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Lost Hebrew? Olaudah Equiano

Updated on July 14, 2014
Olaudah Equiano- From the tribe of Judah or descendant of Keturah?
Olaudah Equiano- From the tribe of Judah or descendant of Keturah?

Lost Hebrew? - Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797)

Equiano’s autobiography: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African, by Olaudah Equiano (1789), is both chilling and informative. But for the researcher looking for clues to the true identity of the slaves, this primary source helps us to persist in the unfolding of a mystery - the Hebrewisms of the men women and children known only as African slaves or Negroes, found in their names, customs, practices, and even their land, before the initiation, and proliferation of the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Home of Olaudah Equiano - Biafra West Africa 1747

The Desert of Seth in West Africa 1747
The Desert of Seth in West Africa 1747

Video: Kingdom of Juda

The Kingdom of Juda renamed the Slave Coast
The Kingdom of Juda renamed the Slave Coast

The Kingdom of Juda

Olaudah Equiano (c.1745 – 1797), was captured as a child from his hometown of Essaka in Biafra (just above the Desert of Seth), an Igbo (Eboe) village in the kingdom of Benin in what is now southern Nigeria. Equiano recalls his kidnapping at age ten and transportation to the Caribbean, where after a short stay he was sent to the English colony of Virginia. There he was purchased by a Captain Michael Henry Pascal, a British naval officer; who renamed him Gustavus Vassa, and brought to England in 1754. [You can read this hub: Maps of Africa-The Desert of Seth son of Adam for more in-depth information.]

Of particular interest is the original name of the author Olaudah. When one looks at the suffix of his first name [udah] etymologically, the connection to [J-udah] or [J-uda] is without question. His name indicates the tribe from which he originated, thus one begins to suspect that he is from the tribe of Juda that were present in West Africa. In 1747 British and French mapmakers charted a “Kingdom of Juda” on the coast of Guinea that was later renamed the “Slave Coast”. Equiano recalls:

“That part of Africa, known by the name of Guinea, to which the trade for slaves is carried on, extends along the coast above 3400 miles, from the Senegal to Angola, and includes a variety of kingdoms. Of these the most considerable is the kingdom of Benen, (Benin) both as to extent and wealth, the richness and cultivation of the soil, the power of its king, and the number and warlike disposition of the inhabitants.”

Equiano is from the Igbo (Eboe) tribe, one that exists today and recognised by many observers and commentators as being a lost tribe of Israel. Of the similarities in customs to the laws of Moses he writes: “I cannot forbear suggesting what has long struck me very forcibly, namely, the strong analogy which even by this sketch, imperfect as it is, appears to prevail in the manners and customs of my countrymen and those of the Jews, before they reached the Land of Promise, and particularly the patriarchs while they were yet in that pastoral state which is described in Genesis..” Some of these similarities are found in their religious practices. Equiano cites their belief in “one Creator of all things” the practice of circumcision, offerings and feasts according to the laws of Moses; and recalls: “Some of our offerings are eaten with bitter herbs.”

Afra Southern Africa 1680

Afra - The Land of Shem

The Patriarch Abraham

In matters of authority and leadership among his tribe, a connection to the ways and customs of the patriarchs Abraham Isaac and Jacob is alluded to when he says: “Like the Israelites in their primitive state, our government was conducted by our chiefs or judges, our wise men and elders; and the head of a family with us enjoyed a similar authority over his household with that which is ascribed to Abraham and the other patriarchs.”

During Equiano’s time theologians Dr Gill author of a bible commentary and Dr. John Clarke formed the opinion that the presence of Hebrewisms among Equiano’s tribe, and indeed the larger portion of the slaves taken from West Africa originated from a familial connection to Abraham but not through Jacob:

“Indeed this is the opinion of Dr. Gill, who, in his commentary on Genesis, very ably deduces the pedigree of the Africans from Afer and Afra, (Book of Jubilees p73) See the descendants of Abraham by Keturah his wife and concubine (for both these titles are applied to her). It is also conformable to the sentiments of Dr. John Clarke, formerly Dean of Sarum, in his Truth of the Christian Religion’: both these authors concur in ascribing to us this original.”

One can only assume these theologians may not have been acquainted with the many maps charted by Christian colonizing nations dating back to the 15th century revealing multiple biblical locations throughout the length and breadth of Africa. It is also interesting that the author himself is unable to evoke any memories as to the reason why their practices were identical to those prescribed in the Mosaic Law and practiced by the Jews.

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Oluadah Equiano in "Amazing Grace" (2006)

When Captain Pascal discovered that Equiano desired his freedom, he sold him to a Captain James Doran, who sold him on to a Quaker merchant Robert King who then loaned him to a Captain Thomas Farmer. Eventually, Equiano engaged in the enterprise of trading goods between ports and in 1766 was able to save enough money to purchase his freedom.

Equiano has been depicted in the movie "Amazing Grace", and though many historical facts have been compromised, the movie is emotive and informative giving us a visual insight into his contribution to the fight for the abolition of slavery. His narrative gives an in-depth account of his life before his capture, during enslavement and as a freedman, it gives the children of those who survived the slave trade insight into their ancestors way of life before the travesty of slavery. Thus it is a testament preserved through the ages and is to be added to that remnant of sources preserved for Equiano’s nation from the 18th-20thcenturies and maybe beyond.


For maps of Biblical locations in Africa visit the Member Gallery at:

© 2014 Amanda Trayce


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    • profile image

      Olukayode Tiiye 

      4 years ago

      He is from Yoruba

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Sure sounds yoruba...but it's purely igbo in Olauda(oluda) Ikwuano

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      the name sound Nigeria and Yoruba to be precise


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