In March 1775 Equiano left again for Cadiz. The trip was smooth sailing until they reached the bay, where the ship struck against a rock. Most people began to weep and shout, but Equiano didn’t fear death. Many other ships soon came to their aid and helped bring the ship ashore. They continued on to Malaga, where Equiano remarked on the fine cathedral, but was shocked at the customs of bullbaiting on Sundays. He engaged in conversation with a priest in which each tried to convert the other to his own church. This priest thought it improper that regular people should read the Bible, but Equiano vehemently disagreed. The priest also said Equiano should go to a Spanish university: he might even become a black Pope, like Pope Benedict. Though tempted, Equiano thought it would be hypocritical to accept.
Many times in the past, Equiano has been on the verge of death on a ship, but now he no longer fears what may happen to him because he is free of the fear that a dangerous circumstance is punishment for his own sins. As he travels around, he is newly aware of whatever he encounters that has to do with Christianity. He also engages with the differences between Catholicism, the religion of Spain, and the Protestantism of the Church of England. Historically a great difference between the two was whether the church discouraged or encouraged regular people’s reading of the Bible.
The ship continued to Cadiz and then returned to England. The winds were against them and the captain often swore and took God’s name in vain. One day a young passenger rebuked the captain for it, and Equiano seconded him: the captain remained silent. Soon enough, though, Providence looked kindly on them: Equiano spotted a small boat with eleven half-drowned men who had abandoned their ship. Upon being rescued, they thanked God, and Equiano was touched. The captain remarked that God had given him a means of repenting.
Equiano is eager for others to gain spiritual understanding of the kind that he has, but he’s also aware that as a black man, he must be far more careful with what he says than a white person. Nonetheless, the captain does seem to have had a change of heart in that he becomes more interested in doing good and in looking for signs of Providence.
That November, Dr. Irving bought a large ship with the plan of cultivating a plantation in Jamaica and in the Musquito Shore, and he wanted Equiano to go with him. Equiano accepted, hoping to be able to convert some of the natives. Equiano met four Musquito Indian chiefs who would be returning to their home; although they’d been baptized, they hadn’t been to church since, so Equiano accompanied them to church before sailing. During the trip Equiano instructed the Musquito Prince George in Christianity, and he seemed enthusiastic. At the end of the trip, some sailors began to mock Prince George for his conversion. While Prince George refused to join their side, he also no longer wanted to spend time with Equiano. Prince George asked Equiano why the white men who can read and write and “know all things” still swear, lie, and get drunk. Equiano said that they failed to fear God, but Prince George remained sad and depressed.
Although Equiano’s initial baptism was not entirely his own idea (indeed, it only took place because of the violent imperialism of the slave trade that he is now agitating against), he does now believe it useful to convert other “natives.”. For Equiano, this is not really a paradox or contradiction because what is at stake is not earthly wealth but eternal salvation. Nevertheless, the Indian chief whom he tries to convert does recognize much of the same hypocrisy that Equiano has understood in the past; the difference is perhaps that Equiano thinks such hypocrisy doesn’t challenge the very basis of the religion.
In mid-January they arrived in Jamaica, where Equiano took the Musquito Prince George to church. He also accompanied Irving to purchase some slaves for the plantation, choosing men from his own country. In February they sailed from Jamaica to the Musquito Shore, where they took leave of the Indians, whom they never saw again. They chose a spot near a riverbank with rich soil while sending the ship on to trade in the north, though the ship was stolen by a Spanish guarda costa. Nonetheless, they stayed in the place, preparing the plantation.
Although Equiano has spent a great deal of time with Prince George, ultimately he leaves him without knowing whether his arguments have had any effect. In a strange twist, Equiano, having once been a slave on a plantation, is now working on it as a potential founder and owner. What could seem like hypocrisy is, in the narrative, meant as a sign of how far he’s come.
The Indians often came to trade with them. Equiano noticed that the husbands never had more than two wives, and the men and women ate separately. They had simple manners and never swore. Equiano never saw them worship, but most Europeans didn’t worship either.
Equiano continues to be sensitive to cultural differences, and open to the possibility that there can be difference and variety without innate superiority and inferiority of cultures.
The Indian Governor came to trade with them too, but he and his compatriots were loud and unruly. That night they got drunk and the governor struck one of the friendlier chiefs and stole his hat. Irving fled, leaving Equiano alone with the group. Equiano remembered a passage from a life of Columbus he’d read and he began to threaten them all with the wrath of God in heaven, pointing upward and at his Bible. They were stunned and frightened, and peace immediately ensued.
In another strange anecdote, Equiano draws a lesson from Columbus, the prototypical colonizer, whose voyages unleashed centuries of exploration, slavery, and imperialism. But Equiano has striven to become a part of this culture rather than fight against it. His very use of the Columbus story signals the fallacy of Europeans’ arguments about African inferiority.
Equiano observed the natives making a potent alcoholic drink out of roasted and fermented pineapples, a task that involved many men, women, and children. They also ate tortoises and alligators. He and Dr. Irving were invited to a feast, where they observed ritual killing of alligators.
Rather than condemn different cultures and traditions as bizarre and wrong, Equiano observes them and is fascinated by their particularities. He enjoys being able to participate in local customs.
The rainy season was very heavy that year, and Equiano, who thought this was God’s punishment for working on Sundays, longed to return to England. In mid-June he found the courage to ask leave of Irving, who finally consented and gave him a certificate of good behavior, which Equiano transcribes in his narrative. The slaves from his country were sorry to see him leave, since he always treated them well. He left and found a ship heading from the Musquito shore to Jamaica. That night, Hughes, one of its owners, asked him to keep sailing with this ship: when Equiano refused, he swore and angrily asked how Equiano became free. As Hughes continued to rage, Equiano said he’d never seen such sinfulness among the Turks, who weren’t even Christians. Now enraged, Hughes said he’d never let Equiano leave. He had his men tie Equiano and hoist him up, where he hung all night. He begged some slaves to let him down, which they did, though they were whipped for doing so later.
Equiano’s certificate of good behavior will enable him to obtain decent employment back in England, and it’s significant that Equiano doesn’t just tell about the certificate but he actually transcribes it in his narrative itself. In a society that continues to place more trust in the words of white people than in black people, Equiano works within that system of racial prejudice in order to ensure that he can survive and even thrive since he has the backing of white people. The next anecdote only underlines, though, how fragile Equiano’s independence and strategic manipulation of racism can be.
The next morning, after the sailors had lifted the anchor, they finally released Equiano, who asked an acquaintance to intercede. The acquaintance obtained a canoe for Equiano to slip out in while the captain was below deck, and Equiano barely escaped. He went straight to the other owner to tell him of what had happened, and this man apologized and treated him kindly. Equiano continued to an admiral who was staying with the Musquito Indians; the admiral sent five Indians to accompany Equiano back to another ship headed for Jamaica.
Equiano, by this point, has spent enough time in seamanship all around the world that he has a network of friends and acquaintances upon whom he can rely. Still, although the captain apologizes, Equiano doesn’t get any kind of legal, institutionalized redress for what has happened to him. He can only move forward and try to prevent it from happening again.
Equiano was forced, on this ship, to participate in hard labor like cutting mahogany wood. One day they met a smaller ship commanded by John Baker, who offered to take Equiano to Jamaica immediately. Equiano agreed, but couldn’t get the captain to let him go. Finally, though, he managed to sneak into the other ship. Nonetheless, Baker had lied, and they now headed to Cartagena. Baker treated Equiano cruelly.
Reeling from one instance of unjust racialized treatment, Equiano attempts to escape from his situation only to find new complications plaguing him and reminding him of the situation of enslavement and captivity that he thought he’d escaped.
The ship sailed past many uninhabited islands, where Equiano cut down coconut trees. He had been a whole day without food when he prayed to God for relief. Immediately, he saw a large fish that had jumped onto the deck: he gave thanks to God. Another time Baker was in a temper and began to strike Equiano. Baker threatened to blow up the ship with his gunpowder, so Equiano grabbed an ax and put himself in between the man and the gunpowder. He prayed for relief until the captain’s anger started to subside.
In other situations aboard other ships, Equiano has been more of a partner to his different captains, even if some of them have treated him unjustly as well. Now, though, Equiano finds himself entirely on his own, forced to do whatever he can to survive against a cruel and even erratic overseer.
The next day they passed another ship headed for Jamaica that happened to be carrying Dr. Irving,, but Baker wouldn’t allow Equiano to leave. Equiano learned that the plantation he’d left had hired a white overseer who was inhumane and cruel to the slaves. They all had attempted to escape in canoes but every one of them drowned, so Dr. Irving was returning to Jamaica to buy more slaves. Upon landing, Baker refused to pay Equiano his wages, and, even with Dr. Irving’s help, no magistrate agreed to help Equiano. Another time Equiano accompanied a black tailor to a man who owed him money, and the man tried to beat him. Equiano wanted to get off the island as soon as possible, and finally he found a ship bound for England. He later learned that Dr. Irving had died not long after from eating poisoned fish. Upon arriving in Plymouth he went to London, thanking God for his mercy.
Equiano had believed that, although he himself wasn’t in a position to get rid of slavery, he could set a better example by treating his own slaves more kindly. Now, though, the narrative highlights the fact that the very nature of slavery means that cruelty and inhumanity are always possible, if not inevitable. It seems that Equiano had been correct to decide that he would avoid Jamaica if at all possible: between cruel slavery, Equiano’s own captivity aboard ships, and his inability to be treated fairly as a merchant, he is eager to return to England.