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Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo

From Plantations to the Slums

Rafael Ocasio

Publication Year: 2012

Costumbrismo, which refers to depictions of life in Latin America during the nineteenth century, introduced some of the earliest black themes in Cuban literature. Rafael Ocasio delves into this literature to offer up a new perspective on the development of Cuban identity, as influenced by black culture and religion, during the sugar cane boom.

Comments about the slave trade and the treatment of slaves were often censored in Cuban publications; nevertheless white Costumbrista writers reported on a vast catalogue of stereotypes, religious beliefs, and musical folklore, and on rich African traditions in major Cuban cities. Exploring rare and seldom discussed nineteenth-century texts, Ocasio offers insight into the nuances of black representation in Costumbrismo while analyzing authors such as Suárez y Romero, an abolitionist who wrote from the perspective of a plantation owner.

Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo expands the idea of what texts constitute Costumbrismo and debunks the traditional notion that this writing reveals little about the Afro-Cuban experience. The result is a novel examination of how white writers' representations of black culture heavily inform our current understanding of nineteenth-century Afro-Cuban culture and national identity.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo

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p. i


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p. iii


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p. iv


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p. v


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p. vii

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Preface: A Mulato Fino in the Twenty-First Century—A Personal Reflection

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pp. ix-xvii

Lydia Cabrera, one of the first Cuban folklorists, anthropologists, and compilers of Afro-Cuban oral traditions, early in her field research placed emphasis on transcribing the numerous Black religious rituals that had survived in Cuba. Through interviews with former slaves in the first part of the twentieth century, her groundbreaking work ...


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p. xviii

A Note on Translations

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p. xix

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Introduction: Nineteenth-Century Costumbrista Writers on the Slave Trade and on Black Traditions in Cuba

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pp. 1-12

Manuel Moreno Fraginals established the period of 1518–1873 as that of the slave trade in Cuba (“Aportes” 13). April 1873 was the arrival date of the last documented shipment of piezas negras—Black pieces, as slaves were known in the dehumanizing slave-trade argot (Marrero 34). This was an illegal enterprise since the slave trade had been ...

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1. Cuban Costumbrista Portraits of Slaves in Sugarmills: Essays by Anselmo Suárez y Romero

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pp. 13-59

Costumbrismo promoted the writers’ goal to highlight acceptable Cuban customs, as part of a national project that became a strong political movement throughout the nineteenth century. Roberto González Echevarría has defined the trend as one with “passionate interest in Cuba’s natural world and in the idiosyncrasies of ...

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2. Juan Francisco Manzano’s Autobiografía de un esclavo: Self-Characterization of an Urban Mulato Fino Slave

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pp. 60-86

Miguel Tacón, Spanish governor of Cuba (1834–1838), in his 1838 report of his activities on the island boldly expressed his personal opinion about the slave population there at the time of his administration. His statement was unusual not because it continued to uphold the same negative portraits about slaves produced in print in Cuba ...

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3. Urban Slaves and Freed Blacks: Black Women’s Objectification and Erotic Taboos

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pp. 87-119

Cuban multidisciplinary texts documented in detail Blacks’ ordinary activities, making it possible to picture their changing status throughout colonial society. One of the earliest sources of Cuban slaves’ public activities is the Actas capitulares del Ayuntamiento de La Habana [Chapter minutes of the city council of Havana] at the City Hall

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4. The Costumbristas’ Views of Manly Black Males: Uppity Blacks and Thugs

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pp. 120-158

By the eighteenth century freed Blacks and mulattoes controlled most of the manual trades in Cuba (Castellanos, 1:85). The rules of coartación, the self-purchasing of one’s freedom, historian José Luciano Franco stated, provided slaves the opportunity to enter in large numbers into the work force in Cuban cities

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5. Depictions of the Horrific “Unseen”: Cuban Creole Religious Practices

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pp. 159-200

The arrival in Cuba of large numbers of slaves during the booming period of sugarcane plantations in the nineteenth century fueled the ongoing development of a strong Black culture. There was a special increase of Creole religious practices and belief systems with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of slaves belonging to distinctive ...

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Conclusion: Costumbrista Essays on Blacks: Nineteenth-Century Preconceived Notions of Civility

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pp. 201-207

This overzealous declaration of Catholic devotion was from Francisco de Paula Matoso, a freed Black and resident of the Havana Black neighborhood of Jesús María, where he was born and where he had created a wealthy estate. Writing his will, dated August 27, 1839, de Paula Matoso exhibited an exuberant expression of his professed ...


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pp. 209-212


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pp. 213-222


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pp. 223-230

E-ISBN-13: 9780813043678
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813041643
Print-ISBN-10: 0813041643

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 815667413
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Blacks in literature.
  • Blacks -- Cuba -- History.
  • Blacks -- Cuba -- Social conditions.
  • Slavery -- Cuba.
  • Cuban literature.
  • Cuba -- Religion -- 20th century.
  • Cuba -- Social life and customs.
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