the Igbo tribe, distinct from other parts of Africa, the notion of a United African race grows on him as he spends more time among slaves from different parts of Africa. Eventually, he sees the struggle for equality like that of all Africans, regardless of whether they were born in Nigeria or Virginia.
Throughout the book, the theme of religion and liberty can be found on almost every page. For many Englishmen at the time, those two topics were of extreme importance and Equiano made sure to appeal to his white, middle class and Anglican audience. For modern-day readers, this offers a glimpse into the mindset of English society and how the early abolitionist movement argued both morally and economically against slavery. Sometimes though, the constant mention of god can become repetitive.
Even though the book is written in an archaic form of English, its message about the evil of slavery and the necessity for equality is just as potent as it was in the 18th century.
The Interesting Narrative Life of Olaudah Equiano continues to be studied by historians because it offers a glimpse into the infancy of the struggle for racial equality in the English-speaking world. His life is a microcosm from which we can observe the rise of the Atlantic slave trade, the economic dominance of Great Britain and how notions of slavery and race were chancing among both black and white people. While some parts of it are difficult to read or become repetitive, its message remains sharp from start to finish.