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Equiano’s Early Years In Essaka Unto His Capture, Enslavement And Transportation Across The Atlantic

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Equiano was born in what he described as ‘a charming fruitful vale, named Essaka’ which was so considerably removed from the sea coast that he even admits of never having heard of white men or Europeans, nor of the sea. His father as he recalls was one of the village elders upon whose shoulders the responsibilities of running the administration of the village rested. Thick mark across the lower part of his forehead was a mark of the highest distinction which his father proudly displayed always. He was thus often saddled amongst others with the task of deciding disputes and punishing crime which were mostly by enslaving or killing the culprit.

Equiano goes on to show the richness and dignity of his people and their civilization. For as he claimed they were almost a nation of dancers, musicians and poets who would mark every great event such as the triumphant return from battle in public rejoicing characterized with much dancing, appropriate songs and music delivered with unique spirit and variety. Their attire along with their manners was simple for both sexes.

His family was a large one of seven living together with slaves. Olaudah Equiano, being the youngest son became his mother’s greatest favorite, so he was always by her side. As a result she took great pains to form his mind. He was trained from his earliest years in the art of warfare, for which he indulged in daily exercises in shooting and throwing of javelins. He was even adorned with emblems by his mother so much so that he began to look like one of their greatest warriors.

So Olaudah Equiano grew up in bliss on to the age of eleven when in his words ‘an end was put to my happiness’. He then goes on to give a close and graphic account of how he and his sister were captured and enslaved.

All the adults in their vicinity had gone out in the fields to work leaving them the children with their desired freedom to play in one of the compounds. Usually on such occasions, some of them would climb up trees to set watch for ‘any assailant or kidnapper who might come upon them as was their habit when they knew their parents were not around.

One day their parents had gone off to work as usual when two men and a woman climbed over their fence and in a moment seized both Olaudah and his sister who had been left to mind the house in their parents’ absence. Without giving them the slightest chance to shout or make any effort towards resisting, they stopped their mouths and ran off with them into the nearest woods where they tied their hands. They then continued their journey deeper into the forest with them until the onset of night when they halted by a house, refreshed themselves and passed the night. They then continued their endless journey at daybreak.

After many days traveling during the course of which he changed many masters, he eventually got into the hands of a chieftain who together with his family were very pleasant to Olaudah Equiano. Being a trained goldsmith this new master got Olaudah engaged on working his bellows.

He was yet again sold and went through different countries and a number of large woods. During this extensive traveling he met different sets of people with differing languages and customs all of which he learnt. In the process again he got happily but temporarily reunited with his sister. Once again he got sold and was carried through a number of strange places until he arrived at a town called Timrah. It was in the most beautiful country he had ever seen. On arriving at the coast the first thing that struck his attention was the sea with a slave ship anchored there awaiting its cargo. He was suffused with astonishment which quickly got transformed into terror on being carried on board. He got handled quickly and tossed up into the waiting vessel.His initial astonishment quickly got transformed to terror upon his being carried on board. He soon convinced himself that he had fallen into a world of bad spirits who were bent on killing him. Their strange complexion, their long, silky hair,and the strange languages they spoke all combined to confirm him in his belief.

Overcome by horror and anguish, Equiano felt motionless on the deck and fainted..When later he recovered slightly he found about him some blacks whom he suspected were those who brought him on board receiving their pay. Their efforts to cheer him up were all in vain.

Equiano’s distaste for these ‘strange white men with horrible looks, red faces and loose hair was so intense that when one of the crew brought him a small portion of liquor in a wine glass, he didn’t accept it from him except through a black intermediary. When Equiano gulped a little of it down his dry throat, instead of reviving him, as they had hoped, it threw him into the greatest consternation at the strange feeling it triggered in him, having never tasted such liquor before. He thus got abandoned to despair as the blacks went off.

Equiano was now compromised to the realisation that there was no hope of his return to his country -nor of approaching shore. He thus kept longing for his former life in slavery in Africa which seemed much preferable to his present situation which was an unending series of horrors heightened by his uncertainty of where and what he was bound for. He soon found himself put down under the decks where his nostrils were almost immediately assaulted by the most loathsome stench he had ever experienced. His ensuing weeping and continuous suffering under the stench made him become so sick and low that he wished for death to seize him and release him from such an awful ordeal. Even when two of the whitemen offered him food he refused to eat. This worsened his situation as they held him fast by the hands and laid him across the windlass and had his feet tied while the other flogged him severely. At some point he even thought of leaping into the sea. But because of the constant and vigilant watch on those who were not chained down to the decks to prevent their escape, Equiano thought it a futile move.As it was for all slaves, the Middle Passage for Equiano was a long, arduous nightmare with the inconceivable conditions of the slaves’ hold: the “shrieks of the women,” the “groans of the dying,” the floggings, the wish to commit suicide, how those who somehow managed to drown themselves were envied.

The ship finally landed in Barbados in the Caribbean where he lost even the little comfort he once had in conversing with his countrymen. He could no longer see the women who used to wash and take care of him. There was no buyer, however, for the young Equiano. They stayed in this island close to a fortnight as he and a few other slaves proved unsellable. Their constant fretting caused their being shipped off immediately for North America. where they landed up a river well away from the sea in Virginia where none or few of his fellow Africans could be seen. So he could not see a soul with whom to confer and converse.

Equiano spent a few weeks weeding grass and gathering stones on a plantation here. But with his companions having all been distributed to different parts and he thus left to himself, he felt “exceedingly miserable” and kept thinking that he was worse off than all the rest as they unlike him could talk to each other. He thus kept grieving, moaning,pining and wishing for death to snatch him away. This made his very life to seem like more of a burden.to him.

Whilst here he was called upon to go into the dwelling house of the master to fan him as he had been unwell. On entering there he was struck by fear at seeing a black woman slave cooking dinner but “cruelly loaded with what he later learnt was an iron muzzle locking he mouth so tight that she could hardly speak nor eat or drink.

As Equiano wrote, the treatment of slaves working inside the slave owners’ homes in Virginia was extremely cruel, including several unusual forms of punishments and customs such as the use of “iron muzzles” around the mouth of the enslaved to keep the house quiet, which hindered their ability to sleep and eat. Equiano experienced so much fright and amazement in his new environment that he thought that the eyes on pictures hanging on the wall followed him wherever he went, and a clock hanging from the chimney would tell his master about anything he would do wrong.

Less than a month later, he had a new master — Michael Henry Pascal, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy who came to the plantation and Virginia and struck an instant liking for Equiano whom he wasted no time in purchasing. Under this master, who owned Equiano for the next seven years, Equiano would move to England, educate himself, and travel the world on ships under Pascal’s command.

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Source by Arthur Smith

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