Throughout the beginning of the semester, we have centered our class around a few key terms that we have found to be important. These terms that we have discussed thus far and will be discussing in great detail are Diaspora. Most importantly, we have discussed the story of Olaudah Equiano, who’s story is believed to have changed the course of slavery.
Diaspora is important to understand when talking about the African slave trade. Beginning with Defining Diaspora, Refining a Discourse by Kim D. Butler states “the word “diaspora” is defined, at its simplest, as the dispersal of a people from its original homeland” (Butler, “Defining Diaspora, Refining a Discourse,” p. 189). Diaspora is much more complicated than this simple definition. There are five key components in Diaspora that Butler states. The first is the dispersal to two or more locations, second is a collective mythology of homeland, the third is alienation from host land, the fourth is idealization of return to homeland and lastly is the ongoing relationship with homeland (Butler, “Defining Diaspora, Refining a Discourse,” p. 191). I agree with Butler but believe the components to diaspora have to be explained in more detail, starting with the dispersal to two or more locations. During the slave trade, millions of Africans from Western and Central Africa were sent to different regions throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. Collective mythology of homeland is the memory they hold onto about their homeland. Alienation from host land is the feeling of rejection in their host country, which increases their desire for return to their homeland. This in return causes idealization of homeland because an almost metaphysical destiny contributes to the development of personal or more official ties with their homeland. Lastly, ongoing relationship with homeland is the relationship people who are subjected to diaspora still keep their identity. African Diaspora is one of the most well known instances in history where these concepts of diaspora are seen.
African Diaspora is the term most commonly used to describe the mass dispersion of people from Africa during the Transatlantic Slave Trades, between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Africans were pressured to lose their identity and erase any memory of their home as a result of white supremacy. Even though they felt great pressure, Africans continued to hold onto their culture in the New World. A very influential man, Olaudah Equiano experienced African diaspora when he was taken from his home in Africa to be sold into the African slave trade. His story and traumatic experiences produce a very compelling argument for abolishing slavery.
Some people that come to mind when thinking about the movements to abolish slavery, we think about people like Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglas. One largely important and usually forgotten abolitionist is Olaudah Equiano. Equiano was a British citizen and former slave who became a leader of the movement that was to abolish the slave trade. His autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, contributed significantly to turning British public opinion against the slave trade. As the title suggests, Equiano was regarded as an authority on the subject of the slave trade. This is because he wrote that he had been born in Eboe, a province of the kingdom of Benin, in what is now southern Nigeria. He could recall his African childhood and describe the experience of being captured and sold into slavery. It is important to note that the practice of slavery itself was not new. Historical records attest to the existence of slaves, or people who were owned by other people, on almost every continent at various times. However, before the rise of the Atlantic trade, slavery was primarily a small-scale, domestic practice. The Atlantic slave trade was brutal and traumatic for the millions of African Americans who were forced into it. People like Olaudah Equiano is an example of someone who used their personal experience to sway the publics opinions on slavery. He worked very hard to be able to obtain the status he had by the time he passed away.
I think it is important to note Equiano’s desire for a male English identity. I believe this was an integral part for him to accomplish in order to be respected and have his voice heard. Equiano acknowledges his English shipmates as his ‘countrymen’ and proudly talks about his warm relationship with his master. Equiano states “it was now between three and four years since I first came to England, a great part of which I had spent at sea; so that I became inured to that service, and began to consider myself as happily situated; for my master treated me always extremely well; and my attachment and gratitude to him were very great. From the various scenes I had beheld on ship-board, I soon grew a stranger to terror of every kind, and was, in that respect at least, almost an Englishman (Equiano, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African,” p. 77). After years of learning how to be a proper english man, Olaudah was able to purchase his freedom. As a free man he used his personal experiences of slavery to persuade people to abolish the slavery trade. It is one of the earliest books published by a black African writer and helped influence British parliament to abolish the trade through the Slave Trade Act of 1807 (Revealing Histories Remembering Slavery, n.d.).
Even though Equiano died before Britain took action toward abolishing slavery, his narrative helped push the British into rethinking their commitment to human trafficking. Over two centuries later, Equiano’s narrative remains an important source. It is one of the most influential references that depict the human experiences during the slave trade. While he travelled promoting the book, it became hugely popular which ultimately helped the abolitionist cause.
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