This day. Carlota’s revolt in Matanzas, Cuba

Header.Carlota

Collage by Tony Seed, 2007

Carlota, a heroic woman captive of Lukumi African origin, took up the machete on November 5, 1843 to lead a slave rebellion against the Spanish colonists at the Triunvirato sugar mill in Matanzas Province, Cuba, in which she lost her life. In her honour, on 5 November 1975, Cuba named its campaign in Angola against apartheid South Africa “Operación Carlota,” which culminated in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale and the defeat of the South African army in pitch battle.

Captive Africans formed forty-five per cent of the population as, by 1841, Cuba’s enslaved population had increased from about thirty-nine thousand in 1774 to about 436,000. In the 19th century, more than six hundred thousand Africans were brought to the island as captives. The Carlota uprising had international repercussions. Marta Rojas observes:

“A few days after the rebellion began, the Vandalia, a U.S. Navy corvette, appeared in the port of Havana under the command of Rear-Admiral Chauncey, the bearer of an ‘official’ letter from the Spanish Business Attaché in Washingon, which notified Captain General O’Donnell that he could count on the aid of the United States to crush the ‘Afrocuban’ rebellion, a document that Commander Chauncey, accompanied by a Mr. Campbell, the U.S. consul in Havana, presented to the colonial governor in an official ceremony with full diplomatic rigor.”

When Cubans in the 20th century say they are part of Africa, they acknowledge not only the high per centage of Cubans descended from Africans but their internationalist duty to the mother continent. Operation Carlota, Cuba’s internationalist mission of solidarity with the Angolan and southern African peoples, was to last more than 15-years. During that time, more than 330,000 Cubans served in Angola. More than 2,000 Cubans died defending Angolan independence and the freedom and right of self-determination of the peoples of southern Africa.

Today, people can visit the remains of the Triumvirato sugar mill and see the monument to Carlota’s rebellion.

On this occasion, we are reproducing two articles by Marta Rojas and the late Eugène Gottfried on the rebellions of the African and Cuban-born slaves.

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Paying the debt to Africa: On the 40th anniversary of Cuba’s Operación Carlota

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Carlota the rebel

By MARTA ROJAS — Granma daily staff writer, November 2007

carlottaxTHE fifth decade of the 19th century was characterized by successive rebellions on the part of African and Cuban-born slaves, particularly in the great plain of Havana-Matanzas, the emporium of the slave-owning oligarchy, given the wealth of its land and the profusion of the sugar-cane industry.

Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés, Plácido

Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés, Plácido

The repression was infamous in its cruelty and one particularly recalls the so-called Escalera (Ladder) Conspiracy and its dramatic sequel of torture, crimes and shootings ordered by General O’Donnell, including that of the great mixed-race poet Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés (Plácodo, pictured at left) and a group of men belonging to the incipient black bourgeoisie, thousands of black and mixed-race free persons and slaves. That process was so extended and horrifying that 1844 has come down to our days as the Year of the Strap.

Traditional Cuban history never touched on the impetuous beginnings of the slave rebellion in that historical period. But that silence – or deliberate omission in more than a few cases – is not the case in these years of Revolution. The restored landmarks include the rebellion at the Triunvirate sugar mill in Matanzas and, more specifically, the heroic dimension of Carlota, the pro-liberation slave.

The uprising led by Carlota and a group of rebel slaves had international repercussions. A few days after the rebellion began, the Vandalia, a U.S. Navy corvette, appeared in the port of Havana under the command of Rear-Admiral Chauncey, the bearer of an “official” letter from the Spanish Business Attaché in Washingon, which notified Captain General O’Donnell that he could count on the aid of the United States to crush the “Afrocuban” rebellion, a document that Commander Chauncey, accompanied by a Mr. Campbell, the U.S. consul in Havana, presented to the colonial governor in an official ceremony with full diplomatic rigor.

This support further spurred on the repression meted out by the Spanish authorities in Matanzas of the slaves who participated in the Triunvirato uprising, from the governor and district captains, to the slave owners of farms and sugar mills to simple overseers. In the end, Carlota was literally torn apart. But her action was an epic one.

Monument to the Triumvirato Rebellion

Monument to the Triumvirato Rebellion

This was the beginning: the drums were talking in the Triunvirato mill in the months of July and August, 1843. Two Africans were in contact. They were Lucumies: Evaristo and Fermnina, from the Acana mill. They devoted themselves to campaigning among the slaves to put an end to the brutality of that system. They managed to communicate via drums which they played with eloquence. On November 5, 1843 the Triunvirato slaves rebelled. There was a military trial from which it emerged that the Matanzas Military Committee had uncovered a vast conspiracy in the above-mentioned mills.

In addition to Fermina, other women had an energetic participation in the anti-slave movement, as well as their men. There was a militarily gifted and exceptionally daring women in the front line: Carlota, of Lucumbi origin, who belonged to the Triunvirato mill. Involved with her in the rebellion were Eduardo, a Fula; Carmita and Juliana, Cuban-born; Filomena, a Ganga from the Acana mill; and Lucía, a Lucumi from the Concepción estate, all of them in Matanzas.

For the white slave owners what they heard was merely a drumming ceremony from a black slave cabin calling to the ancestors. But the fact is that at 8:00 p.m. on the night of Sunday, November 5, Eduardo, the interpreter of the kettledrum voice advised everybody, and Carlota, Narciso and Felipe, and the Ganga Manuel, like the “spokesperson,” had already sharpened their work machetes. At that hour the objective was not the cane plantations, but the brutal plantation manager, his overseers and lackeys. It was they who first felt the blades of steel and were felled, their pistols and rifles seized, as well as similar weapons from other white individuals who abandoned them in all haste.

Somewhat terse concerning these cases, the official municipal representatives on the Military Committee relate for history that the blacks “set fire to the main house, part of the plantation and the sugar mill huts.”

The Fermina from the Acana mill, who took part in a rebellion on August 2, had been imprisoned with shackles from which she was released by her brothers and sisters on November 3. Carlota and her captains, according to their secret plan, had gone from Triunvirato to Acana to free the slaves.

Nobody should imagine, because it would be naïve, that Carlota went with a holster strapped to her chest, and in boots. She went barefoot, in her threadbare dress. The successes at Triunvirato and Acana must have encouraged the rebel slaves who were fighting for freedom and they continued their surprise attacks in the area. They liberated the slaves from the administrations of Santa Ana, Guanábana and Sabanilla del Encomendador, belonging to the Concepción, San Lorenzo, San Miguel, San Rafael sugar mills, and the neighboring coffee plantations and dairy farms. But the governor’s powerful forces were already pursuing Carlota the Lucumi, Eduardo the Fula and her other comrades, and in a battle as unequal as it was bitter – presumably due to the difference in the strength, quality and quantity of the enemy firepower – Carlota was taken prisoner and tied alive to horses pulling in opposite directions until she was torn apart.

According to the annals, Blas Cuesta, administrator and co-owner of the San Rafael mill, earnestly appealed to the governor of Matanzas, who had just arrived on his property, not to continue massacring defenseless blacks. Some slaves who escaped got as far as the Ciénaga de Zapata and continued fighting in the Gran Palenque (hideout of runaway slaves) in the Cuevas del Cabildo.

Fermina was shot with four Lucumies and three Gangas in March 1844.

This was not the only or the first slave conspiracy or rebellion. One would have to recall that of José Antonio Aponte in 1812. And long before, the determined and victorious protest of the slave miners of Rey in El Cobre (1677), until their freedom was de jure acknowledged in 1801.

Carlota’s liberation struggle is part of the Cuban heritage of rebellion against oppression. 

In terms of its vigor and bravery, Carlota’s liberation struggle is part of the Cuban heritage of rebellion against oppression. Thus her name has been enshrined as a symbol of the operation that gave rise to the Cuban military mission in Angola 30 years ago. If was as if the bones and blood of Carlota and her comrades in the uprising joined together again to serve the liberation of the descendants of those Africans who contributed to the forging of the Cuban nation.


CARLOTA 
Lukumí/Yoruba Woman Fighter for Liberation 
Massacred in Matanzas, Cuba

by Eugène Godfried, 7/06

INTRODUCTION

Icarlotarojasn 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 http://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

Placido monument

Plácido monument

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.

Placido.ill

Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés, Plácido

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, http://www.afrocubaweb.com).

CONCLUSION

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 eurocentric 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 colour, who served the interests of the eurocentric 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
 was a Caribbean specialist/journalist
, social and cultural worker/author and commentator with 
Radio Habana, Cuba
Radio CMKS in Guantánamo

Endnote
For additional reading on the poet Plácido and the Conspiración La Escalera see

Coming Event 

Africa’s Children Return! Cuba and African Liberation

November 13 & 14, 2015

United Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil Street, Toronto

Come and hear acclaimed AfroCuban scholar Nicolás Hernández Guillén discuss Cuba-Africa connections. As we journey through the United Nation International Decade for People of African Descent, the subject of the Africa’s Children Return! Cuba and African Liberation assumes great poignancy and relevance.

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2 Comments

Filed under Africa, Americas, History

2 responses to “This day. Carlota’s revolt in Matanzas, Cuba

  1. Pingback: Paying the debt to Africa: On the 40th anniversary of Cuba’s Operación Carlota | Tony Seed's Weblog

  2. Pingback: Legacies: Lives lived / past progressive – Cuba’s Jorge Risquet: the brother I never had | Tony Seed's Weblog

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