Olaudah Equiano (1745 – 1797) was born around 1745 in what is now southeastern Nigeria. About age eleven, Equiano was kidnapped and exchanged to slavers trafficking human cargo for the Caribbean market. In 1766, Equiano purchased his freedom and settled in England the next year. In 1789, Equiano published his two-volume autobiography. In this selection, Equiano, from his “slender observation” as a child, centered his recollections on his natal village, the arts and technologies of society, and the general structure and working of that village. From this perspective, he offers some insights into the local meaning of “slaves” and “slavery” and does so in comparative perspectives.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Mohammed Ali Ben Said settled in Alabama, where his narrative and the paper trail for his life ends, but where the research for my Transatlantic Africa book began. Transatlantic Africa: 1440-1888 retold the story of transatlantic slaving through the lived experiences and intellectual history of Africans who lived through it. In that way, uncovering Mohammed’s story was fortuitous because Mohammed was an African, a Muslim, and an enslaved or indentured person for most of his remarkable life. For all these insights Mohammed’s extraordinary story provided, it left an equal amount of questions. These questions became the legs of my research, conveying it along an exploratory journey.