Carlota la rebelde, Image from Granma
In order to understand liberation processes in the Caribbean we have to take into account all occurrences which preceded our days and contributed to the formation of our collective consciousness. Cuba, in this sense, possesses an impressive historical legacy of which needs more discussion.
Women in Cuba, generally speaking, played a very important role in the construction of that society since the beginning of European colonialism in 1492. Carlota fulfilled a noble task by offering great teachings even with her own life. Neither studying nor talking about the contribution made in that Caribbean society by the African women, in particular, implies a silent falsification of the truth.
We use the denomination lukumi/yoruba when referring to Carlota and others based on an explanation we received from Nigerian linguist and Yoruba expert, Dr. Wande Abimbola, who teaches us the following lesson. The western Yoruba land in Nigeria and in east Benin know the terminology 'oluikumi' to indicate 'my very good friend of confidence'. It is understandable that the transatlantic voyage as it reached Cuba transformed this into 'lukumi'. (see www.afrocubaweb.com EugÈne Godfried, Cuba in a Caribbean Perspective).
LIBERATION STRUGGLES IN THE LOW LANDS OF LA HABANA and MATANZAS
Matanzas was the scene of many confrontations between enslaved Africans and the slave - system regime in Cuba during 1843 and 1844. The uprising at the sugar - estate Triumvirato under the leadership of the heroic Carlota had a great impact both inside and outside of the island.
Those struggles began in July and August of the year 1843. By means of 'talking drums' the rebels were called for battle. When hearing the sounds of the drums, the slave-owners most likely thought that the Africans were paying tribute to their ancestors in sessions held in and around their barracoons.
Two lukumies/yorubas, a man by the name of Evaristo and a woman called Fermina of the sugar - estate Arcana, were in charge of all preparations. Their task was to encourage the enslaved people to rise up and put an end to the hated system of human exploitation. Their principal means of communication were the drums as their most relevant heritage from Africa.
On November 5 of 1843, the enslaved people of Triumvirato broke out in a great rebellion.
Fermina, of the sugar - estate Acana, who was very active in the rebellion of August 2nd, was arrested, chained and locked up. She was liberated by her colleagues in struggle on November 3rd. Carlota, accompanied by her captains, went from Triumvirato to Acana to liberate their enslaved brothers and sisters. Of course, Carlota and her collaborators carefully prepared the whole plan of action in secret.
Undoubtedly, these successes at Triumvirato and Acana had their impact on the enslaved population. One could notice an increase in guerilla attacks by rebellious Africans in the area. Together they broke the chains of their brothers and sisters in the areas known as Sabanilla del Encomendador, GuanÁbana, Santa Ana, belonging to the sugar - estates San Miguel, ConcepciÓn, San Lorenzo, and San Rafael. Other objectives, such as the coffee and cattle estates of the area, were also attacked.
MASSACRE OF THE LIBERATION FIGHTERS
A heavy persecution was unleashed by the powerful Governor's troops hunting the lukumÍ/Yoruba woman Carlota, her fula companion Eduardo, and their colleagues. Carlota was captured during an unequal battle. The repressive forces tied her to horses sent to run in opposite direction in order to destroy her body completely so that she would be unrecognizable forever. Fermina was shot and killed in March 1844 along with four other lukumÍes/yorubas and three ganga colleagues.
The year 1844 became known as the 'year of the lashes', because of the many cases of bloody repression against descendants of Africans both enslaved and freed men and women. Another notorious case of that time was the so called 'Ladder Conspiracy': infamous acts of tortures and and killings under the command of General O'Donnell. During these bloody actions an end was put to the life of the great poet whose father was of African descent and whose mother was of European origin: Gabriel de la ConcepciÓn ValdÉs, PlÁcido. (See Gabriel de la ConcepciÓn ValdÉs, PlÁcido, EugÈne Godfried, www.afrocubaweb.com).
For years there existed in Cuba an omission or intentional white out by both official historiography and rhetoric of this epoch of successive rebellions of enslaved Africans in the low lands of La Habana and Matanzas in the western part of Cuba. That is a symptomatic manifestation of a euro-centric society, even though the island became independent from Spain in 1898. The new elite preferred to continue having the old Spain inside of Cuba without Spain. A chain of racist regimes followed in power right after independence and none were interested raising or recognizing topics regarding African liberation in Cuba. Fulgencio Batista, even though he himself was a man of color, who served the interests of the euro-centric elite, did not dare take any firm action in this regard, notwithstanding the fact that he was never accepted by those circles as their equal. (see ‘Sociedades negras en Cuba 1878 - 1960”, Carmen V. Montejo Arrechea; Centro de investigaciÓn y desarollo de la cultura cubana Juan Marinello, La HABANA 2004).
We agree with those writers who state that the process which started in 1959 dedicated more attention to these issues than the period before its existence. Yet, a lot of focus is still being made mainly on the rebellious military aspect of those struggles. The leaders are often primarily portrayed as physically strong black men or women.. Nothing too much is said about their cultural, spiritual and mental formation and foresightedness. That attitude is also a result of euro-centrism, which we should necessarily combat.
Those men and women who participated in these liberation processes should be recognized both de jure and de facto as revolutionaries and precursors of the independence struggles of Cuba. They were wise, since just like their forerunners the maroons and Aponte, and others, they stood for a rupture with the metropolis in Europe. Liberation of all human beings without any distinction was their highest goal. No one else insisted more than they did on the need of pulling out deeply rooted racism from Cuba's soil. Many followed their example years after they had already shown the way. All these questions should be topics for discussion and reflection within families, work centres, mass and political organizations in Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean.
Carlota, Fermina (1843/1844), Mariana Grajales (1868/1893) together with their sisters of our region such as Solitude in Guadeloupe (1802) and Rebeca in CuraÇao (1795), are mothers of our peoples in the Caribbean. Their love and tender care for the best of our future will live on forever.
PEACE, EQUALITY, AND COOPERATION
EugÈne Godfried Caribbean specialist/journalist social and cultural worker/author Radio Habana Cuba