Sold into Slavery
By Awake! correspondent in Africa
OLAUDAH EQUIANO was born in 1745 in what is now eastern Nigeria. Life in his village was typical of the times. Families worked together to cultivate corn, cotton, yams, and beans. Men herded cattle and goats. Women spun and wove cotton.
Equiano’s father was a distinguished clan elder and judge in the community. It was a position that Equiano was in line to inherit one day. That never happened. Equiano, when a boy, was kidnapped and sold into slavery.
Sold from trader to trader, he did not meet Europeans until he reached the coast. Years later, he described his impressions: “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.”
Looking about him, Equiano saw “a multitude of black people of every description chained together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow.” Overwhelmed, he fainted. Fellow Africans revived him and tried to comfort him. Equiano says: “I asked them if we were not to be eaten by those white men.”
Equiano was shipped to Barbados, then to Virginia, and later to England. Purchased by a ship’s captain, he traveled widely. He learned to read and write, eventually bought his freedom, and played a leading role in the movement to abolish slavery in Britain. In 1789 he published the story of his life, one of the few accounts (and possibly the best) written about the slave trade by an African victim of it.
Millions of other Africans were not so fortunate. Torn from their homes and families, they were shipped across the Atlantic in conditions of great cruelty. They, along with the children they bore, were bought and sold like cattle and forced to toil without pay to increase the wealth of strangers. Most had no rights and could be punished, abused, or even killed at the whim of their owners. For most of those oppressed, the only deliverance from slavery was death.