By James Walvin
The autobiography of Olaudah Equiano, a widespread African in overdue 18th-century Britain, is quoted, anthologized and interpreted in dozens of books and articles. greater than any unmarried modern, Equiano speaks for the destiny of hundreds of thousands of Africans within the period of the transatlantic slave exchange. This research makes an attempt to create a rounded portrait of the guy in the back of the literary photograph, and to review Equiano within the context of Atlantic slavery.
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Extra info for African's Life, 1745-1797 (The Black Atlantic Series)
The ghastly reality of what happened on the slave ships was no secret. Long before abolitionists began to publicize such evidence in the mid-iySos, tens of thousands of Europeans were privy to this grim information, notably of course the sailors, traders, merchants, planters and the rest whose livelihood was so intimately linked to the Atlantic slave trade. 21 To compound the physical horrors and personal fears, Equiano like millions more, found himself in an alien world. 22 Little could he have realized, in 1756, that this world of oceanic travel would soon become his own, as he made his career as a professional mariner (both enslaved and free).
Along with 'heathenism', the illiteracy of African cultures provided a justification for enslavement, and, perverse as it now seems, slavery was viewed as the means of translating the slave to a higher culture. As slavery in the colonies matured, as local societies became ever more complex and sophisticated, it was inevitable that literacy would grow among the slaves. Some slaves needed to be literate to undertake their various tasks. 12 But it proved an impossible task. In white communities on both sides of the Atlantic, where literacy was on the rise - where the printed (popular) word proliferated in books, tracts, broadsheets and newspapers13 - how could the appetite for print and reading be obstructed at the artificial boundaries of race or slavery?
Slave traders' logs tabulated, in impersonal detail, the Africans' sufferings. In June 1751, only five years before Equiano was enslaved, the Liverpool captain John Newton recorded: This morning buryed a woman slave (No 47). Know not what to say she died of for she has not been properly alive since she first came on board. 17 PLATE 4. Cross-section of a slave ship: 'I was soon put down under the decks.. I now wished for the last friend, Death, to relieve me' (Equiano). Source: Mansell/Time Inc/Katz.