chapter  4
12 Pages

The Limitations of “History”

Chika Ezeanya’s Re-Visioning of the Early Years of Olaudah Equiano and Slavery in Before We Set Sail
WithPortia Owusu

The discussion in this chapter begins with the obvious contention Ezeanya takes with History and historiography by revisiting Equiano’s autobiography to fill the “gaps” within it. Vincent Caretta’s 2005 biography of Equiano controversially raised doubts over the reliability and truthfulness of Equiano’s autobiography (see: Caretta, Vincent. Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-made Man. Athens: The University of Georgia, 2005). I assert that by focusing on the “missing” years of Equiano in Africa (that is the first twelve years of his life that are uncovered in Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative), Ezeanya re-visions Equiano’s early life to critique History as inherently incomplete, Western and incapable of representing the African experience of slavery. The discussion moves on to talk about the “alternative” methodologies of histories that she uses in her novel. I argue that her novel serves as an example of African historiography that was developed in the mid-twentieth century by African historians and which was tied to the politics of decolonialisation and independence.