Cugoano was born in the 1750’s in present day Ghana. In his home village he and his family were very close to the chief and even lived for a time in his home. At about 13 years of age, while visiting family in another village further north, he and some friends defied the advice of adults and ventured into the forest to play. There they were captured by another tribe and sold into slavery. At this link you can read more of his his early life and capture. After several years of plantation slavery on the Island of Granada he was sold to a British man and taken to England where he obtained his freedom and formally became a Christian. In 1787 he published “Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evils of Slavery”. This was the first major abolitionist work published by an African in English.
In this work he wrote that for Christians to be involved in slavery and the slave trade is … “contrary to all the laws and duties of Christianity which the scriptures teach, they have in general endeavoured to keep the Black People in total ignorance as much as they can, which must be a great dishonor to any Christian ….” Cugoano understood that slavery and involvement in the slave trade was blasphemous to Christ and any positive witness to his name.
I am impressed at how this man who had suffered so greatly in the middle passage and on the plantations was so willing to realize that the evil was in rejecting God’s plan and will, not merely because of one’s race or culture. Cugoano wrote in “Thoughts and Sentiments..”
- But I must own, to the shame of my own countrymen, that I was first kidnapped and betrayed by some of my own complexion, who were the first cause of my exile, and slavery; but if there were no buyers there would be no sellers.
- So far as I can remember, some of the Africans in my country keep slaves, which they take in war, or for debt; but those which they keep are well fed, and good care taken of them, and treated well; and as to their clothing, they differ according to the custom of the country. But I may safely say, that all the poverty and misery that any of the inhabitants of Africa meet with among themselves, is far inferior to those inhospitable regions of misery which they meet with in the West-Indies, where their hard-hearted overseers have neither Regard to the laws of God, nor the life of their fellow-men.
- Thanks be to God, I was delivered from Grenada, and that horrid brutal slavery.
Amoung other things, Ottobah Cugoano is an inspiration to me in his ability to:
- Always see God’s hand – throughout his slavery and capture he constantly saw God’s provision in contrast to man’s barbarity
- Truth over tribalism – He was concerned with proclaiming TRUTH not in continuing tribal / racial hostilities
- Never forget roots – He strove to remember with pride, his past and encouraged other slaves and freemen to do the same
What lessons can Cugoano teach us today?
- Cugoano, Ottobah Funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities supported the electronic publication of this title. Text scanned (OCR) by Bethany Ronnberg Images scanned by Bethany Ronnberg Text encoded by Sarah Reuning and Natalia Smith First edition, 1999 ca. 50K Academic Affairs Library, UNC-CH University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1999.
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