Sold as a Slave by Olaudah Equiano
My Rating: 5/5
Trigger warnings: Speaks of slavery and abuse in high detail, mentions rape
Sold as a Slave is part of Penguin Books Great Journey Collection. The original title for this autobiography is The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. I have not seen this title anywhere other than in the collection so I feel it is safe to assume that it was chosen for this reprint by the publisher. I do think the title is very fitting though, and it is the reason why I even picked up this book, to begin with.
Olaudah Equiano, (aka. Gustavus Vassa) born in 1745, starts his journey in The Kingdom of Benin in the province of Eboe, a part of Africa that is now know as Nigeria. The first chapter of this story speaks highly of this kingdom and of its wealth. Olaudah is the son of an Elder in his village, and while he was the youngest boy he was destined to one day help lead this great land. He talks of the culture and laws in such a way that almost reminds me of what we would consider being socialism today. Everyone works, everyone shares, and no one, not even the slaves, go hungry. Sadly, he is ripped away from his family at the age of 11, and taken to explore the world in a life-changing way.
Something that bothers me about this story is that he starts his second chapter by apologizing for talking of his homeland. Often throughout the story he refers to white men as better than his people and it saddens me. The fact that this could be seen as a common and even correct viewpoint during this time period just goes to show how deeply ignorant people were at the time.
Through out the rest of the book, Olaudah changes owners constantly. Some were “kind” to him, but there are time when he talks of beatings and punishments. Eventually, by the age of 12, he arrived in England. It’s hard to believe that by this age this poor boy had gone through so much trauma, but this was a common thing for many Africans at the time.
The story goes on the tell of him joining a naval fleet, fighting against the French, and learning to read and write. So many things happened in this time period that even listing them for be a book on it’s own. The main thing I took from his story is that while he was “better off” during most of his time as a slave, outside of his time spent on the slave ship, he was one of the lucky ones. His account just touches on the horror that other slaves, who may not have been as willing to obey, would have gone through.
When you make men slaves, you deprive them of half their virtue, you set them, in your own conduct, an example of fraud, rapine, and cruelty, and compel them to live with you in a state of war; and yet you still complain that they are not honest or faithful!Sold as a Slave, pg. 110
I truly believe that Olaudah’s political upbringing, intelligence, and a huge amount of pure luck it what lead to him being able to buy his freedom and write his story for us to read today. This was truly a challenging read for me. Since is was written in the late 1700s the language used is different than it is today. Olaudah also writes on a level that is far greater than mine, proving again how smart this man was.
I highly recommend reading this book, or any similar edition. It maybe challenging, but learning this part of history from a first hand account is worth it.