Faith and Fate: Olaudah Equiano
Jonathan Lagos Professor Brillman 10 November 2011 WOH 2001 Faith and Fate: Olaudah Equiano and His Relationship with God What is worse than forcing a man away from his homeland, his family and friends, and stripping him of the most natural right to all humankind, his freedom? Perhaps nobody has experienced anything as frightening and sorrowful as those slaves who were brought to the West Indies and the Americas during the eighteenth century.
Olaudah Equiano, a native African who was kidnapped from his African tribe and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to be enslaved, shares his story with us in his autobiography “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: The Second Edition. ” Throughout Equiano’s voyages, he experiences many hardships and life-threatening situations.
His introduction to Christianity, along with his desperation to learn more about the European customs and traditions, strengthens Equiano’s relationship with God and leads him to strongly believe in a divine providence, or fate, which helps him endure the struggles he faces throughout his enslavement and leads to his conversion of Christianity. Before going into detail about his enslavement, Equiano explains how his recollection of his childhood in the African village named Igbo is not a strong memory.
He does, however, explain that the native Africans believed in “one Creator of all things, and that he lives in the sun, and is girted round with a belt that he may never eat or drink. ” (51) This at least resembles a little similarity with Christianity in the monotheistic belief of one God who created all things. Soon after he and his sister were kidnapped and taken away from their family, they were further separated from each other which brought great grief upon them. Moreover, Equiano was boarded onto a slave ship. Realizing that he would never return to his native land, he “now wished for the last friend, death, to retrieve” him. 65) Equiano was shipped, in the sense which he describes slaves as being treated as mere cargo, to Virginia where he worked on a plantation for a short amount of time. There, he describes his stay as a burden because he had nobody to talk to since the other slaves were not of his village and did not speak his language. Because he couldn’t understand anybody, he found himself creating a stronger relationship with God. Soon enough, the “kind and unknown hand of the Creator (who in very deed leads the blind in a whey they know not) now began to appear” as he was being purchased by his soon-to-be master named Pascal. 71) This is the first instance where Equiano mentions God’s guidance and assistance throughout his experiences. With his first master, Equiano was very fortunate to be treated well and was even taught how to read and write. He became amazed of the white people he associated with, viewed them as superior to Africans, and wanted to be like them. During his time in London, Equiano was baptized at the age of fourteen. His relationship with God grew quickly as he was exposed to things he’s never seen before and needed answers.
Everything “uncommon,” Equiano explains, such as “every escape, or signal deliverance, either of myself or others, I looked upon to be effected by the interposition of Providence. ” (90) From scenes of Mr. Mondle being saved and almost being blown into pieces during one of the battles at sea to Equiano purchasing turkeys instead of bullocks during his voyage as a merchant, Equiano believed God was controlling their fates. At one point in his narrative, he explains how he so greatly believed in God that he began to fear Him, instead of man.
There is no doubt that Equiano’s relationship with God can be compared to a roller-coaster ride. There were many occasions in which Equiano thanked the “invisible hand of God” such as avoiding his leg getting amputated at St. George’s Hospital, falling into the hands of his second master Robert King and his Captain Doran who taught him navigation, and purchasing his freedom which Equiano remembered Psalm 126 which reads, “I glorified God in my heart, in whom I trusted. ” (135) As every roller-coaster that goes up must come down, so did Equiano’s relationship at times.
The most notable example in which he was not so pleased with God was when Equiano thought he was going to be a free man after working for his first master, but was surprised by re-entering a “new slavery. ” Equiano says that he believed this disappointment was a way the Lord was punishing him as a “judgment of Heaven on account of my presumption of swearing. ” (99) Also, when Equiano and an older man were robbed of their fruit bags by white men and were only given back two out of three bags, Equiano explains how he could not see how he could still trust the Lord after almost all his fortune was lost.
He even questions God after witnessing the number of slaves being treated maliciously during his time in the West Indies. In one of his encounters with a slave who was a fisherman, Equiano listens to one of his stories about a white man stealing his fish. Because there is no redress on earth, the fisherman says, “I must look up to God Mighty in the top for right. ” (112) Although Equiano’s relationship with God was weak at times, he fought to keep it strong through promises he made when he faced tough situations.
When he was very sick and was about to die, Equiano promised God that he would be good from there on. Also, when Equiano was sailing to Georgia in obligation to his former master King, he promised God not to swear anymore after having to experience two shipwrecks. Equiano believed the two ruins to be a sign of divine punishment and their safety being a sign of forgiveness from God. Later on his life, Equiano travels to various other places such as the North Pole and Turkey and learns more about Jesus Christ. As a result, Equiano converted to Christianity and even travelled to Nicaragua to try and convert others.
Through faith and the belief in fate, Equiano was able to survive the hardships he encountered throughout his life. They gave him a sense of hope and opportunity. Whenever Equiano’s life was in jeopardy, God seemed to answer his calls and pleas for forgiveness. His baptism, promises to God, conversion to Christianity, and belief in fatalism of Providence all exemplify how religion has played a significant role in his life. Works Cited Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the LIfe of Olaudah Equiano. Ed. Robert J. Allison. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2007. Print