The Spiritual Life of Olaudah Equiano in the Enslavement Era This paper aims to argue about the spiritual life of Olaudah Equiano, otherwise known as Gustavus Vassa. In addition, this is in relation to the enslavement era wherein one can trace the rich experiences of Olaudah Equiano. Indeed, this paper will prove that the spiritual life of Olaudah Equiano is highlighted by his conversion to the Christian religion.
Many would doubt the authenticity of his conversion and claim that it is just an act.
Nevertheless, this paper highly believes that the conversion of Olaudah Equiano is indeed an authentic one. Moreover, it was through this conversion that Equiano had been guided throughout the journey of his life.The spiritual beliefs of Equiano would largely be shaped by the events and his experiences during the enslavement era.
The acceptance of Equiano with the Christian religion has been influenced by his role as a slave for a long time to the white people.
In fact, amidst the hard labor and abuse, Olaudah Equaino had gained much understanding about the world and the realities of life.The enslavement era had significantly marked the life of Olaudah Equiano. One should take note that the enslavement era plays a vital role in the life of every black people such as the African-American.
As a matter of fact, they are the highlight of the enslavement era such that, they play a central role on the occurrence of various events. During this time, the blacks are the victim of the slave trade as well as other injustices in the practice of slavery among the white people.The life of Equiano as a slave is painted with both good and bad memories. For a very long time, the social status of Olaudah Equiano was a slave.
As such, he is out rightly denied of selfhood. At the age of 11, he was already a slave. And so, at an early age, Equiano was faced with the great suffering. And during his life as a slave, he was traded from one master to another, thus experiencing every possible experience that a slave can have.
More specifically, Equiano was abducted from his Ibo village in West Africa and sold into slavery in 1755. It was only thirty years after his abduction that he was emancipated from slavery. Before he was given to a white master, he stayed in ‘slave homes’ in Africa and was presented with a “humane slavery”. In 1756, he arrived in West Indies and was purchased by an officer in British Navy named Lieutenant Michael Pascal.
It was during his service with Lieutenant Pascal that he became curious with the aspect of reading. Eventually, in 1757, when he went to live with a woman as her slave in Falmouth England, he was instructed in reading as well as in writing. After this short stay with the woman, he again accompanied Lieutenant Pascal into various trips or the so-called military excursions. And in 1763, upon returning to the West Indies, Equiano was not freed by Lieutenant Pascal but was sold to a new master.
Nonetheless, at the age of 21, Equiano was able to purchase his freedom for 40 Pounds Sterling. He remained for a while with his master but not as a slave but as an employee. Afterwards, he sailed back to England became self-employed as a hairdresser. But due to financial reasons, he returned to the shipping trade and was able to visit Italy, Turkey and Greece.
He was also able to become part of the crew of the Artic expedition. In 1777, he returned to England as an abolitionist and becomes the commissary officer for the Sierra Leone resettlement project. (Dexheimer, 2002)And so, the journey of life of Equiano during and after being a slave is a reflection of an individual who can be considered as a survivor. Amidst the horrors he confronted, he was still able to look at the bright side.
Equiano was a quick-learner. Particularly, he was intelligent enough to learn the culture, religion, law, language as well as commerce of his enslavers. As a result, he was able to purchase his freedom, thus become a free man. Aside from this, he was able to find a decent job for himself as well as travel in various parts of the world.
After working with his freedom, he also worked for the freedom of his fellow Africans through the abolishment of slavery. Through all this, he also learned to accept the Christian religion as an ultimate way for salvation. In fact, it was his spiritual journey that greatly influenced the way he structured his narrative. More specifically, his narrative was written after his conversion to Christianity.
Undoubtedly, Christianity played a central role in his later life.During his life as a slave, Equiano was almost nearly baptized by one of his masters for the sake of his spiritual well-being. But eventually, he also embraced Christianity during the time when he embraced Englishness. However, this conversion of Equiano is highly questioned by many.
According to Orban (1993), several contemporary critics such as Valerie Smith, Wilfred D. Samuels and Chinosole see the Christian rhetoric as a disguise on the part of Olaudah Equiano. In other words, the conversion of the Equiano to Christianity is a manifestation of mental colonization.In this paper, it would argue that the conversion of Equiano to become a Christian is not a mere disguise.
As mentioned above, the conversion of Equiano is a result of his experiences in his life especially as a slave. More importantly, his life as a slave did not hinder in the process of being converted as a Christian¸ rather it even paved the way for the realization of this conversion.Primarily, Olaudah Equiano was not forced when he converted to Christianity. The conversion is a result of his own free will- his decision.
It was the formula of sin-conversion-spiritual rebirth in Christianity that served as the guiding principle of Olaudah Equiano in his conduct of life and consequently, in writing his autobiography. (Gates, 1987)In his narrative, he argues with slavery in the rhetoric of Christianity. In addition, he related his African past to his present life in the Western world in the light of the Christian values. The comparison of his past life with the present is evident with the lines stated below:“As to religion, the natives believe that there is one Creator of all things, and that he lives in the sun, and is girded round with a belt, that he may never eat or drink; but according to some, he smokes a pipe, which is our own favorite luxury.
They believe he governs events, especially our deaths or captivity; but, as for the doctrine of eternity, I do not remember to have ever heard of it: some however believe in the transmigration of souls in a certain degree. Those spirits, which are not transmigrated, such as their dear friends or relations, they believe always attend them, and guard them from the bad spirits of their foes. For this reason, they always, before eating, as I have observed, put some small portion of the meat, and pour some of their drink, on the ground for them; and they often make oblations of the blood of beasts or fowls at their graves. I was very fond of my mother, and almost constantly with her.
When she went to make these oblations at her mother’s tomb, which was a kind of small solitary thatched house, I sometimes attended her. There she made her libations, and spent most of the night in cries and lamentation…
.” (Gates, 1987);;More importantly, his theological views in evident in the following lines:;“…
the kind and unknown hand of the Creator, who in every deed leads the blind in a way they know not, now began to appear to my comfort ….
Every extraordinary escape, or signal deliverance, either of myself or others, I looked upon to be effected by the interposition of Providence. I considered that trials and disappointments are sometimes for our good; and I thought that God might perhaps have permitted this, in order to teach me wisdom and resignation. For he had hitherto shadowed with the wings of his mercy and by his invisible, but powerful hand, had brought me the way I knew not.” (Gates, 1987);It is through his experiences as a slave that Equiano was able to find the essence of life.
More importantly, his travels even when he was still a slave played a great part on the shaping of his life. It was through his encounters and travels that he was enlightened in life. As such, one can say that the conversion of Equiano is a result of his enlightenment on the importance of religion in every man’s life.In the words of Equiano, his understatement goes this way- “I believe there are few events in my life which have not happened to many” (Brians, et.
al., 1999). In other words, Olaudah Equiano may have experienced every single event that a slave could have gone through. As such, his perspective on slavery is broader that what other people, especially fellow slaves, can have.
Because of the different point of view on slavery, Equiano was able to establish personal relationship with God. As he searched for his own way, he was highly influenced by God. This is the reason why he rarely felt hatred towards his masters. Moreover, he learned not to reject his culture as well as take advantage of what is presented as his new environment.
Far from believing that slavery is good thing, Equiano still thanked God for all his life. With all his adventures/trials in life, he is always saved from death. As such, the concept of death made Equiano reflect to the eternal state. (Gates, 1987)It is the experiences of Equiano as a slave per se that proves the authenticity of his conversion to the Christian religion.
Specifically, the concept of death is what bothers Equiano a lot. He stated that, “the fear of eternity daily harassed my mind and fears of death…weighed me down (Gates, 1987).” In short, Equiano equated death with the concept of the eternal state. As such, he came to realize that even in the state of being a slave, he felt the presence of God.
Through the western ways of life, Equiano came to know about the Bible. And so, it is through this book that he confirmed his beliefs and assumptions about God. The Bible taught him almost everything that he needs to know about God. As such, he learned that God is not just holding all above a fire waiting to drop them in.
More specifically, the Bible enlightened Equiano that God is not just a God of judgment but more importantly, He is a God of mercy and grace. (Gates, 1987) This understanding made an important impact to Equiano. As a God of mercy and grace, Equiano came to appreciate that the great love of God with mankind that he showers them with blessings and graces. This in fact is also the basis of salvation of every Christian.
Ultimately, this realization on the part of Olaudah Equiano made him believed that it is God who protects and guides him through all his journeys. As such, he pities the people who are not guided by the words of God. He views the unconverted people as being in an appalling state such that, they do not have God in their side. Moreover, their appalling state is aggravated with the concept of salvation with the dying of God in the cross.
Overall, the most important lesson learned by Olaudah Equiano in his conversion to Christianity is the realization that temporary earthly slavery and spiritual salvation were better than a life of earthly freedom but spiritual death. (Gates, 1987) This belief has been his guiding principle during his difficult times as a slave.Undoubtedly, one cannot deny the fact that the conversion of Equiano is influenced by the role of religion during his period. Religion is central to the colonial project of the colonizers (Webb, 2002).
And so, even in the enslavement era, religion plays a dominant role in the society. As a matter of fact, the Christian conversion of Equiano served as an instrument in order for him to become a more civilized person and a better Christian as well. (Peterson, 2001)Olaudah Equiano died without witnessing the abolishment of slavery. Nonetheless, he still embraced Christianity.
More importantly, he strongly advocated for the betterment of the conditions of his fellow black people especially the ones that became slaves. In the end, he died as a better person in comparison to others. He was also able to make the most out of the Christian values.Works Cited;;Brians, Paul, Mary Gallwey, Douglas Hughes, Azfar Hussain, Richard Law, Michael Myers Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer and Susan Swan (Editors).
Reading About the World, Vol. 2. Washington: Harcourt Brace Custom Publishing, 1999.Dexheimeir, Jim.
The Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. 29 April 2002. 29 June 2007. ;http://www.
wmich.edu/dialogues/texts/lifeofolaudahequano.htm ;.Gates, Jr.
, Henry Louis, ed. The Classic Slave Narratives. New York: New American Library, 1987.Orban, Katalin.
“Dominant and submerged Discourses in ‘The Life of Olaudah Equiano’ (or Gustavus Vassa)?” African American Review. 4.27 (1993).Peterson, Robyn (Douglas).
Religion. April 2001. 29 June 2007. ;http://www.
wmich.edu/dialogues/themes/religion.html ;.Webb, Allen Carey.
“Theme Index.” Colonial and Postcolonial Literary Dialogues. 27 April 2002. 29 June 29, 2007.
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