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Black Histories in Cuba and Its Diaspora (December 2016): Resistance to Slavery

by Bonnie A. Lucero

Resistance to Slavery

While many studies of non-white peoples in Cuba focus on the structures maintaining the institution of slavery, historians since the 1990s have increasingly taken an interest in enslaved people’s resistance strategies. In her foundational work, Social Control in Slave Plantation Societies: A Comparison of St. Dominque and Cuba, Gwendolyn Hall analyzes the structures of oppression as well as the survival strategies employed by enslaved people in both societies. Similarly, Daniel E. Walker’s No More, No More: Slavery and Cultural Resistance in Havana and New Orleans compares the ways enslaved people in Cuba’s capital and New Orleans employed their cultural forms to resist social control. Gabino la Rosa Corzo’s Runaway Slave Settlements in Cuba: Resistance and Repression charts the ways enslaved people in Cuba fled their captivity to form palenques (runaway slave settlements). In Seeds of Insurrection: Domination and Resistance on Western Cuban Plantations, 1808-1848, Manuel Barcia employs court records to access the voices of enslaved people who resisted their captivity.

Other accounts of slave resistance analyze specific episodes of rebellion. Matt Childs published one of the first English-language accounts of the infamous 1812 Aponte Rebellion with The 1812 Aponte Rebellion in Cuba and the Struggle against Atlantic Slavery. Robert L. Paquette’s Sugar Is Made with Blood: The Conspiracy of La Escalera and the Conflict between Empires over Slavery in Cuba similarly examines another of Cuba’s most significant nineteenth-century slavery rebellions—the Escalera Conspiracy—from an Atlantic perspective. Michele Reid-Vazquez shifts focus toward the experiences of free people of color in Cuba’s nineteenth-century slave society in The Year of the Lash: Free People of Color in Cuba and the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World by examining the ways they resisted the wave of repression following Escalera. In Rethinking Slave Rebellion in Cuba: La Escalera and the Insurgencies of 1841-1844, Aisha K. Finch offers an innovative, gendered perspective, arguing that black enslaved women were central to the insurrection.

Several recent accounts have focused on the role of African cultures and ethnicities in slave resistance in Cuba. Manuel Barcia, for example, offers an account of a lesser-known but equally fascinating instance of slave resistance in The Great African Slave Revolt of 1825: Cuba and the Fight for Freedom in Matanzas. While most other slave uprisings in Cuba were organized by free people of color and creole slaves, Barcia reveals the centrality of African-born leaders in this revolt. Similarly, in his contribution to The Black Urban Atlantic in the Age of the Slave Trade, edited by Jorge Cañizarez-Esguerra, Matt D. Childs, and James Sidbury, Childs foregrounds the roles of cabildos de nación—associations based on the ethnic and geographic origins of African peoples brought to Cuba as slaves—in the nineteenth-century slave uprisings. These works have helped situate Cuban slave resistance in the broader Atlantic context that was so important for the final abolition of the institution.