An innumerable amount of Africans was brought across the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to the Americas in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade under harsh conditions by the Europeans, only to have them work nonstop. The European peoples were such a new concept to the Africans that they did not understand most of what they saw among them. An abundance of the enslaved died before they even got to their destinations and countless were worked to death. With strokes of good luck, some were able to work and save enough money – if it were not taken from them – to buy their freedom. An example of one of these people was Olaudah Equiano.
These new people Equiano knew nothing of shocked him. Equiano viewed the people, culture, and social values of the British Empire to be very cruel, strange, and interesting – respectfully – because he encountered various new objects, ideas, and people that he did not quite understand, but wanted to learn more about. During his travel on the Middle Passage, Equiano came across numerous devices he had not seen before. One of these bizarre devices was the very slave ship itself. There was one ship nearing the one he was on, and along with the other slaves on board the deck, they saw “the vessel stop; and were now convinced it was done by magic”. He would later come to know that an anchor had been dropped to the get the ship to stop, and sails had been raised to get the ship to move through his travels as a servant aboard slave ships. Still, on that same passage, Equiano saw the use of a navigation device – the quadrant – for the first time. He grew curious of the gadget, “often with astonishment he had seen the mariners make observations with it, and he could not think of what it meant”.
He was granted permission to look through it once, and “the clouds appeared to be land, which disappeared as they passed along”. Once again, he would result in believing this happened by enchantment. In the future, when Equiano became a free man, he would understand the use of the quadrant while learning about navigation. In addition, Equiano did not understand books. He believed that books could magically talk back. He used to “have taken up a book, and have talked to it, and then put his ears to it… in hopes it would answer”, but he discovered that it was soundless. In this sense, Equiano became much more well-informed about things that were not originally found in his country as he continued to feed his curiosity. The culture present among the British peoples was very different from the one existing in his own country. When Equiano was a slave in his own country, “the nations and people he had hitherto passed through resembled his own in their manners, customs, and language”, but when he met the British peoples, he was shocked to find that they “did not circumcise, and ate without washing their hands…and cooked also in iron pots, and had European cutlasses and cross bows… and fought with their fists among themselves”. These sort of beliefs and traditions were unheard of in the nation of Equiano’s peoples – the Iboe.
The women also differed from Equiano’s peoples “for they eat, and drank, and slept with their men”, the latter being very disgraceful and resulting in punishment by his people. However, Equiano did take a liking to the idea of a god. When he was first introduced to God, he attended his first service at a church in England and tried to understand all that he could about it, his English not being very good yet. Throughout his travels, Equiano would encounter various forms of the Christian faith, and he would pick and choose what he liked about each. Equiano agreed with John Calvin’s idea of predestination because “he was from early years a predestinarian, he thought whatever fate had determined must ever come to pass”. This implied he was a predestinarian to begin with, his country having believed in it as well. Furthermore, he found the Methodist faith to be the most promising and “was received into church-fellowship amongst them”. He even tried to convert a Musquito Indian but failed because while learning the faith, the other Musquito Indians mocked the Indian for attempting to learn it. At first, Equiano experienced culture shock and understood very little of the British mannerisms, then he continued to gain knowledge and his surprise began to lessen.
The impression of a god intrigued him, and Christianity stuck with him for the rest of his life. Upon the first encounter with the British peoples, Equiano found them to be odd-looking. He described them to be “white men with horrible looks, red faces, and long hair”. As he further observed the British peoples, he began to fear and grow a disliking towards them because they were cruel monsters in the way they treated slaves. “The white people looked and acted… in so savage a manner; for he had never seen among any people such instances of brutal cruelty”.
After having a slight taste in the slavery experienced with the British on the slave ship, Equiano much preferred slavery back in Africa – at one point, he preferred death – rather than being put under a white master. His fear of the white men increased, though his experiences were not as harsh as the ones he had witnessed. One example of a cruel act he witnessed was when “Mr. Drummond (a slave owner) … cut off a negro-man’s leg for trying to run away”. He perceived many more acts like these, some of which were harsher, all along the British Empire. Moreover, an act was established in Barbados which highlights the ruthlessness towards slaves. It states that if slave owners were to “out of wantonness, or only of bloody-mindedness, or cruel intention, willfully kill a negro, or other slave, of his own, he shall pay into the public treasury fifteen pounds sterling”. This was considered to be a minute consequence for such a disgusted crime. He continues to say that the men who commit that crime should be called “savages and brutes rather than of Christians and men”.
Equiano concluded that slavery and greed had corrupted the British peoples. Nevertheless, there were some exceptions like his Quaker master, Robert King – the man who would grant Equiano his freedom – and also many people he met in London. After he was granted his freedom, he would come to grasp that free men were not so different from enslaved men. He even thought free black men might be treated worse because they had no rights and no chances for amends. One day, when he visited his enslaved friend, Mosa, Equiano came in danger of being whipped because they had a light on in the house after nine o’clock. Though Equiano was free at the time, he did not receive “the same liberty” his friend, who had protection from his master, had received. Although in London, it was much nicer. He met very respectful people. To elaborate, some “friendly ladies asked him what he meant to do with himself, and how they could assist him”. He was recommended a gentleman and took upon the hair-dressing profession, in which he would earn some money. Equiano discovered that the people in the British Empire were different than those in London, in that one area had savages and the other had well-mannered people.
All in all, Equiano’s experiences shaped the way he viewed the British peoples, calling attention to the actualities of slavery. He would uncover and learn about new, peculiar gadgets, become disgusted towards the barbaric culture of the British, and realize that British men untouched by the evils of slavery were kind, polite people, but as soon as they acquired land and slaves, they would be overcome by greed and greed would lead their lives. The never-before-seen European peoples affected the African peoples widely and negatively.