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Seeds of Insurrection

Domination and Resistance on Western Cuban Plantations, 1808-1848

Manuel Barcia

Publication Year: 2008

On a late September day in 1837, shortly after sunset, a group of six slaves marched into the small Cuban village of Güira de Melena, beating African drums and singing loudly. Alarmed, villagers rushed into the streets with machetes, sabers, and spears, ready to take action against the disobedient slaves. Yet this makeshift parade never evolved into the violent rebellion the villagers expected. Though the slaves who lived on Cuban coffee and sugar plantations sometimes defied their captors by orchestrating fierce uprisings and committing murder and suicide, they also resisted in less overt ways—by running away, feigning sickness, breaking tools, and by maintaining their own cultures. In Seeds of Insurrection, Manuel Barcia examines many largely overlooked ways in which African and Creole slaves in Cuba defied domination in the first half of the nineteenth century. Ethnic and geographic origins, as well as slaves' personal experiences, affected their resistance to bondage. Dividing resistance into two broad types—violent and nonviolent—Barcia examines when and why the slaves chose certain forms. Creole slaves grew up in Cuba, for example, so they learned both the language of their ancestors and Spanish, and they came to understand their Spanish masters as few African-born slaves ever could. Consequently, they cleverly used the few rights colonial laws offered them to their advantage. African-born slaves, by contrast, carried with them their memories from home, their religious beliefs, jokes, and songs, and they dealt with enslavement by incorporating this cultural heritage into their everyday activities. Barcia demonstrates the ways in which the slaves made use of the privacy of their huts and barracks and the lack of surveillance in the fields to voice their ideas and opinions—through song, religion, gossip, folktales, and jokes—within an acceptable degree of safety. Relying primarily on transcripts of local and central court proceedings involving slaves, free people of color, slave owners, and witnesses, Barcia reveals the slaves' view of their world. He also explores the forms of domination practiced by colonial authorities, plantation masters, and overseers, gleaning insight from innovative sources, including medical reports and diaries of rancheadores, as well as public and private correspondence, newspapers, and the contributions of contemporary scholars. In Seeds of Insurrection, Barcia expands the definition of resistance and adds an invaluable dimension to the understanding of slavery in the Americas.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

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pp. xi-xiv

It has been a long road since I took the belated decision to attend university in Havana some fifteen years ago. Many people have come to and gone from my life during this . . .

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pp. 1-12

In March 1843, hundreds of African slaves rose against their masters and overseers in the western Cuban district of Bemba. After killing a large number of people . . .

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1 The African Background of Cuban Slaves

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pp. 13-24

Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, sugar and coffee plantations in western Cuba were continuously supplied with new African workers. Although the . . .

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2 Homicides, Conspiracies, and Revolts

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pp. 25-48

On July 1, 1840, Tranquilino, a slave from the coffee plantation Empresa, killed his mayoral in a quarrel. Moments later, more than fifty of his companions headed to the . . .

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3 Marronage

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pp. 49-70

On April 21, 1844, public prosecutor José del Mazo wrote to the governor of Matanzas, Antonio García Oña, about the escape from custody of the most important slave . . .

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4 Suicides

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pp. 71-83

Suicide was not rare in West and West-Central Africa.1 In fact, very much in the Stoic tradition, it was a way out for the humiliated, the disgraced, and those with incurable . . .

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5 Slaves’ Use of the Colonial Legal Framework

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pp. 84-104

On a mid-July day in 1843, José María Lucumí walked to the house of the governor of New Filipina—today Pinar del Río—with the sole idea of denouncing the . . .

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6 Disguised and Nonviolent Forms of Resistance

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pp. 105-125

The evening of September 30, 1837, was not an ordinary one for the inhabitants of the small rural village of Güira de Melena. Just after sunset, while some were preparing . . .

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pp. 126-134

The attempts made by Cuban ruling groups from the end of the eighteenth century to replace neighboring Saint Domingue as a producer of sugar and coffee had long-lasting . . .


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pp. 135-137


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pp. 139-177


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pp. 179-200


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pp. 201-211

E-ISBN-13: 9780807134672
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807133651

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2008