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Shade-Grown Slavery

The Lives of Slaves on Coffee Plantations in Cuba

William C. Van Norman

Publication Year: 2013

Within the world of Cuban slave-holding plantations, all enslaved people had to negotiate a life defined by forces beyond their control, and indeed beyond the control of their masters. Slaves on coffee farms survived in ways that allowed them to marry, have children, and maintain and redefine cultural practices that they passed on to their children. Slaves were an important factor in creating a nascent Afro-Cuban culture and identity.

In this broad, interdisciplinary study, William Van Norman describes how each type of plantation and the amount of manual labor it required directly influenced the nature of slave life in that community. Slaves on coffee plantations lived in a unique context in comparison to that of their fellow slaves on sugar plantations, one that gave them greater flexibility in cultural and artistic creativity. To gain a deeper understanding of plantation slavery in Cuba, Van Norman explores what life and labor was like for coffee slaves and how it was different from what sugar slaves experienced. Shade-Grown Slavery reconstructs their world and in turn deconstructs the picture we now have of Cuba in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Ultimately, Shade-Grown Slavery reveals the lives of enslaved Africans on Cuban coffee plantations and shows how they were able to maintain and transform their cultural traditions in spite of slavery.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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pp. 4-7

Table of Contents

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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-xi

...This work began over a decade ago in the provincial archives of Matanzas, Cuba, when I was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I worked in numerous archives and libraries in Cuba and in Spain over many years, compiling the data and stories that went into the making of this study. As is always the case, the first book of any historian is shaped through countless interactions in many venues that all contribute to the final outcome. I want to begin by asking forgiveness for any I have omitted here. Time ...

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Introduction: The Crop Mattered

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pp. 1-4

...It was during the summer of 1998, as I was working through hundreds of records from plantations in the provincial archive in Matanzas, Cuba, that I became increasingly aware of large numbers of documents from coffee plantations in the region. Not long after that realization, I was reading The Cuban Slave Market, 1790–1880 when I encountered the above quote. It was these pieces, along with the lack of studies on coffee plantations and the slaves who worked on them, that led me on the long process of research and writing that resulted in this work.

I. Roots: The Expansion of Coffee and the Slave Population

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1. Cafe con azucar: The Expansion of the Slave Population and Plantations

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pp. 7-33

...On a December morning in 1828, as the day dawned, the plantation bell on the cafetal (coffee plantation) known as “the Paciencia” rang out, calling the slaves to work. Pio mandingo and Gertrudis mandingo were among the workers who came out to learn what tasks they were to perform that day. It was late fall—harvest time—so all attention was focused on bringing in the crop, a task that required all hands available...

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2. Transformations: Building Frameworks and Structures

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pp. 34-62

...New plantations were carved out of the Cuban wilderness by the labor of a growing force of slaves. Their labor built new plantations seemingly without end. The landscape for a hundred kilometers west, south, and east of Havana was covered with farms. It is important to understand the labor involved in building this new environment and who performed that labor, but we should also keep in mind the role of planters and officials in this process. It was planters, leaders of the colony, and investors who imagined and argued for an infrastructure and laws that facilitated the rise of the plantation complex in Cuba...

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II. Branches: The Negotiations of Life on the Cafetal

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pp. 63-68

...The rhythms of life on the cafetales, like all rhythms, had points of emphasis and periods of rest, and like the music that arose out of the cultural ingredients brought together during the period of the plantation boom, some activities were directed and some were created spontaneously by the “players.” Gaps in directed activities or slippage in the structure created by slaveholders opened up space for slaves to exercise agency. It was in these day-to-day moments that men and women in bondage shaped time, space, and conceptions of identifications according to their own designs...

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3. Space Is the Place: Intentions and Subversion of Design

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pp. 69-89

...Slaves experienced life on cafetales in multiple ways that were shaped by those who held them in bondage, by the physical environment—both the built and the “natural”—and by their own actions. Slavery was first and foremost a system of labor exploitation. And it was slaves who built the hundreds of cafetales that covered the land of western Cuba. They toiled to transform the region from its beginnings as virgin land into the fertile and profitable showplace it would become. With coffee farms, this would not be an overnight project, but one that required planning and patience...

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4. Under Cover of Night: Religious Practices

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pp. 90-108

...Religious practices were central to the lives of the enslaved all across the island. As the previous chapters have shown, slaves on coffee plantations lived within the context of a set of conditions that offered some limited possibilities for personal and collective expression. On the coffee plantations of western Cuba, the rapid expansion of the enslaved population, the geographic arrangement of the district in which the cafetales were situated, and the structural organization of the farms enabled Africans and their descendants sufficient control over their time and space to engage in practicing many of the forms of their belief systems...

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5. Buyers and Sellers: Work and Economy of the Slaves

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pp. 109-120

...There is scarcely a male or female adult slave, that has not his labor was the central defining point of the slave system on coffee plantations, as it was on other types of farms. Work most certainly dominated much of the time and therefore the lives of slaves. The labor they performed for their masters, though, did not consume their attention completely. This can be seen in the diversity of activities, including various kinds of work, that slaves performed for themselves. While there are numerous accounts of the ...

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6. When Everyday Actions Escalate: Resistance, Rebellions, and Cultural Complexity

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pp. 121-136

...All slaves exercised agency in both simple and complex ways, but the slaves on the cafetales of the vuelta abajo were exceptional. Agency took many forms, which included personal choices as well as collective actions. The actions taken were sometimes simple and singular and at other times they were complex, with overlapping articulations. They could be passive, non-aggressive, or violent, but they were all forms of resistance. A slave sitting alone in his bohío making a drum or a muñeca was an individual undertaking both a ...

III. Harvest

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Conclusion: Performing Culture and the Appropriation of Identifications

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pp. 139-146

...The hundreds of thousands of Africans and their children who lived and worked on the cafetales of western Cuba during the first half of the nineteenth century endured enslavement and resisted it through various strategies. It has been the aim of this book to restore their story to the historical record in a meaningful way. Their struggle to rebuild their lives and cultures, to adapt to their new environment, and to form new families had profound effects on themselves and on Cuba during their era, but it also affected the future of the island ...

Appendix A: Demographic Data

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pp. 147-148

Appendix B: Cafetales

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pp. 149-154


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pp. 155-190


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pp. 191-200


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pp. 201-207

E-ISBN-13: 9780826519160
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826519146
Print-ISBN-10: 0826519148

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2013