Debating Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano Vincent Carretta and Paul Lovejoy debate Olaudah Equiano’s origins in the December 2006 and April 2007 issues of Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post Slave Studies.

The debate surrounds Vincent Carretta’s argument that there is convincing evidence that Equiano was not an African, as he claimed, but was born as a slave in South Carolina. In his biography of Equiano, Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self Made Man (University of Georgia Press, 2005), Carretta claims that Equiano fashioned an identity for himself as “the African,” partly as a rhetorical strategy to sway readers towards abolitionism.

In, “Autobiography and Memory: Gustavus Vassa, alias Olaudah Equiano, the Africa,” in the December 2006 issue of Slavery & Abolition, Paul Lovejoy disagrees:

Recent scholarship has raised doubts about whether or not abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, who was known in his own lifetime as Gustavus Vassa, was born in Africa. While baptismal and naval documents indicate that he was born in South Carolina, it is argued here that his autobiographical account is nonetheless accurate, although allowing for reflection and information that was learned later in life. Information on facial markings (ichi) and other cultural features that are recounted in Vassa’s account indicate that he had first hand experience of his Igbo homeland and that he was about the age he thought he was at the time of his forced departure from the Bight of Biafra on a slave ship in 1754. (Abstract from S&A website)

Vincent Carretta’s “Response” and Paul Lovejoy’s return, “Issues of Motivation: Vassa/Equiano and Carretta’s Critique of the Evidence” can both be found in the April 2007 issue.

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One thought on “Debating Olaudah Equiano

  1. Just started reading Vincent Carretta’s “revisiting of the same old arguments concerning Equaino” that were expressed when THE INTERESTING NARRATIVE was first published. Disappointed I did not take seriously the “researched re-creation” part of Henry Gates Review. Nothing new the same prejudiced views not taking in to consideration the records he refers to are in question. How accurate were many of the records whites kept concerning blacks. Why Wold any brother knowning the potentially horrible events of his sisters new life want to then add to them by Publishing her name adding insult to injury. MR. Carretta is recreating what he perfers to be Equiano’ life. More than 200 years after pubication and this is all he can come up with. Uncle Tom’s Cabin I feel he would belive every word as true and Historically correct.
    I feel his arguments would not be made if Equiano were european. I want my money back. To be fair he provides data that informs the reader not in specific detail but in general terms other relavent historical events to the period of Equiano’s autobiography.

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