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After reading an excerpt from “The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano,” participate in the discussion, THE POWER OF PERSONAL NARRATIVE.

In a substantive initial post (at least 200 words with CITED examples from the text), share your thoughts and impressions of Equiano’s narrative. SOME QUESTIONS TO HELP GUIDE YOUR RESPONSE:

What elements of storytelling stuck out to you? How does Equiano use scene, sensory details, and figurative language to craft voice in the piece? What images, characters, or plot sequences are clear in your mind and why do you think those images, characters, or scenes stayed with you? What is the tone of the work? How does Equiano’s experience give credence to the historical contexts of chattel slavery? What themes or overarching messages are you left with after reading?

1
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah
Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African.
such liquor before. Soon after this, the blacks who brought
me on board went off, and left me abandoned to despair.
The first object which saluted my eyes when I arrived on
the coast, was the sea, and a slave ship, which was then
riding at anchor, and waiting for its cargo. These filled me
with astonishment, which was soon converted into terror,
when I was carried on board. I was immediately handled,
and tossed up to see if I were sound, by some of the crew;
and I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of
bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me. Their
complexions, too, differing so much from ours, their long
hair, and the language they spoke (which was very different
from any I had ever heard), united to confirm me in this
belief. Indeed, such were the horrors of my views and fears
at the moment, that, if ten thousand worlds had been my
own, I would have freely parted with them all to have
exchanged my condition with that of the meanest slave in
my own country. When I looked round the ship too, and saw
a large furnace of copper boiling, and a multitude of black
people of every description chained together, every one of
their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no
longer doubted of my fate; and, quite overpowered with
horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck and
fainted. When I recovered a little, I found some black
people about me, who I believed were some of those who
had brought me on board, and had been receiving their
pay; they talked to me in order to cheer me, but all in vain.
I asked them if we were not to be eaten by those white men
with horrible looks, red faces, and long hair. They told me I
was not, and one of the crew brought me a small portion of
spirituous liquor in a wine glass; but being afraid of him, I
would not take it out of his hand. One of the blacks
therefore took it from him and gave it to me, and I took a
little down my palate, which, instead of reviving me, as they
thought it would, threw me into the greatest consternation
at the strange feeling it produced, having never tasted any
I now saw myself deprived of all chance of returning to my
native country, or even the least glimpse of hope of gaining
the shore, which I now considered as friendly; and I even
wished for my former slavery in preference to my present
situation, which was filled with horrors of every kind, still
heightened by my ignorance of what I was to undergo. I
was not long suffered to indulge my grief; I was soon put
down under the decks, and there I received such a
salutation in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my
life: so that, with the loathsomeness of the stench, and
crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not
able to eat, nor had I the least desire to taste anything. I
now wished for the last friend, Death, to relieve me; but
soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me
eatables; and, on my refusing to eat, one of them held me
fast by the hands, and laid me across, I think, the windlass,
and tied my feet, while the other flogged me severely. I had
never experienced anything of this kind before, and,
although not being used to the water, I naturally feared that
element the first time I saw it, yet, nevertheless, could I
have got over the nettings, I would have jumped over the
side, but I could not; and besides, the crew used to watch
us very closely who were not chained down to the decks,
lest we should leap into the water; and I have seen some of
these poor African prisoners most severely cut, for
attempting to do so, and hourly whipped for not eating. This
indeed was often the case with myself.
In a little time after, amongst the poor chained men, I
found some of my own nation, which in a small degree gave
ease to my mind. I inquired of these what was to be done
with us? They gave me to understand, we were to be
carried to these white people’s country to work for them. I
then was a little revived, and thought, if it were no worse
than working, my situation was not so desperate; but still I
2
feared I should be put to death, the white people looked
and acted, as I thought, in so savage a manner; for I had
never seen among any people such instances of brutal
cruelty; and this not only shown towards us blacks, but also
to some of the whites themselves. One white man in
particular I saw, when we were permitted to be on deck,
flogged so unmercifully with a large rope near the foremast,
that he died in consequence of it; and they tossed him over
the side as they would have done a brute. This made me
fear these people the more; and I expected nothing less
than to be treated in the same manner. I could not help
expressing my fears and apprehensions to some of my
countrymen; I asked them if these people had no country,
but lived in this hollow place (the ship)? They told me they
did not, but came from a distant one. “Then,” said I, “how
comes it in all our country we never heard of them?” They
told me because they lived so very far off. I then asked
where were their women? had they any like themselves? I
was told they had. “And why,” said I, “do we not see
them?” They answered, because they were left behind. I
asked how the vessel could go? They told me they could not
tell; but that there was cloth put upon the masts by the
help of the ropes I saw, and then the vessel went on; and
the white men had some spell or magic they put in the
water when they liked, in order to stop the vessel. I was
exceedingly amazed at this account, and really thought they
were spirits. I therefore wished much to be from amongst
them, for I expected they would sacrifice me; but my
wishes were vain — for we were so quartered that it was
impossible for any of us to make our escape.
While we stayed on the coast I was mostly on deck; and
one day, to my great astonishment, I saw one of these
vessels coming in with the sails up. As soon as the whites
saw it, they gave a great shout, at which we were amazed;
and the more so, as the vessel appeared larger by
approaching nearer. At last, she came to an anchor in my
sight, and when the anchor was let go, I and my
countrymen who saw it, were lost in astonishment to
observe the vessel stop—and were now convinced it was
done by magic. Soon after this the other ship got her boats
out, and they came on board of us, and the people of both
ships seemed very glad to see each other. Several of the
strangers also shook hands with us black people, and made
motions with their hands, signifying I suppose, we were to
go to their country, but we did not understand them.
At last, when the ship we were in, had got in all her cargo,
they made ready with many fearful noises, and we were all
put under deck, so that we could not see how they
managed the vessel. But this disappointment was the least
of my sorrow. The stench of the hold while we were on the
coast was so intolerably loathsome, that it was dangerous
to remain there for any time, and some of us had been
permitted to stay on the deck for the fresh air; but now that
the whole ship’s cargo were confined together, it became
absolutely pestilential. The closeness of the place, and the
heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which
was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn
himself, almost suffocated us. This produced copious
perspirations, so that the air soon became unfit for
respiration, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought
on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died — thus
falling victims to the improvident avarice, as I may call it, of
their purchasers. This wretched situation was again
aggravated by the galling of the chains, now become
insupportable, and the filth of the necessary tubs, into
which the children often fell, and were almost suffocated.
The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying,
rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable.
Happily perhaps, for myself, I was soon reduced so low here
that it was thought necessary to keep me almost always on
deck; and from my extreme youth I was not put in fetters.
In this situation I expected every hour to share the fate of
my companions, some of whom were almost daily brought
upon deck at the point of death, which I began to hope
3
would soon put an end to my miseries. Often did I think
many of the inhabitants of the deep much more happy than
myself. I envied them the freedom they enjoyed, and as
often wished I could change my condition for theirs. Every
circumstance I met with, served only to render my state
more painful, and heightened my apprehensions, and my
opinion of the cruelty of the whites.
One day they had taken a number of fishes; and when they
had killed and satisfied themselves with as many as they
thought fit, to our astonishment who were on deck, rather
than give any of them to us to eat, as we expected, they
tossed the remaining fish into the sea again, although we
begged and prayed for some as well as we could, but in
vain; and some of my countrymen, being pressed by
hunger, took an opportunity, when they thought no one saw
them, of trying to get a little privately; but they were
discovered, and the attempt procured them some very
severe floggings.
One day, when we had a smooth sea and moderate wind,
two of my wearied countrymen who were chained together
(I was near them at the time), preferring death to such a
life of misery, somehow made through the nettings and
jumped into the sea; immediately, another quite dejected
fellow, who, on account of his illness, was suffered to be out
of irons, also followed their example; and I believe many
more would very soon have done the same, if they had not
been prevented by the ship’s crew, who were instantly
alarmed. Those of us that were the most active, were in a
moment put down under the deck; and there was such a
noise and confusion amongst the people of the ship as I
never heard before, to stop her, and get the boat out to go
after the slaves. However, two of the wretches were
drowned, but they got the other, and afterwards flogged
him unmercifully, for thus attempting to prefer death to
slavery. In this manner we continued to undergo more
hardships than I can now relate, hardships which are
inseparable from this accursed trade. Many a time we were
near suffocation from the want of fresh air, which we were
often without for whole days together. This, and the stench
of the necessary tubs, carried off many.
During our passage, I first saw flying fishes, which surprised
me very much; they used frequently to fly across the ship,
and many of them fell on the deck. I also now first saw the
use of the quadrant; I had often with astonishment seen the
mariners make observations with it, and I could not think
what it meant. They at last took notice of my surprise; and
one of them, willing to increase it, as well as to gratify my
curiosity, made me one day look through it. The clouds
appeared to me to be land, which disappeared as they
passed along. This heightened my wonder; and I was now
more persuaded than ever, that I was in another world, and
that every thing about me was magic.
At last we came in sight of the island of Barbadoes, at which
the whites on board gave a great shout, and made many
signs of joy to us. We did not know what to think of this;
but as the vessel drew nearer, we plainly saw the harbor,
and other ships of different kinds and sizes, and we soon
anchored amongst them, off Bridgetown. Many merchants
and planters now came on board, though it was in the
evening. They put us in separate parcels, and examined us
attentively. They also made us jump, and pointed to the
land, signifying we were to go there. We thought by this, we
should be eaten by these ugly men, as they appeared to us;
and, when soon after we were all put down under the deck
again, there was much dread and trembling among us, and
nothing but bitter cries to be heard all the night from these
apprehensions, insomuch, that at last the white people got
some old slaves from the land to pacify us. They told us we
were not to be eaten, but to work, and were soon to go on
land, where we should see many of our country people. This
report eased us much. And sure enough, soon after we were
landed, there came to us Africans of all languages.
4
We were conducted immediately to the merchant’s yard,
where we were all pent up together, like so many sheep in a
fold, without regard to sex or age. As every object was new
to me, everything I saw filled me with surprise. What struck
me first, was, that the houses were built with bricks, in
stories, and in every other respect different from those I
had seen in Africa; but I was still more astonished on seeing
people on horseback. I did not know what this could mean;
and, indeed, I thought these people were full of nothing but
magical arts. While I was in this astonishment, one of my
fellow prisoners spoke to a countryman of his, about the
horses, who said they were the same kind they had in their
country. I understood them, though they were from a
distant part of Africa; and I thought it odd I had not seen
any horses there; but afterwards, when I came to converse
with different Africans, I found they had many horses
amongst them, and much larger than those I then saw.
We were not many days in the merchant’s custody, before
we were sold after their usual manner, which is this: On a
signal given (as the beat of a drum), the buyers rush at
once into the yard where the slaves are confined, and make
choice of that parcel they like best. The noise and clamor
with which this is attended, and the eagerness visible in the
countenances of the buyers, serve not a little to increase
the apprehension of terrified Africans, who may well be
supposed to consider them as the ministers of that
destruction to which they think themselves devoted. In this
manner, without scruple, are relations and friends
separated, most of them never to see each other again.
I remember, in the vessel in which I was brought over, in
the men’s apartment, there were several brothers, who, in
the sale, were sold in different lots; and it was very moving
on this occasion, to see and hear their cries at parting. O,
ye nominal Christians! might not an African ask you —
Learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do
unto all men as you would men should do unto you? Is it
not enough that we are torn from our country and friends,
to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? Must every tender
feeling be likewise sacrificed to your avarice? Are the
dearest friends and relations, now rendered more dear by
their separation from their kindred, still to be parted from
each other, and thus prevented from cheering the gloom of
slavery, with the small comfort of being together, and
mingling their sufferings and sorrows? Why are parents to
lose their children, brothers their sisters, or husbands their
wives? Surely, this is a new refinement in cruelty, which,
while it has no advantage to atone for it, thus aggravates
distress, and adds fresh horrors even to the wretchedness
of slavery.
Source: Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The
Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or
Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself. 2 vols.
(London: Author, 1789), Vol. 1, 70–

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