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Equiano

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Assignment # 1--Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano

History shows that both Africans and African Americans alike faced unique problems prior to and during the 1800's, particularly prior to 1865. One such problem is the issue of Diaspora and how culture and slavery has affected the choice of religion. It is the purpose of this paper to expose comparatively the extent to which individuals have been influenced by these issues. One such individual is Olaudah Equiano. By following and analyzing some of the key moments of faith in his life, this paper seeks to expose the extent to which the series of controversial dialectical incidents that happen throughout his early life, i.e., his cultural African religious traditions (thesis), and Christianity as taught by his slave masters (antithesis), had a direct influence in developing his own understanding of religion (synthesis). Furthermore, this paper will demonstrate Olaudah Equiano's decision was based on the impact of both the influences of culture and slavery, and a personal experience based on his perspective of divine intervention.

To begin, most Africans have come from societies with traditional African religious backgrounds unrelated to Islam or Christianity. As a whole, African religious traditions combine belief in a Supreme Being with the worship of other gods and ancestors and use ritual and magic to mediate between human beings, nature, and the gods. In many African languages, there is no word for God, because in their tradition every thing and place embodies God. Many African religions have common tenets. They share a belief in a community of deities, the idea that ancestors serve as a way to communicate with these deities. They also share the belief that society as a whole is organized around values and traditions drawn from a common origin, which was created by one Supreme Being. Moreover, despite the universality of belief in a Supreme Being in Africa, formal, church-like worship of God was not widely practiced. This was the world of Olaudah Equiano; but unbeknownst to him, he would soon embark on a passage that would dramatically change life as he knew it.

Equiano narrates his life from boyhood onwards; he was born in a gold-coast African village, sold into slavery to another village, moved to yet another village as a slave, and finally captured and sold to European slave-owners. He was then renamed by one of his slave masters. After reading the vivid description of his way of life, customs, and religion of his village in his narrative, it is clear that before the influence of Europeans and Christian missionaries, it appears the Ibo religion was a complex synthesis of magic, and nature. Ibo practiced some form of ancestor worship, which held that in order to gain success in this world; one must appease the spirits of the deceased.

According to the memoirs from Equiano, "the natives believe that there is one Creator of all things, who lives in the sun, is girded round with a belt, and that he may never eat or drink; and according to some, he smokes a pipe and governs the events in their lives, especially deaths or captivity." In addition, they also believe in the transmigration of souls (to a certain degree), circumcision, offerings (including burnt) and feast, and washings and purifications was treated as a part of religious decency, and for the most part, they treated each other with respect and decency; we find this out when he states "indeed cheerfulness and affability are two of the leading characteristics of our nation." It is obvious that this is what he thinks life is all about, which this is the basis (thesis) of his religious beliefs. We will soon find out from his description of despicable, inhumane treatment on slave ships and Christianity as taught by the slave masters that religion can be taught in many different ways and levels, but "true" religion is what one finds inside himself.

In chapter II, Olaudah Equiano vividly recounts the distress and isolation that he felt during the Middle Passage to Barbados and his fear that the "European slavers would eat him." Moreover, he despondently recants his memories of the savage manner in which whites acted and the instances of brutal cruelty towards both whites and blacks. In particular, he mentions his experience of being flogged for failing to eat and of seeing "one white man who was flogged so unmercifully that he died." In the opinion of most, this is definitely not a form of Christianity.

After surviving the journey, Equiano was baptized a Christian in London at St. Margaret's Church in 1759. In chapter IV of his narrative, he explains that a female relation of his master often told him that he could not go to Heaven unless he was baptized. He asked this woman, Miss Guerin, to have him baptized, and she convinced his master to do so. She then went on to teach him to read and instructed him on the principles of Christianity. For the most part he was treated very well; however, we observe near the end of the chapter, he once again sold and in

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