I seem to remember that at the end of last week’s piece I mentioned that Jim Morrison would be the subject of this article; he won’t. I will, instead, be looking at a book that covers a rather topical talking point: slavery. The book is an extract from Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography ‘The Interesting Narrative’ (1789), called ‘Sold As A Slave’. The autobiography in question was a bestseller at the time, made a celebrity of its author, and gained the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade a lot of credence. Pretty impressive for a former slave.
The reason the book this extract is taken from proved such a potent force in the fight for the aboloition of slavery is not because it necessarily rages against the abominable trade, but because it calmly outlines factors that perhaps the British and American supporters of slavery never considered, or had pushed from their minds. The opening chapter, ‘No Beasts of Husbandry’, outlines the way of life of the people of Benin, on the West-African coast (supposedly where Equiano was from), and how certain aspects of their lives were very similar to those of his (Equiano’s) European masters. For example, he claims that smoking a pipe is one of his peoples’ favourite activities. This point made me laugh when I read it, as I had a mental image of an industrialist in a stovepipe hat quietly puffing away, then letting the pipe fall from his mouth, when, aghast, he reads that line. “Well I’m damned!” He’d say. Well, possibly.
Equaino paints a portrait of a pure, healthy people, who “were totally unacquainted with swearing”, “totally unacquainted with strong or spiritous liquors” and “cheerful and affable”. Of course, to us today this is fairly meaningless, but when you consider that this book was written in 1789, it’s groundbreaking, and maybe makes Equiano as important as someone like Wilberforce in the struggle for liberation. One of the most interesting points he raises is that his own people kept slaves; but, unlike those who worked on the plantations, they were treated well, were rarely worked any harder than average labourers, and were only kept in enthrallment because they had commited crimes. Uncivilised indeed. Unfortunately, this first passage, eloquent as it is in portraying a happy, civilised race of people, is probably a fabrication. It is now believed that Equiano was born in South Carolina, and wrote the opening of his book from “good sources”. However, later chapters, in which he is taken to England and joins the Navy, are all correct, which is lucky, otherwise it might be forgotten. Incidentally, I should say that a new film, Amazing Grace, features Equiano, and is being brought out to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. But I read a review of it in the Guardian and it didn’t come out of it all that well, so…it might not be worth the money. Just read the book.
Weekly wanderings – The Hashmark has a dedicated football column (The Roaming Football column – it comes out on Fridays), but I can’t resist the temptation to briefly pass my own brand of ill-informed judgement on Steve McLaren and the England football team. The papers today claimed that the manager is to be “summoned to provide an official explanation” to the FA about the national side’s string of atrocious performances (they haven’t scored in four games, the worst spell for an England side since 1981). It seems to me that there is very little explaining to be done; McLaren has, after what I thought was a strong start, failed to provide any real leadership, and the players have badly let him down on the pitch. Should England fail to beat Andorra (who are such a minor player in world football that they don’t have a stadium big enough to accomodate matches of any scale – they play their ‘home’ games in Barcelona) it seems likely that McLaren’s head will be placed firmly beneath the executioner’s axe (along with Brian Barwick, who was the chief sponsor behind his appointment) and that the FA will gladly make the chop – they stand to lose an enormous amount of money should England fail to qualify. Once the axe falls, and the man who was always the public’s number two choice becomes the latest sacrifice made to fend of the wrath of the public, the FA will have to (finally) make a decision they are willing to stand by. Enter Big Sam stage left…
Zeitgeisting It Up! This week, it’s number five on Google’s Zeitgeist list, the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a gaudy monstrosity that juts out into the gorge 4,000 feet above the ground. Whether the experience is impressive or not, it looks horrible, and is, despite the claims made on the website, not well liked by the local tribes, for whom the construction site is sacred land. A disappointing venture.