The Life of Olaudah Equiano

the life of olaudah equiano

what does equiano tell us about his tribal customs?

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As their own custom, the people of Eboe only traded slaves who were prisoners of war or convicted criminals. Agriculture was the primary occupation of all men, women, and children. The land was abundant, and rich in fruits and vegetables. Equiano states that the white West Indies planters favored slaves taken from this country because of their "hardiness, intelligence, integrity, and zeal." He adds, however, that cheerfulness and friendliness were hallmarks of the Eboe people. There were some inconveniences that had to be weathered. Locusts were not uncommon, and wars with other districts were always a threat. Sometimes, another district's chief would wage war in order to procure slaves; if he won, he would enslave the vanquished men, women and children to sell them, but if he lost, he was put to death. In regards to religion, the people believed in one Creator who lived in the sun and governed major events such as life, death and war. They believed in the transmigration of spirits, but thought that their friends and relatives who did not transmigrate stayed with them after death to guard them from evil spirits and enemies. Like the Jews, the people practiced circumcision. Their children were generally named after an event or a virtue: Olaudah meant "vicissitudes" or "fortune," but also signified his loud voice and command of speech. This is the first time the author mentions his birth name (not counting the preface). Cleanliness and decency, as mentioned, were hallmarks of the Eboe religion. They avoided touching both dead bodies and women during menstruation. Although they had no public places of worship, they did defer to priests and magicians (known as wise men), who were not only religious leaders but were also doctors. Their skills extended to divining jealousy, theft, and poisoning. Poison was of particular concern to the natives, and they took many precautions to discern that the things they purchased and consumed were safe. Snakes abounded in the area, and the poisonous ones were avoided. Olaudah was considered fortunate after a poisonous snake passed between his legs and did him no harm. What strikes Olaudah as he recalls his people is their similarity to the Jews. He discusses several writers who explore this connection, calling special attention to Dr. Gill, who, in his commentary on Genesis, wrote that Africans could trace their pedigree from Afer and Afra, the descendents of Keturah, who was Abraham's wife and concubine. Like the Jews, the Africans practiced circumcision, sacrifices, burnt-offerings, and purifications. Olaudah speculates on the difference in skin color between Eboan Africans and modern Jews, and attributes it potentially to the differences in climate. He closes his first chapter by exhorting his readers to remove any prejudice against Africans that is based solely on skin color. Just because the Africans were ignorant of European language, traditions, history, and customs does not mean they were inferior - they were simply untaught. The Europeans should remember that their own ancestors were once "uncivilized, and even barbarous." Understanding "is not confined to feature or colour."