Deutsch English Espanol Francais Italiano Nihongo Nederlands Portuguese

Olaudah Equiano
The African Slave Trade

Olaudah Equiano’s "The African Slave Trade” was a personal narrative of what he and many African slaves had undergone during their voyage from Western Africa to the New World. He represented a true and graphic view of their conditions and treatments, from what he experienced, as well as witnessed.

The conditions, in which he and the slaves had undergone, during their journey to the New World, were crowded and unsanitary. Where Equiano explains, “I received such a salutation in my nostrils as to have never experienced in my life so that with the loathsomeness of the stench, I became so sick and low that I was unable to eat...(pp74) and also in “...the air became unfit for respiration, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought in a sickness among the slaves, of which many died. (pp.76) During their journey, they were forced to sleep on the bare wooden floors, which caused the shin covering their elbows to be worn away to the bare bones, and it was so crowded that each person had scarcely any room to even turn; it was constantly near suffocation, and many had succumbed to lack of oxygen.(Mannix and Cowley 43) Their lodging rooms were about five feet high – the height was divided toward the middle for the slaves lie in two rows, one above the other, on each side of the ship, close together like books upon a shelf. Every man was allowed a space six feet long by sixteen inches wide and usually about two feet, seven inches high; women and children were put in even smaller spaces in order to allow more slaves on board.

Their treatments were worst than that of beast and burden, suffering untold numbers of indignities, not to mention any number of physical horrors. In addition, they were kept sequestered under deck, especially at times when the ship was being made for underway. In order to keep them ignorant to the techniques and methods of sailing such a large vessel, they did this in fear that if they had learned to sail the ship they would take it over. For this has been the case in at least fifty-five recorded mutinies during the period between 1750-1845 (Mannix and Cowley 46).

Many slaves were severely flogged, as punishment for not eating when they had been told. One in which was Equiano’s refusal as stated, “...on my refusal to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands, laid me across, I think the windlass, and tied my feet while the other flogged me severely.” Some attempted to put hot coals in their lips as another way of threaten them to eat and in other cases they would tie their legs, and notches were hammered between the slaves teeth; when the thumbscrew was tightened, the legs of the instrument separated, forcing open the slaves mouth, then the food was poured in a funnel. Some of the Africans refused to eat due to the fact that the slave traders served them, the white man’s food the consisted of boiled rice, cornmeal, and horse beans, instead of the original African cuisine of yams and manioc, not to mention the stench of being in the hole made them sick to even think of food. The conditions were so intolerable, that many whom preferring death to slavery, would leap over board in order to escape tyranny. If unsuccessful in their endeavor they were recaptured, brought back aboard ship and would be flogged to the brink of near death, and in spite of this, many others would still try to affect their release from this hennas bondage; death once being an unreasonable choice; now made reasonable.

Misery is more competently conveyed, through descriptions and experiences, for himself and for the hundreds of African slaves aboard the slave ship. As he explains, his own personal fears, and his level of apprehension were all testimony to the experience, with him even coming even closer to desiring death over his present circumstance. Now their journey on the ship has finally come to an end, but that does not conclude the misery they now had to endure when they had to set foot on land. They were conducted to the merchant’s yard where they were all pent up like sheep in a fold with no regard to their sex or age(pp77), confined to be picked up out by a buyer whose choice of parcel he liked best. Even if that meant he would separate friends or family, it’s bad enough that they were torn from their country and their love ones back home, but again be separated even further where parents to lose their children, brothers their sisters, or husbands their wives (pp.78). This just corroborates the misery in which they were suffering.

“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?” (Pp78) Why must a person be treated in such a manner as to be abused not only physically but mentally and would you want to be so dehumanized, because of the color of your skin or the beliefs you have for a different form of God? I feel no man should transgress another man regardless of the status in society, because no matter what origin you are from you are still human and of God’s creation.

Equiano’s writings had created a foundation in history that gave reason for establishing equality not only among those of color, but all men, women, and children. By having us feel their pain, and suffering through his words, he has made us see, in our minds, the inhumanity that was forced upon these individuals. He has made us realize the cruelty that was their existence, to imprint it as a lesson, so as not to repeat it. Through education we have learned from history, the meaning of our Declaration of Independence, which states, “That all men are created equal”, and deciphered, its true just cause, and have utilized it, to this present day, for all creeds and by doing so we have successfully prevented history form repeating itself.

Equiano’s work relates to American Studies in the same way that many other great works of literature have illustrated, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” or John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath” each explain the human condition of struggle, from the tyranny of the slave traders to the seemingly hopeless trek of the migrants from the dust bowl of Oklahoma. They give us a clear understanding of the condition in which these people found themselves. These books have informed the uninformed, in order to use it as a tool to help understand our fellow man, as well as realize how far the United States of America has come to achieving it’s true goal of being a free country for all.

Mannix DP, Cowley M. Cargoes: The Atlantic Slave Trade 1518- 1865. New York: The Viking Press, 1962.

Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797)


Earl Warren
Euthanasia Exemplification Essay
College Credit Card Debt
Windows Boot Up Screen


Tech Business Computer Engineering Electrical Engineering Selected Topics

© Copyright 2005