Equiano: A New Englishman or a True African?
Olaudah Equiano/ Gustavus Vassa was born in 1745 in Africa, was kidnapped 11 years later, and then was sold into the slave trade and travelled several different places over many years until he bought his freedom in 1766. Equiano travelled to places such as Virginia, Barbados, the West Indies, and London while he was enslaved by his owners and travelled to several other places when he became free. Equiano ended up returning to London and ended up getting married to an Englishwoman named Susanna and had two daughters, Ann Mary and Joanna, with her. During the end of his life Equiano published The Interesting Narrative (1789) and published 8 other editions with the last edition being published in 1794. On page xi in The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings it talks about how Equiano could have actually been born in South Carolina and that he very well could’ve, “…invented an African identity rather than reclaimed one” (Equiano xi). Although this finding is still questionable it is believed that his account of his life is true. Although Equiano spent a portion of his life in Africa and he would always be identified by his appearance as African, Equiano was more European in culture than he was African. While Equiano was in Africa, even when he was enslaved, he was African in culture but as he became introduced to the European culture and began to travel outside of Africa he became more European in culture. He was always with people who spoke the same language and had the same customs as he had but it was not until he was brought to a place where he was not like the others that he was first introduced to the European culture of boys being circumcised, washing their hands before eating, cooking in pots, fighting with fists, having women; eating, sleeping, and drinking with their men, and not having any sacrifices or offerings (Equiano 54-55). This was a total culture shock to Equiano but he soon became accustomed to these people and how they lived their lives. Equiano often referred to himself as Gustavus Vassa throughout his life because that is what one of his owners decided to rename him once he was bought. Michael Henry Pascal was the man that had bought Equiano and renamed him and it is this name that Equiano chooses to be identified as. By him choosing this English name it means that he is choosing to identify as an English man rather than his native African heritage and not using his birth name, Olaudah Equiano. Equiano’s first run in with Christianity and God occurred when in 1757 when he asked one of the mates on the ship who made the snow and the mate replies, “… a great man in the heavens, called God” (Equiano 67). Equiano had never believed in God because in Africa they believe in higher powers and people but not one singular God who controlled life on Earth. He is first introduced to the idea of God at this time and later on even goes to church and talks to Dick about God and asks tons of questions about him (Equiano 67-68). “… and happily (I thank God) I recovered without the operation” (Equiano 71). In this passage Equiano is talking about how he was sent to the hospital and almost had to have his foot amputated but he ended up pulling through and did not have to have the surgery and so he thanks God for healing him and not having to lose his foot. He chooses to thank God rather than a higher power that Africans might believe in which shows yet again that he is identifying with an European culture rather than an African culture. There are many other instances where Equiano identifies with a European culture rather than his African culture. For example he says, “I wept very bitterly for some time: and began to think that I Must have done something to displease the Lord, that he thus punished me so severely” (Equiano 95). Equiano starts becoming closer to God and identifying Him as the one