So, it's International Blog Against Racism Week! Please note my Really Awesome Person of Colour icon.
It was kateorman
's suggestion that for IBARW I would read the Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano
, and amazingly enough I actually did this in time, which considering my brain lately was something I did not expect I would actually get done. But! I saw that the time had come, and I applied myself, despite the fact that I was dying of a fever at the time.
The Interesting Narrative is--really interesting. Except for the naval battles, but it is my firm belief that naval battles are very rarely of any interest whatsoever to people who are not actually involved in them.
So young Olaudah got kidnapped from Ethiopia when he was about eleven, and shipped around from place to place to place--once he was reunited with his sister, who was kidnapped (Mr. Equiano calls it 'trepanning') at the same time, but they got split up again a day later--and gets some okay masters and some scary ones, and once runs away but comes back of his own accord because he's terrified of being et by snakes. At some point here he gets put on a slave ship. Mr. Equiano describes any number of atrocities; the one that I guess struck me the most was that he says a tonne of infants drowned in the never-emptied toilets. They never had any fresh air and those who got sick and were let up on deck frequently attempted to drown themselves, only to be thwarted.
And this is the scary thing: Mr. Equiano says time and again that he was one of the lucky ones
. Heck!, he says, I had it pretty good! I only got horrible mauled once! I got cheated at every turn and people looked down on me and said horrible things to me and tried to get me put in jail for offences I didn't commit, and robbed me and slandered me to my various owners and tried to drown me and sold me where-ever they wanted, but I could have had it bad
What happened was, he got sold to a man who took him to sea, where a fellow shipmate taught him to read and write and speak English pretty well, and gave him a couple of books, and Mr. Equiano distinguished himself and decided he wanted to be baptised (as Gustavus Vassa, which is what his owner, Capt. Pascal, named him. "My last owner called me Jacob
," Mr. Equiano says. "Too bad," Capt. Pascal says. "I'm calling you Gustavus, and if you don't answer to it I'll beat you up."), and had a great time a sea--he decided he loved the sea. Then one day for no reason Capt. Pascal decided he didn't like him any more and sold him off to some ship heading down to Monteserrat. He was bought by a Quaker, Mr. King, who wanted him to do accounts. Mr. King, he says, was a pretty great master, because he had this amazing theory that if you fed slaves properly and didn't beat them to hell, they worked a lot better and died a lot less quickly. Mr. King would reluctantly rent him out to a ship's captain there, and Capt. Doran and Mr. Equiano
fell in love
became bffs, and Capt. Doran would threaten people on Mr. Equiano's behalf, and in return Mr. Equiano would be generally awesome.
So while they were on these voyages, which they were a lot, Mr. Equiano decided to start earning some money--he started out with a half-bit and worked himself up to thirty-six bits, and thence to pounds and dollars and what-have-you, and at some point he was offered a chance to escape and he said no, even though he really wanted to. When Mr. King found out about this, and with Capt. Doran standing up for him, things worked out so that Mr. King promised Mr. Equiano that he would sell him his freedom is he ever came up with forty pounds, his original price. So he did this.
And this is interesting, because Mr. Equiano rarely has anything but nice things to say about Mr. King--he makes it sound like working for him was a true pleasure and that he was an all-around decent guy, but the day he buys his freedom back he just goes around in paroxysm of joy, just totally ecstasy, and you, the reader, sit there for a moment and then it penetrates your poor overprivileged brain that omg. It doesn't matter how nice they treat you, you are still a slave
. And it makes a huge difference being free. At least that was how it struck me.
That was a pretty--waking kind of moment.
So, more stuff happens, Mr. Equiano really wants to be a Christian but he is having problems because he works on a ship, and every time he says something about Jesus the sailors go "NERD" <--except in eighteenth-century English. And he goes to a lot of churches and buys a new Bible and he is struck by the fact that nobody really seems to adhere to it at all. In fact, he says, the people who follow the Bible the best are the Turks, who are all Mohammedan. WHAT THE HECK, says Mr. Equiano. WHAT am I missing here?
And then he meets this great guy who takes him to a church where everybody hangs out and there is spiritualism and they pass around a basket of sweet rolls for Communion, and it's very powerful and spiritually moving and Mr. Equiano is getting into it, when these people explain to him that you don't really need to follow the Ten Commandments. They were for pre-Jesus people, it is explained. Now that Jesus has died for you, you're, you know, basically saved.
WHAT THE HECK, says Mr. Equiano.
Follows about twenty or thirty pages of existential crisis, before he finally decides (I think) that he is okay with that. He teaches an Indian prince all about Christianity, and the Indian prince is getting really into it, and then all the other Indians start going "NERD" and Mr. Equiano tries to explain that people will always do that! and you just have to stand by what you think is right! But the prince is not convinced.
Mr. Equiano decides he has had just about enough of being cheated and chased and given the run-around at sea, and having people trying to kidnap him and sell him despite all his freeman papers and letters of recommendation. By this time his friend Capt. Doran has died, and he is working for a Dr. Irving, who distills sea-water. He has met Governer Macnamara in Africa and asks him to help him get ordained as a missionary. A lot of people help him by writing letters of recommendation, but he is refused (he doesn't really say why; I assume
it is because of race, but I don't know).
So instead he starts doing Africans' Rights things, including--and this is awesome--a petition to the Queen. Also a lot of petitions regarding the situation of impoverished Africans being shipped to Sierra Leone, which as far as I can tell nobody actually listens to. The point is, he is very much an activist by the time he ends the book, telling us that he is doing as much as he can. He ends by saying, in essence, HELLO, if we let Africa become an actual nation with actual free working people in it, they will need stuff from England! They will buy stuff! English people will make money!
At other points in the book he also says, HELLO. Of course Africans don't know anything. You don't LET them know anything!
Everytime he inserts an opinion like this he does it in a very off-hand nature, like he is saying, oh, by the way, I do think that HELLO INFORMED OPINION. He is also very subtle about Christianity. Any number of atrocities are narrated with Mr. Equiano saying "And then the Christian took the black slave and staked him to the earth by his hands and let ants eat him". "And then the Christian man refused to pay me for the goods I had sold him, and I could do nothing about it." He always says this like it is any other modifier, but his point is definitely made.
I have not included a lot of incidents due to the fact that my brain is dead, but I did really think it was an interesting book, and I'm glad Kate had me read it.
Also! At one point, Mr. Equiano's best friend, Capt. Doran, is all, Look, if you do this work for me I'll let you have two bullocks. Okay, says Mr. Equiano, and does all the work. Actually, no bullocks, says Capt. Doran. WHAT, says Mr. Equiano. Nope. But you should buy turkeys instead, says Capt. Doran.
Mr. Equiano resits, but eventually buys three dozen turkeys. And darned, he says, if every single bullock didn't sicken and die on the sea voyage, and every single darned turkey survived! I sold them at three hundred per cent. profit. :D
I love that. The turkeys just would
. On a different note, it is hard to tell from the narrative whether Capt. Doran had this in mind, or whether he was just being a jerk.
Also, things that Mr. Equiano enjoyed: playing French horn and dressing hair. He also appears to have enjoyed writing poetry, although I am afraid it was really bad poetry.
Also, if you check, as I am afraid I did, you will see that in the front of the book it tells that his
good friend Rev. Thomas Clarkson bought two copies of this book. That pleases me a lot more than probably it should.
So, yes! Put this under Books It Would Not Hurt You to Read. I feel educated.