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In The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Equiano shares one of the first major slave autobiographies published in English literature. Equiano writes of his experiences as he is kidnapped from his homeland Africa. When Equiano was eleven years old, he and his siter were both kidnapped and sold into slavery first in Africa. It is interesting to note that Equiano first served as slave for other African tribes. This point proves that the natural African was also involved or in collaboration with the white European slave dealers.
After being transported from one check point to the other in Africa, Equiano was later placed on a slave ship which belonged to European slave dealers. Equiano learns of the terrors of being packed and cramped onto a slave ship:
Equiano undergoes the worst terrors of the Atlantic crossing known as the Middle Passage, an experience shared by countless Africans tightly packed in slave ships sailing to the New World and to a life of cruel servitude.
While on the slave ship, Equiano experienced starvation and cruel treatment by the European slave traders as they crossed from Africa to the West Indies:
This terrible ordeal is indelibly impressed upon the mind of the young slave, who witnesses men and women packed in the suffocating hold of the ship and experiencing filth, stench, disease, tortures, sexual abuse, and near-starvation.
In Equiano's autobiography, he writes of the truth of his horrible experience. Also, he points out that the Africans are not savages, but the white European slave trader caused him to "fear being eaten by these strange-looking, long-haired, red-faced dealers in human flesh."
Equiano was first put up for sale in Barbados. He was not purchased. Next, he was sent to Virginia. A British Royal Navy captain purchases Equiano. The British Royal Navy captain places Equiano on a trading ship. Equiano becomes an expert at his profession. Befriended by various sailors, Equiano learns to read and write. He is also introduced to religion. Equiano becomes a Christian. He is given a new name. He is named after Gustavus Vassa, a Swedish freedom fighter. Equiano saves his money and buys his own freedom:
Because of his enterprising activities, Equiano saves enough money to buy his liberty on July 10, 1766.
Equiano continues to work on commercial vessels. Likewise, he becomes a part of the crusade to abolish slavery and decides to write his autobiography to reveal the horrors associated with the slave trade:
In the late 1780’s, the crusade to abolish the slave trade begins in Great Britain, and Equiano decides to write his two-volume autobiography, a harsh indictment of the institution of slavery.
No doubt, Equiano influenced other slaves to write their own slave autobiographies. The slave autobiography became a very important genre which helped to abolish slavery.
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