Olaudah Equaino

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Almost everything we know about the first ten years of Equiano's life we find from Equiano's own account in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, published in 1789. In this, Equiano tells us that he was born around the year 1745 in an area called 'Eboe' in Guinea. Ibo (or Igbo) is one of the main languages of present day Nigeria. Equiano tells us that he was the son of a chief, and that at about the age of eleven he and his sister were kidnapped while out playing, and were marched to the coast and put on board a slave ship. Equiano then endured the middle passage on a slave ship bound for the New World. Equiano's accounts of Africa and the middle passage have became famous. In recent years, however, it has been suggested by Vincent Carretta that Equiano may not have been born in Africa at all. According to Carretta, Equiano may have been born a slave in South Carolina - at that time one of the thirteen British colonies in North America. Indeed, if Carretta's evidence - Equiano's baptismal records, and a naval muster roll - is accurate, there is a possibility that Equiano never visited Africa. The early parts of his autobiography may reflect the oral history of other slaves, combined with information Equiano gleaned from books he had read about Africa. While Carretta's research opens up a very important debate, we do need to be cautious. Carretta's research strongly suggests that the young Equiano told people that his birthplace was Carolina. However, as a slave and later a recently freed slave, Equiano might have had any number of reasons to disguise his true origins. Indeed, although we can be reasonably sure that Equiano sometimes told people he was from Carolina, there is no conclusive proof that his birthplace was actually there and, until such proof emerges (if it ever does), there is no real reason to doubt the essential truth of Equiano's account of his childhood in Africa. Even if it is ever proved that...
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