Surely this traffic cannot be good, which spreads like a pestilence, and taints what it touches! -Olaudah Equiano,

Art History I, Fall 2019 QUIZ #3

Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (PART TWO: Volume 1, chapters 1-6, or pp. 30-117)


Surely this traffic cannot be good, which spreads like a pestilence, and taints what it touches! -Olaudah Equiano, Ch. 5


Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano was written in 1789 during the height of the 18th century’s largest economic enterprise, the Atlantic slave trade (e.g. more than eleven million Africans were transported to the New World between 1518 and 1850). The trade, which began in the early 1400s when the Portuguese began trading in gold and African captives, made use of slaves from Africa to work colonial plantations particularly in the Americas and West Indies. Sugar, rum, tobacco and cotton plantations worked by African slaves were tremendous sources of wealth for American and European plantation owners. The purpose of Equiano’s text was to provide a firsthand account of his life, particularly his experience as a slave, to aid the cause of the British antislavery movement that was gaining momentum. Equiano records the experience of growing up in the Igbo village of Essaka, which was part of the larger Kingdom of Benin (situated in present day Nigeria); his capture along with his sister at a young age and his subsequent forced slavery, from which he was eventually able to free himself. Equiano’s narrative conveys the horrors of the Middle Passage (Equiano would have been one of fifty thousand Africans carried to the New World in 1756); life on a plantation in Virginia and the West Indies; as well as his life as a sailor in the British Navy -all before he has turned eighteen. We have looked at other stories this semester that are works of fiction, works of the imagination. We toured Dante’s Hell and got lost in Shakespeare’s Dream. Equiano’s narrative is nonfiction, it is a historical document, a voice from the past written with a grand purpose. The hell of the voyage on the slave ship or the treatment of slaves on the sugar plantation is a real and earthly hell, it’s manmade. Equiano’s narrative offers us a broader vision of the world in the 18th century, one that goes beyond the objects of material splendor commissioned and owned by Europe’s rich and powerful. Equiano’s story shows the other side of 18th century European splendor. For Quiz #2, we will be considering the human impact of the 18th century Atlantic slave trade, the power of literacy, and the concept of freedom and free will. Please consider and respond to the following three questions (plus one optional bonus question) relating to chapters 1-7 of Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Please number your responses corresponding to the questions and make sure to add your name and course number to properly receive credit for your work. In the interest of legibility, please hand in typewritten responses (using Google Docs, Microsoft Word, etc.). Responses are due in class November 15th. Q1: In the first three chapters of Equiano’s narrative, Equiano describes his life in the village of Essaka, and the traditions and cultural forms of the Igbo peoples found there (chapter one); he goes on to relate his subsequent kidnapping and capture, along with his sister, by African slave traders, which leads to his being separated from his sister and sold to European slave-traders that then force Equiano onto a slave ship bound for North America (chapter 2-3). For Q1, select a section of Equiano’s narrative from the first three chapters that hit you, that had an impact on you, then in two paragraphs minimum, please describe your selection and proceed to consider what aspects of humanity you find there. Possibly consider how the human actions or qualities found in your selection compare to the notions of humanity found in previous works we have read this semester. Q2: After spending some time in the American colonies, Equiano is sold to Captain Pascal, a member of the British Navy. Onboard Pascal’s ship, Equiano meets a boy that is “4-5 years older” than Equiano, Richard (Dick) Baker. Equiano’s relationship with Dick in part launches Equiano’s interest in reading and writing, which in turn



plays a crucial role in Equiano’s eventual freedom as well as his publication of his Life’s story decades later. For Q2, in two paragraphs minimum describe and consider the relationship between Equiano and the boy Richard Baker and the role that literacy plays in Equiano’s life. Q3: We have read Dante’s Inferno and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both of these works, while being works ultimately of fiction, deal with ideas of free will and freedom, how much control one might have over their choices or over their own destiny in life (or beyond in the case of Dante). For Q3, please consider the subject of freedom and free will in as found in Equiano’s narrative between chapters one and seven, this response may include not only a consideration of Equiano’s description of the institution of slavery but also Equiano’s religious views regarding salvation or Providence. Bonus Question: In Equiano’s Narrative a specific event occurs on July 11th, 1766, in one paragraph minimum, please state what this event is as well as the circumstances that led up to this event.

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