Questions and Reflections Equiano Chapters 1-2

The first two chapters of Equino’s book “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavas Vassa, the African” or “Equiano” for simplicity’s sake, was filled with ideas of what it means to be a human. By that I mean, in which context makes a human a human or a monster. Humans should treat each other equally and fairly, for the most part, so naturally, anyone would easily say that any slave owner would be sub-human, or a monster. After reading “Equiano” however, I would claim not all slave owners to be sub-human. 

In Equiano’s culture, slaves were criminals or prizes won from war. It is simple, you win the war then the people you beat now have to do your work, or you do the crime then you do the time. Although this seems like a disgusting practice in today’s society, for their time period and culture it was natural, and Equiano said it himself. The slaves were put in their own area and would do work for them, but slave owners did not treat them with disrespect as weird as it is to say. Yes, they were slaves, but the slave owners would treat them best they could given the circumstances. Even Equiano himself was a slave, after being taken in the night, and talked about how nicely he was treated as a slave by the African slave owners. Don’t get me wrong, what the slaveowners did was an atrocity and I would never in a million years wish someone to be a slave, but these slaveowners are human, they were just doing what the culture dictated they should do during that time period for slaves. The African slaveowners saw the slaves as other humans which is crazy especially when slaves were primarily criminals and war prizes.

This is a sharp contrast to the white slave owners that Equiano had to endure. I think the quote that best summarises why the European slave owners were such low-level scum was:

“One day they had taken a number of fishes; and when they had killed and satisfied themselves with as many as they thought fit, to our astonishment who were on the deck, rather than give any of them to us to eat as we expected, they tossed the remaining fish into the sea again, although we begged and prayed for some as well as we could, but in vain; and some of my countrymen, being pressed by hunger, took an opportunity, when they thought no one saw them, of trying to get a little privately; but they were discovered, and the attempt procured them some very severe floggings.”

The white slave owners treated the slaves with disregard for their safety and well-being that it actually made me sick while reading. I could on for days about how much I hate white slave owners, but in short, they were sub-human monsters that viewed other races as beneath them and treated them that way. It got so bad that Equiano, and the other slaves on the ship, literally would have rather died than be on the ship any longer. I think the important difference in why white slave owners were such vile creatures and African slave owners were doing their job during a time when slavery was common was that the African slave owners saw the slaves as other humans which the whites did not. I think religion had a huge part in that role in why the African slaveowners treated slaves so much better.

4 thoughts on “Questions and Reflections Equiano Chapters 1-2

  1. I absolutely loved the human vs. monster comparison here. I haven’t really thought about contrasting the African and the British/American slave owners, but it makes so much sense to, after reading this. I also understand your logic for why you feel the British/American slave owners should be seen as sub-human. They don’t seem to think their slaves are human, so should they be treated as fully human themselves? It’s an interesting discussion to be held, for sure.

  2. This was a great point to bring up. I like the human vs. sub-human argument here. Yes, what slave owners were doing was wrong, but you’re right in that Equiano brings up multiple times that many treated the slaves with no disrespect. I never really distinguished that the white slave owners treated their slaves more poorly until reading this post. It is interesting to dive into and see why that is. Why is it that some, such as the African slave owners were able to view slaves as human compared to the white slave owners who didn’t?

  3. Your last few sentences there are very thought provoking indeed. Pointing out that black slave owners saw slaves as humans whereas whites did not due to their religious beliefs being more honest and humane really speaks volumes. Life got so messed up when people started trying to colonize. Everyone should have just been left to their own devices and… what would the world look like if humans were really as peaceful as we claim to be?

  4. I really like how you did a comparison of humans VS monsters and humans VS sub-humans. I agree with it because some of these slave owners were just downright monsters and sadly, treated the slaves with nothing but disrespect. On the other hand, there were slave owners who treated their slaves with nothing but respect. They are still not “humans” though because they have slaves but they are not “monsters” because they respect them. This is why these types of slave owners are “sub-human” because in ways they respect the slaves but they’re still disrespectful since they have slaves.

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