The Life of Olaudah Equiano

What is the evidence that Equiano was born in Africa? What is the evidence he was born elsewhere? How important is it to his argument that he was born in Africa?

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One of the most salient aspects towards understanding the Narrative is the fact that Equiano was probably not born in Africa, and thus much of his account was fictional and based on the writings of Europeans. This chapter, and its treatise on the Iboe people (a more common denotation for this tribe), is most assuredly indebted to 18th century travel writings that Equiano would have been very familiar with. It is unlikely that Equiano would have remembered much about his home even if he had been born there; he wrote the Narrative at the age of forty-five, and was kidnapped at age ten. His name does not seem to be from the Iboe language, and the two specifically mentioned places, Essaka and Timnah, seem to have vanished from the maps.

Despite the fact that Equiano was probably writing from imagination and research rather than from firsthand experience, his accomplishment with the Narrative is not to be doubted. Simply because he did not live in this African society does not mean that his work should not be read. Indeed, his narrative ability to impose his personality on a whole range of experience, and to dominate every bit of it with confidence and conviction, is evident throughout the work. His purpose is not impaired in the slightest; it remains an example of an African author claiming for himself the mantle of a hero, an achiever. During its own time, it awakened many illustrious men and women to the horrors of the slave trade, and made a case for the intellectual and moral capacities of Africans, whom most Europeans considered barbarous and inferior.