Title: The Kidnapped Prince
Author: Olaudah Equiano
Recommended Ages: 12 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★
Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!
So, have any of you watched Amazing Grace starring Ioan Gruffudd and Romola Garai? If so, you may remember the black man who urged Wilberforce to engage in the fight against slavery, and who later wrote an autobiography of his life. The Kidnapped Prince is a condensed version of that autobiography. : O
Olaudah was born in Essaka, an African village not far from the Equator. The son of one of the leaders in their community, Olaudah is a child specially marked for distinction among the rulers of his land. For he shall soon inherit his father’s role as embrenche in the village – one of the great judges.
But before Olaudah can receive this distinction, he is cruelly ripped away from his village by the dreaded slave traders. Where will they take him? Will Olaudah ever see his family again?
The religious setting of this book is unique. As a child, Olaudah is a member of a tribe that believed in
a god – one Creator of all things, who lived in the sun. He didn’t eat or drink, we thought, because of a belt that he wore tight around his waist. But sometimes, like us, he smoked a pipe.
We believed God controlled everything that happened. Especially, we thought, he decided things about our death, or our capture in a battle. Also we believed that our dear friends and relations who had died watched over us and guarded us from bad spirits and from our enemies. [pgs. 4-5]
Olaudah writes that his tribe would make offerings to the spirits of his ancestors on New Year’s Day. They also had wise men who foretold events.
As Olaudah is brought into the white man’s world, he must adjust to all of the new information he is receiving. He initially believes that the white men are spirits come from another world but quickly learns his error. He also believes that the ship he is on is governed by magic, but again, he discovers his mistake. Most of all, he is astonished to find that the white men do not offer sacrifices to their God and ancestors. He begins to attend church with his master (having learned some English) and when he learns that he ‘can’t go to Heaven unless he is baptized’ he takes prompt action. He is baptized into Christianity. A friend reads the Bible to him and from then on out, Olaudah subscribes to the Christian God. He never states any of his beliefs about God, but his continual references to God, Heaven, and Providence seem to show that he was genuine in whatever those beliefs were. After Olaudah is sold to another master, he writes,
I creid very bitterly for some time. Then I began to think I must have done something to displease God – He was punishing me so severely. I thought about my past conduct and remembered something: the morning we arrived in Deptford I had said to myself, “When we reach London, I swear I’ll spend the whole day having fun!”
Now my conscience smote me for this casual expression, because I had sworn. I begged God’s forgiveness. I prayed for him not to abandon me, nor cast me from his mercy forever.
In a little while my grief was spent with its own violence. It began to subside. My first confusion was over, and I thought with more calmness. I considered that trials and disappointments are sometimes for our good. I thought God might perhaps have permitted this, in order to teach me wisdom and resignation.
These thoughts gave me a little comfort. I got up from the deck with dejection and sorrow in my face, yet with some faint hope that God would deliver me. [pg. 69]
Apparently God did deliver him, for later he writes, “It reconciled me to my situation and made me bless God for the hands into which I had fallen.” [pg. 77] There are many other refereces to God – thanks for His blessings, despair under his anger, etc.
The only deviation from this occurs when Olaudah visits a fortune teller who fortells the next year and a half of his life with precision. All that she says comes true, and then Olaudah goes right back to talking about God!
Olaudah writes that “white clerks often abused them [slaves] terribly, especially the women and girls.” [pg. 79] He does not say how they are abused.
After Olaudah receives his freedom he says that “some black women who used to pretend not to notice me began to pay me a lot of attention.” [pg. 111]
Olaudah mentions that some of the leaders in his tribe had more than one wife. He also says that all members of the tribe, including women and children, were trained in war and participated in fights alongside the men.
Olaudah records some of the horrors that slaves underwent.
While I was on this plantation, the owner of it got sick, and I was sent to his house. When I walked into the house, I saw a black woman slave, who was cooking the dinner. She was working cruelly loaded down with strange iron devices.The worst was one on her head. It locked her mouth so tight that she could scarcely speak, and could not eat or drink. Later I found out this horrible thing was called an “iron muzzle.” [pg. 34]
There are more descriptions such as these, and although they are all disgusting, they are not gory. And, Olaudah admits that “the cruelty wasn’t only to us blacks, but also towards some of the whites themselves. Once I saw a white man flogged so unmercifully with a rope that he died; and they tossed him over the side of the ship like a dead animal.” [pg. 29] The point is, that whenever a cruel man is given unchecked authority over others, abuse is sure to follow.
‘Hell’ is used once. Olaudah says ‘damn’ once and immediately regrets it. “I believed swearing was a sin. Right away my conscience smote me.” [pg. 120]
Conclusion. An excellent read that will give your children a better understanding of the moral/political turmoil of the 18th century.