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Olaudah Equiano and Bartolome de las Casas

Citing the writings of Olaudah Equiano and Bartolome de las Casas, discuss the brutal treatment of slaves, both native and African.

Present paper utilizes first hand accounts to study the treatment of slaves, both native and African. It discusses the autobiographical account “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Gustavus Vassa,” by ex-slave Olaudah Equiano by providing an outline of his narrative. The book starts with the kidnapping and voyage on a slave ship and discusses the hard experiences of the slaves. The present paper then turns to the Spaniards’ dealing with the slaves, with mention of the work “Apologetic History of the Indies,” written by Bartolome de las Casas.

Olaudah Equiano

An anti-slavery movement is a movement for the elimination of slavery. In the history of the USA, it was called abolitionism. The origin of the abolitionism can be traced back to the 16th century. In 1542, the King of Spain, created the New Laws, which abolished slavery of the original inhabitants. The King of Spain Charles I was actually influenced by Bartolome de las Casa, who criticized the forced labor.

By the 18th century, when the African slave trade was very wide-spread, the abolitionism had begun to take form. Black people themselves, including Olaudah Equiano, were central in Britain’s anti-slavery movement (Snodgrass, 2009). Important writer Olaudah Equiano lived during the colonial period. He was the first slave to write an autobiography – an early pattern of the slave narrative genre. Olaudah depicts the horrors of his captivity and enslavement in the West Indies.

Olaudah depicts himself after being kidnapped. Equiano was living in a village in Benin. This is what he wrote about the day when he and his sister were kidnapped, “Once I and my sister were left at home. Two guys and a woman came to us and seized us both… they ran off with us into the wood…we were then unbound; but were not capable to take any food… The first object I saw on the coast was the sea, and a slave ship… These filled me with amazement, which was soon transformed to terror, when I was carried on board” (Equiano, 1789). Not long after children were kidnapped, Olaudah was separated from sister and forced to undergo the life as a slave. Olaudah Equiano was given a name Gustavus Vassa. Individuality was not an alternative during the slavery. Slaves lived with the names given by their owners. However, this is far from the worst that slaves had to endure according to Equiano. I was astonished about Equiano because he endured all the tragedies that happened to him. Then, he even managed to write and publish a book containing his experience. Equiano wrote about the unfairness of slaves’ life, «Let the haughty European remember that his ancestors were uncivilized and barbarous like the Africans. Did nature make them inferior to their sons? And should they too have been born slaves? Each rational mind answers, no” (Equiano, 1789).

Bartolomé de Las Casas

African slaves were initially brought to the New World right after unearthing by Christopher Columbus. Upon his arrival in the Bahamas, Christopher caught some natives for the “education” on his arrival to Spain. The importation of black slaves to work hard in the America was the motivation of the Spanish bishop, Bartolomé de Las Casas. The Spanish people ware overworking the Indians and providing them practically nothing to eat. Slaves caught diseases and passed away in large groups. “The native population dies or lives worse than death. They have been split as if they were herds of cattle, among the Spaniards and assigned by a certain amount to each to become slaves” (Las Casas, 1997). That is what de Las Casas wrote to help Europeans realize how poorly the Indians were being treated. The first European struggles against slavery took place in the colonial era. A few individuals, mostly priests, were tired of the Spanish enslavement of Indian people, and they wrote their protests against slavery. Among these clerics was de Las Casas, who started his campaign against Indian slavery.

Bartolomé de Las Casas was credited with first criticizing the enslavement of Indians by Europeans. His books, influence, and religious convictions would finally earn him the title “Apostle of the Indies.” In his works De Las Casas depicts the violence done to the native population by the Spaniards, who claimed to be Christians. The work reflects regret and sorrow. A sorrow that the author feels should be repaid by an alteration in treatment towards the slaves (Snodgrass, 2009).

The human beings living in the America opposed the effort by the Europeans to take over their territory. One of the most significant fights took place in Cuba in 1512. Conflict was guided by Hatuey. According to de Las Casas Hatuey asserted: “These tyrants tell us they adore a God of equality, yet they take our land and make us slaves. They speak of an immortal soul, and yet they steal from us, violate our daughters. Unable of matching us in courage, cowards cover themselves with iron that our weapons can’t break” (Las Casas, 1997).

Bartolome did so much for the right treatment of the Indians. He cared for these people and their well-being. He wrote, “The ground why the Christians have killed a huge number of people is that they have been moved by desire to enrich themselves” (Las Casas, 1997). Nowadays De Las Casas is appreciated as the first European who spoke out against the exploitation of human beings. As well as writing about the brutality of colonization, his writings fought against the notion of the Indian as a second-rate race. Las Casas asserted they were indeed “fully rational beings with a culture which, though certainly “primitive”, was equal to anything which the Old World had created” (Las Casas, 1997).


Present paper used first hand narratives to investigate the treatment of slaves, both native and African. I discussed the book “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Gustavius Vassa,” by Equiano and the work “Apologetic History of the Indies,” by de las Casas. I was interested in understanding the inner world of slave trade. We have received the general understanding of the history of slavery. Also, we have received the understanding of how the slavery was viewed by people most influenced by it – by the native population of the colonized land and the Africans who were caught, sold and exported to the other lands to work for the profit of human beings they may never known had existed, until their passing away.


Works Cited

1. Equiano, Olaudah. “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African.” Google Books. 1789. Web. 21 January 2012.
2. Las Casas, Bartolomé de. “Apologetic History of the Indies.” Columbia University Sources of Medieval History. Extracts. 29 August 1997. Web. 21 January 2012.
3. Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. “Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire (Literary Movements)”. Facts on File; 1 edition. Google Books. October 2009. Web. 21 January 2012.