The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings - Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

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Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

The author first offers an apologia, stating why he has chosen to write his narrative. He does not wish to be vain, which is the danger with writing about one's self. Rather, he wishes to celebrate God, for God has made him a favorite and bestowed him with a great deal of favor, especially in contrast to his enslaved African countrymen. If he is able to provide a little satisfaction and promote "the interest of humanity" to the small circle of acquaintances which has requested this narrative, he will consider the narrative a success.

Olaudah Equiano is born in the African territory of Guinea, in the kingdom of Benin, in the remote province of Eboe, in 1745. In his childhood, he never encounters a white man. His father is a village elder, called Embrenche, a term of great respect. Scarification of the forehead is involved in adopting this title. Embrenche punish crimes, conduct trade, and generally run government; Equiano is next in line to be Embrenche, as the title is hereditary. Of all crimes, adultery is among the worst, and is punishable by slavery or death. However, there is a double standard, and women are usually the ones tried and punished, not men. Weddings are celebrated with great feasts and communal gatherings. Once a woman is wedded to a man, she becomes that man's property, and dowry is given by parents or friends of the woman to the man in the form of land, slaves, or cattle.

Dance and music are of great importance to the Eboe culture, conducted at every festival. Men and women dress alike—a long piece of dyed blue calico is wrapped around the body. Women wear gold ornaments on arms and legs. Diet is simple and consists of goats and poultry, stewed, with spices added. Rigorous washing is observed of the hands before meal, and in general the Eboe culture places great importance on cleanliness. The chief beverage is a weak palm wine. One rare luxury the Eboe indulge in is perfume, from an odoriferous tree bark. Dwellings are simple, made of wood but with a hardened red earth wall and moat surrounding them. Men and women's living quarters are separate rooms. House-building is a communal exercise.

Goods are usually traded by barter, though sometimes a coin is used as currency. Frequent trade is conducted with a neighboring kingdom. Eboe's own products include corn, cotton, tobacco, pine apples, spices, gum, and honey. Agriculture is the chief occupation. Everyone works from a young age, and there is no such thing as unemployment or beggars. "Cheerfulness" and "affability" are cited as the two chief characteristics of Eboe people. Farming is accomplished with simple tools, and not with beasts of husbandry. Rarely, locusts swarm and devour a crop, leading to a period of famine.

Slavery is common in the region. Eboe men (and women, who are also trained in combat) will go out with spears dipped in poison to kidnap men from other districts for slavery. At other times, traders will simply barter with chiefs for slaves among the chief's people. Slaves, though segregated in society, are asked to do no more work than a free person, and in some instances own slaves themselves.

In regards to religion, Eboe people believe there is one Creator who influences events on earth. An afterlife is an unknown, undiscussed concept. Rather, spirits of the dead regularly walk the earth, and to ward off evil spirits Eboe people may make offerings of food. Circumcision "like the Jews" is observed, and children are often named for some event or circumstances at the time of their birth. Olaudah's own first name means both fortunate, and having a loud voice. As mentioned, cleanliness is strictly observed and is part of the religious ethos. Poison is a particular superstition, and merchants may "kiss" their edible wares to assures buyers that they are not poisonous.

Equiano lastly makes his case that Africans and Europeans are related. Eboe culture and religious practices are similar to the Jews in the Old Testament. Several biblical scholars have traced Africans back to sons of Abraham. Europeans were once barbarous like the Africans. As for the difference in skin color, Equiano ascribes that to the environment rather than anything innate, citing anecdotal evidence that Spaniards or Portuguese living in African areas have become "dark coloured" after a time. Many Europeans cannot see the potential for civility in the African because all they see are enslaved Africans, and slavery by its definition debases one.

This section contains 759 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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