Open Access

Olaudah Equiano’s Biography: Fact or/and Fiction

   | Feb 27, 2023


This article analyzes the documentation available in an attempt to settle the controversy over the “true” date and place of birth of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavo Vassa, the African. Several original documents are analyzed, and the data is compared to the information provided by the author himself in his The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself, first published in London, in 1789. According to these documents (a baptismal record and a muster book), he was not born in Africa, in Igboland (in today’s Nigeria) as he argued in his autobiography, but in South Carolina, as he declared before those who recorded the information in the official documents. The issue of authenticity is more relevant for historical research than for literary criticism; in the case of the latter, the accuracy of the data does not significantly impact upon the literary value of his work. In conclusion, the dispute is pertinent only in the liminal space where the two contexts (historical research and literary analysis) overlap, and it currently operates with information whose relevance and usefulness depend on the framework against which it is judged.