Olaudah Equiano

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano published in 1789, describes his early life in the Great Kingdom of Benin in the 1750s. Read extracts here: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/slavery/africa/olaudah_africa.aspx

 Olaudah recalls:

·The Great Kingdom of Benin was the most formidable in West Africa in terms of wealth and the king's power

·The king ruled with his council of Chiefs

·The land was very fertile

·The Kingdom of Benin was a nation of dancers, musicians and poets, every occasion was celebrated by public dancing

·Their way of life was very plain and mainly agricultural

·They ate lots of spiced stews and vegetables and fruit

·They had numerous family

·Slaves were treated as part of the household

·Children were constantly kidnapped for slavery by mahogany- coloured foreigners

·Whole villages were burnt down in wars and captives sold into slavery

·Most Slaves had never seen a whiteman or the sea until they were taken to the coast for transportation in the ships.

However whilst his accounts of his village life were accurate, a couple of points need further exploration with the evidence we now have.

 What is in a name?

Names in Africa help identify a person’s tribal original. The names Olaudah and Equiano are Igbo names not Edo names. The Igbos inhabit South-eastern Nigeria whilst the Edos inhabit the South-south part of Nigeria around the Delta. However historians trace some Igbo genealogy to their first king, Eze Chima, a rebel prince who broke away from the Benin royal dynasty to set up his own domain.  Other scholars point out the influences the Benin Kingdom has had on Igbo culture since their earliest settlements. Anyhow from his accounts, we can place Olaudah in the Kingdom of Benin part of Igboland. 

Another vital evidence for placing Olaudah in Igboland, is his descriptions of the surrounding villages always at war, burning down settlements and taking captives as slaves. We know from all accounts that no neighbour dared attack Benin settlements for fear of the reputation of its very skilled army. Perpetrators would be defeated and made to pay tribute to the king. Benin soldiers were frequently asked to defend neighbours against attacks from others.  

A further evidence is that Olaudah described in detail how children were constantly kidnapped for slavery by mahogany- coloured foreigners. We know that this could not have happened in the Kingdom of Benin because of the protective walls around the kingdom; all foreigners had to be identified before stepping into the Kingdom. It was for this reason that no Edo person was ever captured and sold into slavery during that period. The king and his army defended the kingdom well from any foreign attacks or threats such as slave capturers.  

A fair conclusion to reach is that Olaudah Equiano was from a part of Igboland related to the Kingdom of Benin.  He was therefore from the Kingdom of Benin as he wrote.  

Further reading: 

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