Abolition campaigner and formerly enslaved person Olaudah Equiano wrote his autobiography in 1789. Find out more about his early life in Africa by either listening to the following five audio extracts or reading the transcripts.
“The part of Africa, known by the name of Guinea, to which the trade for slaves is carried on, extends along the coast above 3400 miles, from Senegal to Angola, and includes a variety of kingdoms. Of these, the most considerable is the kingdom of Benin, both as to extent and wealth, the richness and cultivation of the soil, the power of the king and the number and warlike disposition of the inhabitants.
This kingdom is divided into many provinces or districts; in one of the most remote and fertile of which, called Eboe, I was born in the year 1745, in a charming fruitful vale named Essaka. The distance of the province from the capital of Benin and the sea coast must be very considerable; for I had never heard of white men or Europeans.”
Our tillage is exercised in a plain or common, some hours walk from our dwellings, and all the neighbors resort thither in a body. They use no beasts of husbandry; and their only instruments are hoes, axes, shovels, and beaks, or pointed iron to dig with. Sometimes we are visited by locusts, which come in large clouds, so as to darken the air and destroy our harvest. This, however, happens rarely, but when it does, a famine is produced by it.”
As our manners are simple, our luxuries are few. The dress of both sexes is nearly the same. It generally consists of a long piece of calico, or Muslin, wrapped loosely around the body, somewhat in the form of a highland plaid. This is usually dyed blue, which is our favorite color. It is extracted from a berry and is brighter and richer than any I have seen in Europe. Besides this, our women of distinction wear golden ornaments, which they dispose of with some profusion on their arms and legs. When our women are not employed with the men in tillage, their usual occupation is spinning and weaving cotton, which they afterwards dye and make into garments. They also manufacture earthen vessels, of which we have many kinds. Among the rest, tobacco pipes, made after the same fashion, and used in the same manner, as those in Turkey.”
We have many musical instruments, particularly drums of different kinds, a piece of music which resembles a guitar, and another much like a stickado. These last are chiefly used by betrothed virgins, who play on them, all grand festivals.”