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Religion & Theology
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Life of Olaudah Equiano (Book Report Sample)


The task was to review the life of Olaudah Equiano and his religious beliefs through his book; Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African by Himself, 1989.


The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African by Himself; Book Report.
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Anyone would agree with the assertion that religion had a significant influence on Olaudah Equiano’s life. In the first chapter of his Memoir, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Equiano describes how he and other Eboan Africans offered libation to their ancestral spirits. Libation was performed by pouring a little portion of the food to be served in certain places for the departed members of the community. The performance of libations was based on the Eboan Africans’ belief that the spirits of their ancestors will eat it. Equiano states that the spirits of their departed relatives and friends presided over the conduct of the members of the community and protected the members of the community from evil. Palm whine was offered as a spirituous liquor so as to appease their ancestral spirits to continue offering guidance and protection to the members of the community.  Palm whine was specifically offered during special ceremonies; conducted in shrines. Perfumes were also used in this ceremonies and it was believed the combination of spirituous liquor and perfumes was effective way to appease the ancestral spirits. Therefore, perfumes were added into the fire, applied on the bodies of the participants and applied onto the furniture so as to attract ancestral spirits to the shrine.
In addition, Equiano believed that there is one creator of all things, and he lived in the sun. The Creator did not eat, but smoked pipe, a luxury among the natives. The Creator had control over events, such as deaths and captivity. Equiano also believed that the spirits who had not moved to the other world offered protection to their live friends and relatives; therefore members of the community were expected to make regular oblations to the spirits of their ancestors.  Oblations were accompanied by night long cries and lamentations. In addition, Equiano and the New Year were welcomed with noise and jubilations. They held up their hands high so as to receive blessings from heaven. Then they made offering; the wise men handed over children, whom they believed were going to be fortunate, to different people. Besides sacrifices were offered during full moons; sacrifice meat was eaten with bitter herbs. Sacrifices were also during naming ceremonies. Children were named after events, circumstances or given fancy names. Equiano was named Olaudah or the fortunate one. Subsequently, Equiano was not allowed to pollute the object of adoration or the object itself.
In addition, Equiano states that cleanliness was an important part of his religion. For instance, whenever Equiano touched the dead, he washed up and purified himself before entering the house. Equiano states that women were at times not allowed to enter the house or touch anyone because they were unclean.  For instance, Eboan women were secluded from the community during her monthly period; women were placed in a separate house and sacrifices were made to purify them. Equiano’s mother and sister were also not allowed to eat what the other family members ate. During the period of seclusion Equiano missed his mother’s love and affection.
Additionally, Equiano’s Eboan African society had magicians and priests or wise men that were responsible for leading the community in religious activities. For instance, the Eboan Africans’ priest was responsible for counting the years for the community. The magicians were also fortune tellers. Equiano like other Eboan African men and women believed that magicians and priests were not buried by ordinary people; the magicians also resurrected in another form after they had been buried.
Throughout the memoir, Equiano compares his African religious heritage to that of the Jews. For instance, he compares the Jewish custom of cleansing after touching the dead with the Eboan African custom of purification after touching the dead. He also compares the Eboan-African circumcision ritual with the Jewish circumcision. For instance, both the Eboan African and the Jewish children who underwent circumcision were named after events or fancy names. Equiano believes that the similarity between the Jews and the Eboan-Africans was a clear indication that the two communities are the people of God. Equiano compared the Eboan-African religious customs to the state of the Jews before they reached the Land of Promise, Canaan.  Equiano believed that the Eboan-Africans and the Jews are related. He believed that the Eboan Africans were undergoing some form of evolution; this is because their form of government and religious life was similar to that of Jews before reaching the Land of Promise.
In deed, Equiano is converted to Christianity later in life. This happens sometime after he is enslaved and sent to London on a Tobacco ship. Equiano was baptized within two years of arriving in England. This came after Equiano had fallen in love with the English way of life. After baptism, Equiano experienced a number of life-threatening incidences. Notable among them is an incident where he narrowly escaped drowning; he was almost kidnapped by someone who pretended to be taking Equiano to where his (Equiano’s) sister. The other incident took place in the Mediterranean where Equiano narrowly escaped death following a fight with the French frigates.  Later on while he was in Aetna Equiano met Daniel Queen, a man who taught him how to read the Bible and pray. Such events enhanced Equiano’s Christian Faith. Later on while in England, Equiano as a fine Anglican, he was sent to Africa to serve as a missionary. This came after his encounter with Governor Macnamara in 1779. It is the Governor who noticed Equiano’s devotion to Christ that he advised Equiano to take up his role as a missionary to Africa.
In deed Equiano’s life as a Christian had a great influence on his understanding of racism. For instance, after serving in Africa as a black priest/misionary for many years; receiving recommendations from Governor Macnamara and Thomas Wallace, Lord Robert, the Lord Bishop of London, refused to ordain him as a Bishop for Anglican Church. As a Christian, Equiano is able to visualize the irrational nature of racism. Indeed it is because if Equiano’s Christian life that he was able to campaign against the oppression of the Africans through slavery. He justified his actions, for instance, by quoting Isaiah 32:8 which states that “The liberal devise liberal things, and by liberal things shall stand” and Job 30: 25, which states that “They can say with pious Job, 'Did not I weep for him that was in trouble? Was not my soul grieved for the poor?”
Equiano viewed himself as a free Negro; that is, a former slave.  This is evident where after his dismissal from the Navy, Equiano complained to the British government over his unreasonable dismissal from service. It is following his complain that he was awarded 501 sterling pounds, an amount he argued was far much higher than what a free Negro was earning in the western colonies at that time. In addition, Equiano states that in 1788 he presented a petition to the Queen on behalf of his African brothers and sisters. In the petition, Equiano wanted that the Queen to mind the suffering of millions of African slaves in the British colony of West Indies.
Equiano had two identities; that is, Olaudah Equiano and Gustavus Vassa are manifest in the Memoir. Olaudah Equiano is his original identity. However, he was branded Gustavus Vassa by his Captain and master while on board a ship to England.  In fact Equiano refused to be referred to as Gustavus Vassa, but his Captain insisted on calling him Gustavus Vassa. The Captain further threatened to e...
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