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Article

Aaron Myers

In the first half of the nineteenth century, thousands of African slaves were involuntarily brought from the Calabar region of southwestern Nigeria to Cuba in order to labor on the sugar plantations. In Cuba, these enslaved people reconstructed aspects of their language (Igbo) and religious rituals in Abakuás, all-male organizations with closely guarded religious, musical, and dance traditions. The prototype for Cuba's Abakuás can be found in Calabar's leopard societies, groups of highly respected, accomplished men who adopted the leopard as a symbol of masculinity. Today as in the past, Abakuás are found predominantly in the city of Havana and the province of Matanzas and are united by a common African mythology and ritual system.

Abakuás preserve African traditions through performative ceremonies a complex system of signs and narratives in the Igbo language Customarily led by four leaders and eight subordinate officers members of the Abakuás seek to protect ...

Article

The well-known white Cuban Creole author Cirilo Villaverde (1812–1894) published a first version of Cecilia Valdés in 1839 (thirteen years before Uncle Tom's Cabin, in 1852) at the urging of the abolitionist editor and journalist Domingo del Monte. Del Monte had commissioned the novel to be read at his famous tertulia, social gatherings in Havana, where intellectuals presented works to one another and to supporters who would gather to listen. There was the potential of sending the works to England as part of the 1838 dossier that del Monte was preparing for Richard Madden. Madden was the British representative to the International Tribunal of Justice, which oversaw the ban on slave trading and the protection of freedpeople. The purpose of del Monte's circle of liberal planters and professionals was to embarrass Spain into granting abolition and other reforms including Cuban representation in ...

Article

Like many slaves from Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) during the Haitian Revolution (1791–1804), Pablo Alí crossed the border to serve in the Spanish colonial army of Santo Domingo (present-day Dominican Republic) as a means of obtaining his freedom. In 1795Spain ceded Santo Domingo to France. Alí subsequently participated in the War of Reconquest, in which French troops were defeated and Santo Domingo was reunited with Spain (1809). In 1811 the Spanish throne named him first colonel and granted him a gold medal in recognition of his service to the Crown.

In 1820 Alí served as colonel of the Batallón de Morenos (Black Batallion) in Santo Domingo. After learning that his application for Spanish citizenship had been denied, in 1821 Alí pledged his loyalty to the insurrectionists, led by José de Núñez Cáceres and served as their chief military commander That same year ...

Article

John Burdick

The worship of Anastacia began in Brazil in the early 1970s The devotion to her centers upon a striking portrait of a young black woman with piercing blue eyes wearing a face iron an iron face mask that slaves were made to wear as a form of punishment Legend has it that Anastacia was tortured with the face iron when she refused to submit to the lust of her master Legend also has it that before she died she forgave her master and cured his child of a fatal disease Although the Catholic Church denounces the devotion to her as superstition at best and heresy at worst millions of Brazilians of all colors are deeply devoted to this woman whom they regard as possessing in death unparalleled supernatural powers Many of her devotees carry a small medallion of her image around their neck others keep a card with her ...

Article

Sabrina Karpa-Wilson

The son of Portuguese parents, Aluísio Azevedo achieved national prominence with the novel O Mulato in 1881 (published in English as Mulatto in 1990). A vehement denunciation of church corruption, the evils of slavery, and racial prejudice amongst the provincial elite in the northern Brazilian state of Maranhão, the novel was well received in the nation's capital, Rio de Janeiro. But it caused such polemic in his native state that the writer decided to relocate to Rio. There, between 1882 and 1895, he struggled to make a living as a professional writer, producing novels, short fiction, plays, and chronicles. He wrote eleven novels all told, moving between romantic melodrama and naturalism. His romantic novels are seldom read today, and his naturalist novel O Cortiço (1890; published in English as A Brazilian Tenement, 1926) is generally considered to be his best work. In 1895 ...

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Article

Quintín Banderas's parents were free but poor. To help support his family, Banderas began to work in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba as a bricklayer at the age of eleven. Dissatisfied with the profession, he left home when he was thirteen years old and enlisted as a sailor on a Spanish merchant ship. After he was in Spain for a few months, his mother filed a petition before the merchant for his return because he was a minor. Banderas was returned to Santiago and went back to working as a bricklayer.

During the Ten Years' War (1868–1878), Cuba's first major war of independence, Banderas joined the revolutionary army led by the black military leaders Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo and the white Creole Carlos Manuel Céspedes. Due to his bravery and military achievements, Banderas soon attained the military rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1879 ...

Article

Mohammah Baquaqua was born in 1824 in Zoogoo, (probably a small village in present-day Angola) in central Africa, to a fairly prosperous family. He was raised in an Islamic household and was sent by his father to the local mosque to study the Qur'an (Koran), the sacred text central to Islamic worship. Unsatisfied with school, he left to learn the trade of making needles and knives with his uncle in another village. Baquaqua was captured and enslaved after a struggle for the succession of the local throne. His brother managed to find someone who was able to purchase Baquaqua's freedom. Baquaqua returned to his hometown and became a bodyguard to the local king, where he noted the corruption of the royal armed forces that looted the citizens of the city.

A group of individuals apparently envious of his close association with the king engineered Baquaqua s capture and ...

Article

Mayda Grano de Oro

José Celso Barbosa played a key role in the politics of the Spanish-American War, denouncing the Creoles' political aspirations. At the same time, his involvement reflected the complexities and contradictions in race issues confronted by black Puerto Ricans at the time. Barbosa's achievements were not typical of blacks in Puerto Rico at the turn of the century. He represented the “self-made man” that came from humble origins. He had the opportunity to study at the only institution of secondary education on the island, thanks to the determination of his aunt. He completed his studies in the Jesuit seminary before going to the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, where he graduated in 1880. His experience in the United States made him an admirer of republican ideals for social equality and justice.

When Barbosa returned to Puerto Rico he started his medical practice and became a member ...

Article

Aaron Myers

Born in Salvador, Bahia, Rui Barbosa de Oliveira studied at the law academies of Recife and São Paulo, where he met Antônio de Castro Alves, the “Poet of the Slaves,” and future abolitionist Joaquim Nabuco. Barbosa's abolitionist campaign began in 1869, when he organized the conference “O Elemento Servil” (The Servile Element). Although the slave trade had been outlawed on November 7, 1831, slaves who had entered Brazil before that time remained in bondage, and many Africans had since been illegally enslaved. At the Elemento Servil conference, Barbosa condemned slavery on legal grounds by invoking this 1831 law.

In the following years Barbosa frequently challenged the proslavery Conservative Party. During the provincial elections of 1874 he criticized the Free Womb Law, which freed the children of all female slaves, as “a superficial improvement.” In 1884 he joined a reform cabinet led by Manoel Dantas ...

Article

Adam W. Green

was the second of three children born to two freed slaves, Eben Tobias, a farmer, and Susan Gregory, a mixed-race Pequot Indian, in Derby, Connecticut. An education proponent and political activist, Bassett became America's first black diplomat when he served as Resident Minister in Haiti for eight years, helping pave the way for those seeking opportunities in international diplomacy and public service.

Along with his mixed race birth and royal lineage that his family claimed from Africa Bassett whose surname came from a generous white family close to his grandfather s former owners also had elected office in his blood His grandfather Tobiah who won his freedom after fighting in the American Revolution had been elected a Black Governor as had Bassett s father Eben The largely nominal honorific was bestowed upon respected men in various locales via Election Days sometimes by a voice vote these Black Governors ...

Article

Alexander Bedward was born in Matilda's Corner, Saint Andrew Parish, in southeastern Jamaica. He grew up in August Town, on the Hope River in Saint Andrew. Nothing is known about his father, but his mother was supposedly a healer. Bedward could not write, and he read haltingly because of borderline literacy. Apart from the years 1883 to 1885, when he was a migrant laborer in Colón, a seaport on the Isthmus of Panama, Bedward worked until 1891 on the Mona sugar estate in Saint Andrew. He was a foreman, laborer, and cooper (a repairman of wooden casks or tubs) on the estate, from which he also leased land.

Article

Carlos Dalmau

Although he was officially considered white, Ramón Emeterio Betances proudly affirmed that he was of African descent. Born to a well-to-do family in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, Betances was sent to study in Toulouse, France at the age of ten. He later moved to Paris and in 1855 graduated from medical school.

In 1856 Betances returned to Puerto Rico. At that time an epidemic of cholera hit the island and killed more than 30,000 people from all social levels of the population. The plague lasted more than a year and Betances was exceptionally compassionate in looking after poor patients, including slaves. His medical service to the underprivileged and oppressed during the plague caused him to become known as “doctor of the poor.”

The colony s political and social problems concerned Betances as much as the health of his patients Convinced that slavery was the cruelest institution of the colonial ...

Article

Alvin O. Thompson

Black slavery in the Caribbean was primarily an economic phenomenon although it had important political and social ramifications A large cheap docile labor force was the ideal the Europeans sought for their sugar coffee cocoa cotton and other tropical plantations The sparsity of the indigenous Caribbean populations in most of the islands at the time of the European arrival and their subsequent decimation by inhuman treatment and epidemic diseases introduced from Europe and Africa led to a critical shortage of labor for the new European plantations The geographical location of Africa and the collaboration of the African ruling classes with the European purveyors of the slave trade ensured continuous supply of slaves from that source Over time the introduction of Africans radically changed the demographic economic social and cultural landscape of the Caribbean Peoples of African descent today constitute the largest population groups in most of the islands and are ...

Article

Liliana Obregón

The Black Codes comprise an elaborate set of principles, rules, and procedures that were designed to protect plantation economies and prevent slaves from running away. But because they conflicted with the slaveholders' actual interests and practices—the codes specified minimal standards for slaves' food and clothing, restrictions on punishments, and means of achieving manumission—they were rarely implemented. Nevertheless, the codes give insight into the working conditions, economic interests, and social practices of the French Caribbean and Spanish American slave societies they addressed. These laws contrast with those relating to slavery in the Portuguese colony of Brazil; the Brazilian laws were never codified, though compilations were published to instruct slaveholders on their rights and responsibilities.

Article

Lisa Clayton Robinson

Edward Wilmot Blyden is considered a pioneer in Pan-Africanist thought, although the term “Pan-Africanism” was not coined until the very end of Blyden's long life and career. Throughout his career as a diplomat, statesman, educator, and one of Liberia's most prominent champions, Blyden encouraged people of African descent around the world to embrace their history and culture, and to return to Africa, their ancestral homeland. His call for “Africa for Africans” represented a vision that was truly ahead of its time, that of a proud, rich, black civilization spread throughout the African continent. Blyden's writings and speeches influenced leaders and philosophers such as Cheikh Anta Diop, Kwame Nkrumah, Marcus Garvey, and C. L. R. James.

Blyden was born in 1832 into a middle-class free black family in Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands Although he was brought up in relative privilege ...

Article

Alonford James Robinson

Paul Bogle is a beloved figure in Jamaica. Although his legal status at the time of his birth is unclear, most scholars believe that he was born free in Stony Gut, Jamaica, in 1822. He operated a small independent farm there and became a lay preacher in the Native Baptist Church. His affiliation with this antislavery branch of the Baptist Church brought him into contact with British and Jamaican abolitionists, including activist George Gordon. Methodist and Baptist leaders, as well as leaders of other religious denominations, were active participants in the antislavery struggle. As a result, members of local black congregations like Bogle's were often exposed to antislavery debates, pamphlets, and sermons.

When slavery was abolished in 1834 blacks in Jamaica were promised freedom at the end of what turned out to be a four year period known as apprenticeship The apprenticeship policy forced slaves ...

Article

Brazil  

Mohammed Bashir Salau

Compared with other countries in the Americas Brazil has the largest number of people of African descent This demographic reality dates back to the era of the slave trade and it largely ensured that African cultural practices survived relatively more intact and institutionalized in Brazil than in other areas of the Americas In earlier times African Americans viewed Brazil despite its relatively longer history of involvement in the Atlantic slave trade as a desirable racial paradise where people of all colors lived together in harmony with equal opportunities This perception stemmed from several factors including the strong show of African Brazilian culture that brings Brazilians of all backgrounds together especially during carnivals The image of Brazil as a racial paradise however has been challenged and ultimately rejected by scholars who increasingly note the contradictions in Brazilian society Even though a growing number of African Americans no longer view Brazil s ...

Article

Born in the bustling city of Havana, Cuba, a cultural center for the development of Classical Music in Latin America and the Caribbean, Claudio Brindis de Salas was already a concert violinist at the age of ten. His father, Claudio Sr., was a well-known musician, teacher, and orchestra leader. Brindis de Salas studied with a Belgian teacher in Havana and later with Danclas, David, Sivori, and others at the Paris Conservatory. Brindis de Salas won awards and began traveling widely, earning many accolades in cities like Milan, Florence, Berlin, Saint Petersburg, and London. As a violin virtuoso he earned the nicknames “The Black Paganini” and “The King of the Octaves.” He toured with great success in Latin America, and in Buenos Aires, Argentina, his admirers gave him an authentic Stradivarius violin.

Brindis de Salas lived for a time in Berlin married a German ...

Article

Cacos  

Georges Michel

After the downfall of Haitian President Jean-Pierre Boyer in 1843, the peasants in the southern part of the island revolted. These revolutionaries were named piquets, because they carried wooden poles, called picks, as weapons. In the 1860s, peasants in northern Haiti followed the example of the piquets, becoming known as Cacos. The Cacos movement was based in the northern part of the republic in an area comprising the towns of Vallieres, Capotilles, and Mont-Organise. Some say that the term Cacos comes from the name of a small bird of prey; others trace it to the name of a species of Haitian red ants that have a bad sting.

The Cacos movement appeared for the first time during the civil war of 1868. The rebellious peasants later fought against President Sylvain Salnave in 1870 The Cacos proved themselves formidable fighters and instrumental to Salnave s ...