This Black Man is Lost! An Essay on Afro-History, Law and the Failure of Liberalism in Cuba 1880-1912 Copyright 2013-2019 Kaushalya Bannerji

 “Este negro se ha perdido. Nadie sabe de donde es!”

Afro-Peruvian folk song

I used this quotation to open this essay, because it signals to the centrality of racism as a material lived practice and set of social relations that totally transforms ways of being and seeing— or ontology and epistemology.

In our Eurocentric conceptual framework, we are ‘lost’ when we do not where we are going. The quote  I have used signals to the importance for vast numbers of the excluded, marginalized and exploited to know where we have been in order to signal where we will go on our journey. And for black people in the Caribbean and the Americas, the loss of humanity  and dispossession started with the loss of historical knowledge and personal continuity of mercantile slavery. In our current time of ‘hybridized’ and ‘transnational’ identities, the poignancy of these lines, and their plea for a different way of thinking about and doing anti-racist academic and political work is underscored. 

 I have decided to focus on both theoretical and philosophical explorations of the notion of race– incorporating such theorizations with the material dimensions of   “doing race”. As my work is focused on the black experience in Cuba from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I hope to be able to combine interdisciplinary accounts of how race is “done” through law and social sciences to come to a fuller understanding of the ways in which categories such as citizenship and class are racialized. 

To help understand and explain this process, I shall examine the rise of a criminology rooted in notions of social hierarchy and how its proponents in Cuba allowed me to begin thinking about the multi-dimensional approach needed as a student of race and racism. As such, thinking through the particularities of racial construction in Cuba, calls for a methodology that tries to combine understandings of social class, race and gender in ways that enrich Marxist analysis with the rich and textured accounts of social historians and post-colonial scholars. Such an examination of criminology at the turn of twentieth century shows us a rise in thinking about the body in its material and ideological dimensions, dimensions rooted in the desire to ‘totalize’ domination through representing the “unknowable” as criminal. Such criminality was rooted in the innate “Otherness” of the subject (Foucault). These approaches to criminology influenced social and penal policies throughout the Americas (Bender) to a varying degree and relied on a methodology firmly rooted in a positivist epistemology. In Cuba the centrality of Lombrosian and anthropometric approaches to criminology characterized the first years of the Neo-republic.  Such concerns with the prediction of criminal behaviour based on physiognymy, race, sexuality, etc. led to concerns about eugenics and breeding and immigration to whiten the “stain” of blackness which covered Cuba.

The beginning of the twentieth century in Cuba was an active, volatile and dynamic period of the country’s history. Slavery had been finally abolished in 1886 and urban migration of free Afro-Cubans affected major urban centers such as Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Matanzas. Cuba had emerged out of nearly 40 years of civil unrest, anti-Colonial agitation and the spread of Republican and classical liberal ideas to become a quasi-colony of the United States. Afro-Cubans, including mulatto or mixed-race individuals made up approximately over a third of the population. 

The very recent abolition of slavery contributed a large percentage of African-born people to the island in the nineteenth century and may have been a cause for the importance of Afro-Cuban social networks and formal organizations that sustained both African and democratic identity in an early twentieth century environment characterized by racial degradation, socio-political marginalization, and the economic exploitation of Afro-descended peoples. I shall briefly examine the cabildos de nacion as historical counterpoints to the world of black criminality posited by social scientists and criminologists. Such an approach allows us to grasp the multifaceted nature of racialization and explore the social and legal heritage of the relationship between race and law in Cuba. 

In particular, understanding how “ideology” works on both common-sense  understandings and the goals, processes, and procedures of governance of the time is central to how this exploratory work seeks to enrich new ways of thinking about the connections between race, civil society and the state. As the golden age of criminology dawned on Cuba, new ideas that equated science with progress and modernity began to capture the imagination of the country’s elites and those in charge of shaping it’s institutions in the beginning of the twentieth century. Scholars have noted that concern about crime and criminality often went hand in hand with the state’s function as a moral regulatory apparatus and the strengthening of the law and order, that is, the coercive functions of the state. But the interest in modernizing such laws, policies and institutions lay in the sincere belief that empiricist and scientificist methodology in investigation of crime and in punishment of the criminal was the best way to capture both the truth of an event and also to protect society from further incursion. This belief in the centrality of the moral framework underpinning the science of forensics and penal and criminalist work led to not only the classed and gendered implications of moral panic as described by Walkowitz, Levine,  Stedman-Jones, Valverde, etc. but also the belief in the rightness of whiteness as an entry-point into modernity and scientific progress(Hall). Such enlightenment progress was pitted against a binary of superstition, mindless ritual, savagery and fundamental unknowability of the motives, capacities and abilities of the Afro-descended.  

By drawing on the notion of “hegemony” as used by Antonio Gramsci, I hope to show the ways in which both consensus and coercion were deployed through legal institutions and the strategies of governance, in particular through the rise of scientific thinking about criminality and incarceration. The theme of ‘hegemony’ is of particular interest to me because it is a way to understand the fluidity between attempts at ruling elite co-optation of black class divisions and the resort to physical brutality and the homogeneity of state-sanctioned practices of anti-black racism over time. This type of racism is linked to the new criminology as it reflects the innate criminality of the unruly emancipated black body under wage-capitalism in sharp contrast to the significance of the black body as commodity under slavery. To understand the roots of thinking about racism in criminology, we must first examine the notion of race as it developed concomitant with the Enlightenment to provide a discursive praxis of containment, labour exploitation and domination.  To understand the state of affairs with regard to Afro-Cubans and law, it is important to cast an eye back to the formation of the Cabildos de nacion. The cabildos played an important role in socializing slaves and free people of Afro-descent by presenting a space for human interaction in a world of commoditized peoples. We look here at the Cabildos in order to set the stage for the early twentieth century when the alliance of a white and mulatto Cuban in the interests of science at the service of law would produce a criminology that cast out the citizenship potentials of Afro-Cubans, along with shapes of their foreheads, jaws and skulls, as being atavistic and prone to backward criminality. We see that the process of racialization in Cuba was ongoing, and shared similarities with other countries in the Caribbean and the Americas.

After that a survey of contemporary leading influences in criminology will be examined with special emphasis on Lombrosian and later eugenicist streams of thought. Primary sources of Cuba will be Fernando Ortiz’s early work and the lifelong work of criminalist Israel Castellanos, who served the Cuban state from the early years of the Cuban neo-republic until he was removed from office by Raul Castro and Vilma Espin in person, in 1960. 

In order to examine some notions about race and racism, a look at the work of David Theo Goldberg  delivers an analysis that entails a grounding in political philosophy, as does Ivan Hannaford, and indeed coheres to some extent with Hannaford’s assertion that social subjectivity is not truly ‘racialized’ until the emergence of ‘modernity’ in Europe’s self-understanding (Hannaford, 1996:187-91). Modernity is defined as the rise of secular, rational, empirical, and capitalist forces which shape or inform an epistemology that delimits the bounds of social subjectivity and also works as a gate-keeping process as to who may inhabit the social space. In the process of defining Anglo/ European culture as modern, the binary structure of Christian thought is interwoven through supposedly secular understandings of the social order and social relations—be they gendered, racialized or ‘classed’. 

Hence modern Euro-man needs the pre and later anti-modern existence of peoples whose teleological fulfillment comes through the lessons of civilizing colonization. Early on, when  Bartolomé de Las Casas and other early priest-conquistadors entered the “New World”, such civilizing zeal provided the Church’s rationale to convert heathen souls by any means necessary and such subjugated groups were seen as ‘pre-modern’. That is, with the help of civilized and Christian example and teaching, they would adopt a way of being that would put them in synch with the modern age of progress, profit, and order. 

As time passes and the justifications for exploitation and oppression, transform, we see that in particular, Black and Native American communities are reconstructed in a new way, that manages to still anchor itself to the reference point of modernity. In this case, though as we near or enter post-Emancipation eras, Afro-descended and Native inhabitants are now posited as “anti-modern”.  These philosophical sleights of hand are not mere ‘parlour tricks’ but real operational changes in the ways in which ruling and resistance to types of ruling have taken place. As such, these philosophical shifts are not mere semantics but overlap the porous borders of political thinking/doing, church doctrines, and legal regimes and practices. Goldberg further develops his methodology to be cognizant of the particularities and material dimensions of racism. The problematic he outlines is one central to the questions I have explored in this dissertation. 

He says,

 The claim the racism is nothing more than ideological is confusing or delimiting in a different way. It misleadingly leaves the deleterious effects of racist practices or institutions to be captured by some term like racialism or racist discrimination. Alternatively, by insisting that the raison d’être of the racist ideological structure is to hide some underlying form of economic, social or political oppression, this widely shared claim refuses to acknowledge the materiality of racially defined effects in their own right. It fails to acknowledge and so leaves unexplained, the fact that racist expressions may at times define and promote rather than merely rationalize social arrangements and institutions (1993:95).

Alejandra Bronfman’s work,  “Measures of Equality” which examines the rise of social science in Cuba during the first part of the twentieth century, provides evidence of how  separate branches of the newly emerging “social sciences” fit together as jigsaw puzzle pieces, to show how racialized social relations work to complicate the understandings of subjectivity, citizenship, nationhood, and state. Her works explores the rise of criminology of a Lombrosian bent along with Cuba’s participation in the “folklore” movement, one whose origins lay in German romantic nationalism of the late nineteen century. Both ‘fields’ contributed to an ‘Othering’   of the Afro-Cuban population –- one pointing out their anti-modernity in continuing syncretic and African practices and the other arguing that such anti-modern people were inherently savage and criminally-inclined.  The point is not to signal to a conspiracy theory, but to show how work that seems independent from each other at first glance, can be examined to show us how  a shared but sometimes ‘hidden’ epistemological unity runs through social science disciplines, because it informs the ‘cosmology’ if you will, of modernity. Goldberg himself, discusses how the rise and influence of the social sciences “…in the prevailing liberal tradition…primarily anthropology, art history, political science and economy, sociology and urban studies—extend the conceptual prism of racialized social orders and encourage continued or renewed racist exclusions” (1993:12). Additionally, reading Bronfman’s work with Goldberg’s caveat about ideology (above) in mind, allows us to tap into the notion of 

 Discourse (the term is borrowed from Foucault) [which]is like a conversation in which utterances are abstracted from particular participants located in particular spatiotemporal settings….. The discourse is maintained by practices that determine who can participate in it as fully competent members. It develops as a process of organization and reorganization of relations among participants through the medium of their work. To be recognized as a proper participant, the member must produce work that conforms to appropriate styles and terminologies, makes the appropriate deferences, and is locatable by these and other devices in the traditions, factions and schools whose theme it elaborates, whose interpretive procedures it intends, and by whose criteria it is to be evaluated.

Sociologist Dorothy Smith operationalizes ‘discourse’ as an analytical tool, useful for studying  theories of governance—including the use of what Goldberg refers to as racist expressions and exclusions. Criminology along with anthropology and ethnology owes its rise to the ways in which scientists and social scientists were engaged in a mutually beneficial relationship with the coercive aspects of law. The relationship of law to the shaping of citizenship entitlements and the racialization of citizenship is strongly linked to criminological and anthropological understandings of those who make up the putative “nation”.  

Goldberg’s takes great pains in showing how racialized definitions and expressions (by the use of this term he also refers to attempts to ‘celebrate’ or posit racialized identities as anti-hegemonic; one example of which might be identity politics) are part and parcel of state and thus, social formation. He explains

“Just as the State, for example, is deeply implicated in formulating divisive racial definition, so too is it central in extending racist exclusions, though it must be added that modes of State racializing  are various and that racializations and racist restriction and elevation are not simply State bound…”(1993:11). 

In “Race: The History of an Idea in the West”, Ivan Hannaford collects ‘evidence’ for a case against the ‘naturalness’ of the category of race as it has been constructed in the social sciences.  He argues that Greek and Roman antiquities were structured around political rather than biological subjectivities. He also shows how the rise of Church and Christian doctrines contributed to the first biological understandings of difference between humans in terms of physical appearance and socio-cultural markers. This Christian epistemology influences in a subtle but persistent way, the development of science, a science which is both rooted in and reacting against Christian doctrines (1996: FN). Hannaford goes to demonstrate that an empiricist scientific model as developed in Western Europe and the British Empire, plays a great part in making ‘racial’ categories both naturally hierarchical and conflating cultural and biological markers. While Hannaford’s ideas are now not new, when the book came out a decade and a half ago, he was one of the first to articulate why even certain kinds of ‘non-racist’ or anti-racist work  smacks of a kind of implicit acceptance of the meaning of racial categories while attempting to ‘challenge’ them.

 As a student of law as both practice and ideology, Hannaford’s ideas about race and racism are useful in unpacking the tension between the universalism of the ahistorical liberal individual as constructed in law—and the ways in which the specificities of the Other’s experiences must be rendered knowable as particular and thus inferior. Bronfman develops this idea further through the lens of racial and gender domination in examining Castellanos’ work on women criminals in Cuba. Stefan Palmie highlights the ways in which Afro-Cuban knowledge is devalued as ritual and sorcery, and thus plays a role in the internalized self-conceptions of Afro-Cubans, as well as in externalized notions such as the uneducability of peoples of African descent. The interplay of ideas from crime and punishment with race and education has implications for social policy which excludes the “Other” on the basis of their inaptitude in learning. Such a lack is innate and hence social resources need not be wasted on the education of such children in academic studies. Instead, teaching the principles of Christian thought and menial or domestic work was considered sufficient for Afro-Cuban children of the time (Childs…).

This twist on  liberal individualism can be understood as dialectically intertwined with both protestant and empiricist epistemologies  and rendered invisible, even though it is structured into the very way in which we are taught to think about and even ‘transform’ our society (when and if law can aspire to social transformation). When we think about Hannaford’s assertions in relation to human rights case-law or the use of the penal system and legislative, judicial and executive branches to contribute to the construction of non-whites as criminals since the early years of the twentieth century, we are able to grasp why there is discomfort with the essentialist demands necessitated by judicial and law-enforcement systems and officials and anthropologists and ethnologists alike.

In the case of Cuba, which enjoyed a large free black population in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century  and where race functioned as a ‘caste’ signifier strongly tied to colour and physiognomy, thereby allowing identities such as “mulatto” to emerge, Goldberg and Bronfman’s more nuanced and interdisciplinary approach, allow us to gain a historical foothold into the murky quagmire of material social relations between slaves and free blacks,  blacks and blacks, blacks and mixed race people, between blacks and whites, and between a state that , whether manned by colonial oligarchs or criollo (nationalist) sympathizers, united in its fear of Afro-Cubans and what they might represent. This representation concerned the Cuban elites on two levels. Firstly, as national self-conception; as a nation joining a  ” modernity” …”characterized… by an increasingly personalized, self-conscious and atomized individualism” (1993:70) in which the existence of the black population signaled a priori a notion of the “collective” –antithetical to modernist presumptions.  Black entrepreneurship, the urbanization of Afro-Cubans as they purchased their freedom under the mechanisms of coartación, the able ways in which blacks inserted themselves into capitalist social relations even as slavery defined black presence on the island, belied the myth of the anti-modern. Indeed, the very concept of blackness as a race signifier is born in and of modernity as Hannaford and Goldberg agree.  By acknowledging the existence of free blacks, both peninsulares (Spain’s supporters) and criollos had to recognize the ways in which blacks strategized together to not only survive but advance their social positions (Howard and Childs, Ferrer, Helg, Portuondo Linares). Secondly, the rise of white hysteria in the popular press with regard to African and Afro-Cuban religious and social practices which were collective in nature, contributed to waves of moral panics, particularly in the central part of the island, highly dependent on sugar-cane – in the first decades of the twentieth century (Helg article, Bronfman, Palmie, etc.).

For Goldberg, race and class exclusions may overlap but remain “conceptually and effectively autonomous” (106).  He argues,

The difference between racist expression and class discourse is reflected in the difference between exclusion and exploitation. Both require social institutions for their respective effectiveness. Nevertheless, exploitation necessarily requires actual class differentiations, though not (necessarily) discursive rationalization; while racist exclusions invoke questionable differentiations and succeed only in so far as the terms they generate remain subjectively persuasive (107).

Such a perspective is useful thinking about the ways in which race, gender and class inform and impinge upon each other in people’s lives. 

Law at this time was particularly concerned with the suppression of practices seen as African, and with the prohibition of gatherings of people of colour (Roman, Sublette). A discourse of modernity equating progress, science, social engineering and the erasure of racial difference, relegated such practices as ‘backward’, hidebound, frightening, and traditional superstitions; obstacles for working-class Afro-Cubans joining the march to modernity. And finally, the early twentieth century is characterized by a shift in legal thinking about Afro-Cubans. Heredity, class-laden, and racialized physiological traits explained crime in the new science of criminology in Europe and the New World and Cuba was no exception. Whereas Africanness as cultural practice was criminalized in the previous era, now ‘blackness’ itself became a crime. This shift signaled an epistemological transformation in legal and social scientific thinking, where crime was no longer about ‘doing’ but about ‘being’. 

This change in social and juridical understanding led to changes in policy, which had concrete effects on the social relations of racialization for Afro-Cubans. As science and social sciences gained discursive legitimacy in how those in charge of constructing the “nation” understood it, Afro-Cubans remained ‘unknowable’ in some ways, subjects of study by criminologists, anthropologists and ethnologists, rendered and represented by experts. 

The marriage of scientificist and legal epistemologies, the centrality of empirical method, and a post-Independence era characterized by a relationship of Neo-colonization by the United States, heralded the arrival of new elites in the early twentieth century; elites whose political affiliations lay not with Spain or a national bourgeoisie, but with the United States. Yet these were elites who shared with their predecessors in both settler and plantation Cuba, the fear of the loss of white supremacy.

Modernity meant Europeanization and Americanization of social and political processes and Afro-Cubans represented an unwanted African past and a reminder of the slave society that engendered such a past. Ruling conceptualizations of blackness  that were emerging emphasized three primary characteristics of Afro-Cubans: labour—both manual and sexual; entertainment; and criminality by the end of the first decades of the twentieth century. 

While public expressions of African-derived culture were being prohibited, other normative and prescriptive developments in the philosophy and practice of criminal law were directed at Afro-Cubans as well. The development of penal sciences such as criminology and forensic science were strongly linked with positivist, social Darwinist and eugenicist thought. Class and race were at the forefront of hegemonic thinking about crime, its causes, and its punishments. Scientificism reigned as a paradigm that sought to posit and solve social problems with the application of ‘expert’ and ‘specialized’ knowledge. Knowledge was translated into social practices and relations of oppression. Lombrosian and other eugenicist thinking had a great influence on intellectuals, lawmakers, and enforcers in the early years of the  self-proclaimed Republic.  Law was thus not immune from broader political and intellectual currents. Yet this vibrant period also saw the challenges posed by Jose Marti’s pragmatic humanism in the late nineteenth century, and by the emergence of a frustrated Afro-Cuban intelligentsia, military, and political sector, little accommodated by the existing political apparatus and ethos.  

Splits between Afro-Cuban thinkers, showed the ways in which belief in classical liberal ideals divided them. While individuals experience concrete social relations, their capacity to make meaning of what is happening to them and thus act, is what makes social movements possible. But this process also signals to the flaws in the analytical tools available to them. Thus, it was that a fractured liberalism gave birth not only to the ideals of Martí, but also to the rise of autonomous black political thought. Contemporary Afro-Cuban appropriations of liberalism were challenged by race and racism which underlay the  claim to “liberté, égalité et fraternité”, posed by black militants in the War of Independence and its aftermath. In the years just before Independence according to Ada Ferrer, “free persons of colour demonstrated their awareness of the new rebel discourse of freedom and equality and their willingness to make demands on the basis of that discourse.”  Yet their blockage from civil service and other government functions during the Neo-republic engendered a palpable absence of conscious black thought in the fields of criminology and criminal law, indeed, black lawyers as a whole were few and far between (Helg). Interestingly, Castellanos himself was of Afro-Cuban descent as a mixed race individual or mulatto, as was Martin Morua Delgado, proponent of the Morua  Amendment in 1910 that prevented “race” based organizing. The importance of the consensus building apparatus of the state in involving and benefitting the Afro-Cuban middle class had important consequences later, with  the massacre of 1912. 

It is at this conjuncture that criminological and eugenicist thinking entered the criminal law realm and black people were consequently “reconstructed”. Their practices were no longer seen as religious and possibly politically seditious, but as dangerous criminality—-disruptive, transgressive of a civil, rather than political, order. The practice of syncretized religious forms became seen as “witchcraft”. Although witchcraft was not a crime recognized by law in colonial or republican Cuba, it was a social practice quickly linked to “African” masculinity. In particular, first generation Africans were exemplified as male “witches”, while in later years, Haitian immigrants were singled out. Ethnologist and criminologist Fernando Ortiz for example,

carried on his campaign against “African fetishism” as an expert for the prosecution of alleged brujos (witches). As a congressman, he presented a bill against “antisocial superstitions that targeted traditional healing, santería, brujería, and cannibalism. A majority in the House however thought the current penal code already applied to crimes motivated by brujería and rejected his bill.

Aline Helg contrasts these images of Afro-Cuban masculinity with those created by Southern U.S. racism, where Black masculinity is configured as hyper-male and hyper-sexualized. In comparison, the witch image, argues Helg, conjures up a terrifying, but also feminized image (from a Eurocentric standpoint) —that of the cannibal stirring his pot. This caricature of black masculinity and religiosity entered into a common-sense lexicon of stereotypical and disenfranchising images of blackness as ‘culture’. And as with the repression of the cabildos, it served to keep Afro-Cubans distant from the liberal promise of full racial equality and thus, citizenship. These stereotypes played off the age-old “divide and rule” strategies of colonial white supremacy, dividing blacks between the “civilized” and “savage”…”they allowed whites to blame black “barbarism” on a black middle class unable to “civilize” its lower classes, and by extension, stigmatized the entire “black race” as being prone to rape and witchcraft.”

More frighteningly, the conflation of social conditions and biology as explanations for the causes of criminality lent itself to a discourse in which blackness itself became equivalent to criminality. This echoed concerns within the United States and in Western thinking, in which races were to compete on the scale of progress. Whereas in the United States such concerns were linked to fears about urbanization and immigration (Bender, 2009: 9, 74-5, 80) as well as Afro-Americans, in Cuba, immigration was seen as the solution to “whitening” the island’s population.  Although cohabitation and interracial marriage did occur, a legacy of state and religious intervention in the field of interracial marriage (Stolcke), made immigration and not gradual disappearance of the black race through miscegenation, a more desirable policy.

A key approach in this work relies on the analysis put forward by Alan Hunt which he calls a constitutive theory. This urges a relational view in which the factors that constitute social life are not individuals or institutions but combinations of economic, political, class, gender, and legal relations, to which I add racialized constructions. Hunt argues that a major task of law and society scholarship is investigating the extent to which law constitutes social relations (1993). Drawing further on Dorothy Smith’s accounts of how to problematize the “everyday” world my approach seeks to show how for Afro-Cubans that world was encroached on by the coming together of criminal law and penal sciences with other social sciences and with science itself. 

This convergence of ideas about race, humanity, reason, modernity versus backwardness, nation, and so forth led to a moment in which stereotypes enhanced by the way law dealt with Afro-Cubans in the early twentieth century created a climate of  social and cultural  race fear that dovetailed with the perceived political threat posed by the PIC and resulted in massacres of black Cubans in 1912. It accounted for  widespread white vigilantism as a response to suspected witchcraft cases between 1906 and the 1930s (FN). As I will discuss, eliminating independent black organizations such as the cabildos had already paved the way for later common-sense suspicions that separate black organizing would lead to a “race war”. Hence, the fate of Afro-Cubans massacred in 1912, was determined on a continuum of bad faith and racially determined policies of governance. 

My initial perusal of literature in this field has shown that this era provides rich academic and archival sources with regard to race, identity and law in the post-emancipation period and the early twentieth century. Thus my essay participates in an academic project that provides valuable insights into the ideology and workings of race relations in an era of volatile change for neo-colonial Cuba, where both nationalist and imperialist elites shared a belief in the inherent criminality of Afro-descended peoples. 

Emphasizing identity and citizenship as mutually complementary categories with regard to nation-building, the dissertation will trace how being outside ‘citizenship’ has implications for the model of nation-building. For theorization I will draw on critical legal studies, especially on critical race, anti-colonial, and social theories (Williams, 1991, Fanon, 2004). Some of my field research includes the sharing of insights and approaches with Cuban and international scholars of the themes and the purchasing and photocopying of materials.. A part of my research has been enhanced  by discussions with social and legal historians and sociologists. The study will contribute to debates with regard to new standpoints in both legal and historiographic scholarship, in particular, histories of those who have been constructed legally and socially as the “Other”. 

Cabildos: A Cauldron of Resistance

In this section we take an introductory look at the development and presence of Afro-Cuban cabildos de nación in relation to Cuban laws and municipal regulations of the nineteenth century in particular. We focus on the cabildos as a way of understanding the relationship between how oppressed peoples see themselves and the role that law might play in the formation of cultural and social identities. Law categorizes and delineates boundaries of identity and citizenship in ways that are ideological, reified and essentialized. But while law may be an immediate instrument of elite domination, it can also serve conceptual and political frameworks that transcend the particular class and immediate political and economic interests of competing elites. The period examined covers both the end of slavery and post-Emancipation periods, Colonial and neo-colonial periods and hopes to show that changes in Cuban elites’ perceptions of Afro-Cubans contributed to the anxieties reflected in moments of increased surveillance and elite control of the cabildos.  The eventual censorship of both African cultural practices and syncretic ones such as Afro-Cuban Comparsas (loosely speaking, parade floats of the various cabildos—later, neighbourhood associations), demonstrated the racist insecurity that plagued the elites in spite of what Aline Helg refers to as the “myth of racial equality”. These early legislative initiatives fostered an atmosphere which only a couple of decades later saw the use of science, technology and the state in the service of  civilizing law and order. Hence, the import of criminology in the early years of the neo-Republic is situated within a context of legislative and common-sense constructions. 

 The section concludes with a cursory look at how the meaning of “Afro-Cubanness” was transformed in law by touching on far-reaching shifts in legal epistemologies having to do with race and racism. This is followed up by discussion on the advent of criminology and the development of medical-legal sciences as elements that inform governance anxieties and strategies. 

Many other historical and social issues have a role to play in understanding the unfolding of a unique Afro-Cuban identity in spite of legal and extra-legal pressures to the contrary. These include the Little War, the Ten Years’ War, the War of Independence, and the socio-political influences of increased Spanish immigration in particular. Haitian immigration at various times in the early nineteenth and twentieth centuries, along with black Jamaican migration, all shaped aspects of Afro-Cuban experiences and identities. Additionally the development of divergent nationalist black intelligentsia and politicians also play an important role in historical and social analysis. Nonetheless, these issues remain for the time being outside the scope of this project. Thus, this essay is but a partial account of the relationships between racial oppression and law in Cuba. 

In this period, the concept of ‘race’ became a central factor in the social organization of Cuba in diverse ways, depending on particular socio-economic and political conjunctures. As Alejandra Bronfman asserts,

I begin with the notion of race as an outcome rather than a cause: a historical product of the confluence of ideas, events, processes. The presumption that race can be made suggests that race is neither a fixed biological category, nor a primordial attachment, nor a transhistorical phenomenon removed from space and time.  Rather…race has a history.

Race (as both concrete material and ideological social relations) in this context however, held a strong correspondence to social hierarchy and social relations of colonial and neo-colonial white power and privilege, despite the sizeable population of free Afro-Cubans.

I choose to use the term “Afro-Cubans” when referring to black and mulatto peoples of Cuba, because I find the word to be inclusive of both those experiences and signals the residency in Cuba of peoples of African origin. Nonetheless, the categories ‘black’ and ‘mulatto’ are in usage both in the historical literature and certainly in Cuba today and where relevant I also use them. The historical literature also refers to “negroes”, and I have chosen to maintain such terms when used in direct citations to illustrate the discursive power of language itself. 

Race cast as a system of concrete social privileges and disenfranchisements based on colour and physiognomy, unified whites under an umbrella of commonly held views about their own innate merits and hence superiority as a race, regardless of their party or other political identifications. As Howard argues, 

By the turn of the nineteenth century, an alliance between the criollos [Cuban-born and identified], peninsulares [Spanish-born and identified], and Spain had been established. Sugar and slavery bridged the schism among Cuban whites and the metropolis. The economic well-being of the planters now depended on the commercial and financial power of the merchants. The merchants realized that their prosperity rested on the agricultural commodities that the planters produced. As officials in Madrid embraced the belief that Cuban resources could provide revenue for Spain, criollos and peninsulares came to share political power.

Simultaneously, the processes and practices of racialization of people of colour,  conflated with culture, economic status and attributes more properly characterized as being the result of  social conditions and learned and modeled behaviour, became one with ideas about ‘Blackness’ or ‘Africanness’. In particular, media accounts show this extremely well. Aline Helg, in her study on myths about Afro-Cuban masculinity and racism in the post-slavery period demonstrates how newspapers of the time discussed and presented issues of racial and cultural identities as interchangeable. If Blackness ‘stood in’ for Africanness, that very Africanness was a sign of unbelonging, a way to keep Afro-Cubans from feeling a sense of entitlement in, and to, Cuban society and citizenship.  Bronfman’s work may be of relevance in defining this concept. She reasserts Charles Tilly’s position that citizenship is a “set of mutual contested claims between agents of states and members of socially constructed categories”, adding that combining this with the notion of “social worth” developed by T.H. Marshall provides for a fuller understanding of citizenship vis-à-vis social equality.

Departing from such an understanding, I examine research on the cabildos   from a variety of perspectives-—folklore and ethnographic studies, legal history, African and Afro-Cuban studies and Cuban socio-political and economic history, among others.

 The origins of the cabildos de nacion

Cabildos were in existence in the earliest days of the colony. As anthropologist Natália Bolìvar shows, mention is made of the existence of an Afro-Cuban cabildo as early as 1568. Some researchers believe that the cabildos’ origins lie in the Spanish custom of cofradía, which was a type of religious brotherhood based on following particular Catholic saints, in particular those who were seen as ‘patrons’ of particular professions. The cofradías functioned as religious labour guilds and mutual aid societies under the auspices of the Spanish Catholic Church from the late 13th century. More recently, Philip Howard is of the view that African benevolent and secret societies of both genders also had much to do with the emergence of the cabildos. Howard’s work on the cabildos de nación stresses the agency and subjectivity of both enslaved and free black members. 

African practice and Spanish authorities coincided in the formation and existence of the cabildos in Cuba.In the “New World”, the Spanish Crown legally recognized and eventually, incorporated the cabildos de nación, which became by the eighteenth century, a unique feature of the Cuban social landscape. The word “cabildo” means “town council” in Spanish. 

More cogently, it appears that the Spanish Colonial government was concerned with maintaining African slaves in their place, through “divide and rule” tactics that underscored the granting of legal permission to the cabildos. Cabildos had to receive permission from the Colonial authorities to function, and showed their legality by placing a Spanish flag in the window or door.  But cabildos were also implicated in slave uprisings and later in the movement for independence from Spain. For example, Jose Ignacio Aponte, a leader of a slave rebellion in 1812, was a member of the cabildo Shangó Tedum. He was also a member of an influential nationwide male secret society from Yorubaland, the Ogboni. The use of coded messages through the drums, ostensibly part of the African heritage under the purview of the cabildos, also fuelled plantocrats’ fears about the usefulness of the cabildos in the mid-nineteenth century as African cultural practices were seen as constituting a threat, rather than an in road for white domination. 

Since the cabildos were organized on the basis of ethnic African identities, they were constituted by those men and women who could trace their ancestry to particular regions and linguistic commonalities. As such, by the mid – seventeenth century, they were categorized as belonging to the Lucumí (Yoruba speaking), Congo, Arará, Carabalí, Ganga and Mina nations.  Some of these “ethnic” identities were actually formed in Cuba, as the Lucumí, are not a known “tribe” or nation in Africa. The Carabalí for example came from the Calabar region or the Bight of Biafra while the Yoruba came from Nigeria. These names were even noted by foreign travelers in Cuba who took a keen interest in the workings of the slave economy. In this manner, the composition and focus of the Cabildos in the first 250 years of Spanish rule in Cuba reflected the development of certain African-based identities unique to the island.  

But, as Afro-Cubans grew in numbers, adapted religious and social practices of the Catholic Church, and became socio-economic actors in their own right, in the nineteenth century, the cabildos turned their thoughts away from Africa and from about the 1850s were gradually replaced by non-ethnic but racialized sociedades de color which began to concentrate on issues such as education of Afro-Cuban children, Afro-Cuban economic integration and the war of liberation from Spain. Indeed, disproportionate numbers of the independence fighters came from Afro-descended peoples, with some accounts putting their participation at between 75 and 85 percent of the anti-Spanish or anti-Colonial armed forces. Discursively, this shift away from ethnicity meant a move toward ‘blackness’, that is an identity created out of the social relations of slavery, its aftermath, and its contribution to capitalist development. Ethnicity faded into the background or became relegated to cultural practices, while civil and political rights were claimed in the name of “race” and Cuban citizenship. 

Rebecca Scott, Aline Helg, and Alejandro de la Fuente, demonstrate how Afro-Cuban identity was both invoked and transformed in the call to arms against Spain. On one hand, Republican notions were thought to go hand in hand with the abolition of slavery and the broadening of suffrage. As Afro-Cubans envisioned the liberation from Spanish colonial rule as connected to the Emancipation of the Afro-Cuban population, their actions as freedom fighters challenged the boundaries of their citizenship status and their sense of entitlement as Cubans, albeit with African or ‘mixed’ ancestry. This pivotal shift in Afro-Cuban consciousness was also linked with the cabildos and historically some cabildos played a role in slave uprisings at earlier periods as well. 

Legislation Governing the Cabildos

Howard depicts the laws governing the functioning of the Cabildos. The Spanish Slave Codes of 1790 and 1842 were key legal frameworks. The Codes had supplements and/or amendments that were introduced and amended as necessary until the end of Spanish rule. The 1842 Code contained a supplement known as the Bando de Gobernacion y Policia which expanded the regulatory framework to include the activities of the cabildos. In this way the Spanish crown was able to maintain control of the activities of free people of colour whose membership in the cabildos was high, as well as slaves. The slave codes made explicit the Catholic mandate of Spanish and colonial slaves-owners and outlined the treatment of male and female slaves. 

Importantly, in a key distinction from Anglo-American or Caribbean slave regimes, the principle of coartación or self-manumission was firmly enshrined in Cuban slaveholding practices and hence the social organization of Cuba could be compared more appropriately to the Louisiana experience, in contrast to the dominant Anglo-American version of chattel slavery.  Howard describes that Article 34 of the Slave Code of 1842 “stated that “no owner could refuse to coartar his slave, provided he is offered no less than fifty pesos toward the price of purchase.”  In some cases, utilizing the Spanish self-manumission provision of coartación, African slaves bought themselves out of slavery through the auspices of the cabildo in which they were members.  In other cases, cabildos would make hire arrangements with slave owners in order to pay for the time of a slave ‘hired’ by the cabildo in which they had membership. But sometimes, cabildos themselves would own slaves, showing the extent to which they were able to participate at certain moments in the Cuban economy.  Matt Childs points to the fact that slaves had symbolically important roles to play in cabildos, but no voting rights, as they could not participate in the ongoing running of the cabildos as they did not control their own time and could literally be at the beck and call of their masters. Cabildos were also more visible in urban centers, though they counted on both rural and urban membership in their later years.

In 1842, the Colonial authorities ordered that the cabildos de nación change their name to sociedades or associations. It was thought by the authorities that the name change would aid in transforming the cabildos from sites of African and Afro-Cuban consciousness to those of social welfare carried out under the auspices of civilizing Catholicism. Afro-Cubans had already begun the process of syncretic religious identification, affiliating themselves with Catholic saints who shared similar characteristics to deities or orishas brought from Africa. Already many cabildos were no longer identified by the names of ethnic African nations, but by the Catholic saints who were chosen as patrons of the institutions. 

Legislation directed specifically at Afro-Cuban institutions was added as amendments to the Bando de Gobernación y Policia de 1842. The 1868 amendment prevented

the children of members from being admitted to the cabildos de Negros Africanos….On January 2, 1877…meetings held by the cabildos to elect officers were to be presided over by the oldest celador or constable of the district. In… the same year, the authorities also notified the cabildos that they were henceforth going to “first warn and then penalize the representatives of the cabildos and the members themselves, for not displaying the stamp they had to purchase from the government and which authorized their public activities.”

As early as 1839, concern about blacks meeting together prompted further surveillance of the cabildos. Howard discusses how much of this concern centered on the dances which were, in the eyes of the Spanish government, “a possible pretext to meet to increase their disobedience”. . Consider this description of a cabildo dance, written by British traveler Robert Jameson:

At these courtly festivals…numbers of free and enslaved negroes assemble to do homage with a sort of grave merriment that one would doubt whether it was done in ridicule or in memory of their former condition. The gong-gong…cow-horns and every kind of inharmonious instrument are flourished on by a gasping band assisted by clapping of hands, howling, and the striking of every sounding material within reach, while the whole assemblage dace with manic eagerness till their strength fails.

All dances and festivals had to be licensed by municipal authorities and of course a fee was involved here too. Colonial regulation included a strong financial component, and thus the enslaved and colonized were further exploited.

  From 1864 onwards the cabildos began to increasingly plague the uneasy consciences of an insecure monocultural planter class and the political elites of the cities and consequently, Cuban born blacks were formally prohibited from joining the cabildos.  As slaves were brought every year to Cuba until 1867, in spite of the formal ban on the slave trade in 1820, the numbers of new-comers from diverse African regions constantly replenished cultural, religious, and other social practices from the ‘homelands’. Nonetheless, as Van Norman reminds us in a slave society, “masters and their agents did not passively allow slaves to form associations and create new cultural forms.” Still, as the population of Cuban-born Africans and mulattos began to rise, so did their membership in the cabildos

The colonial state responded with legislation that prohibited the membership of the Afro-Criollo population in cabildos, seeking to limit their influence and return to a ‘divide and rule’ policy between first-generation Africans and their descendents. But kinship, racial discrimination, and cultural ties prevented the regulation’s total success. The act was intended to create a distance between the ‘civilized’ Afro-Cubans born in the colony, whether slave or free, and those who brought ‘barbaric’ and/or rustic practices and beliefs from Africa. Hegemonically, the act cohered with the dominant ethos for both whites and blacks in which cultural affiliation with European practices and beliefs assured more Afro-Cuban socio-economic success than identification with practices seen as African. In Howard’s account of a letter from the Havana Municipal Council to Governor General Blanco in the early 1880s, we see that the council held off on disbanding the cabildos by decree because

(t)he associations were declining in number and importance because “new associations of people of color…are usurping the objectives of mutual aid, recreation and instruction …in a way more in accordance with their social advancement and [will] collectively raise up those same who…originally constitute the Cabildos.”

With a racially discriminatory, inadequate and class-based private school system, Afro-Cuban children were generally excluded from formal education. Cabildos and Afro-Cuban welfare societies undertook classes for Afro-Cuban and mulatto children who had no other recourse. Such practices alarmed the state, which had put little resources into any public education system and by 1880 the law dictated that state education was mandatory for free Afro-Cuban children and its educational content emphasized religious and moral instruction.  Such a ruling clearly delineated the educational aspirations of Black and mixed-race Cubans and prevented them from attaining professional studies and status. Furthermore the provision of public education was in a dismal state, and thus “the mutual aid societies continued to provide instruction to meet the educational needs of the Afro-Cuban community.” The United States Census of 1899 shows of 1,223 doctors in 1899, only 10 were Afro-Cuban. And out of 1, 406 lawyers in Cuba, only 3 were Afro-Cuban. Very few Afro-Cuban school teachers existed, and in posts of higher education there were none. 

Just after in 1881, the Law of Associations was passed, and cabildos had to pay an exorbitant annual licensing fee or municipal tax. Because so many of their members were poor, some cabildos often were not able to meet the fees and had to close their doors. Although the law was not specifically aimed at Afro-Cubans, its impact was worst on this sector, because the various regional associations of the Spaniards and other non-black ethnic sectors were able to pay the fee.

In December 1884, colonial anxiety about racial subordination and black uprisings reached an apex of sorts. The festivals of Carnaval and Epiphany were much enjoyed by Afro-Cubans. They were then permitted legally to have their huge street processions, known as comparsas. But by the beginning of 1885, Havana saw the comparsa banned. In fact, Epiphany on January 6th was the feast day of the cabildos. These celebrations had been permitted throughout the slavery period and were, literally, the one day, during which Afro-Cubans could legally take to the streets; hence the legal suppression of the comparsa had an ideological significance beyond stopping a “party”. Judith Bettelheim emphasizes that although public performance stopped in central and western Cuba, “private meetings and celebrations continued. Officially, the cabildo began losing whatever power it had accumulated.” 

In January, 1887, the governor-general issued an order prohibiting any cabildo from operating without a legal identification document and location registered in the census. This was a way for the colonial authorities to know how many cabildos there were and where they were concentrated on the island. Cutting off black freedom of mobility was the aim of another 1887 law announcing a huge fare increase for railway travel. This too, had an impact on cabildos, as they were not only urban but enjoyed rural membership. Rural members would travel for special occasions to be with their ‘nation’. In particular the laws coincided with Emancipation.

By April 1888, no new cabildos were allowed to form without passing a legal requirement showing that they were “unique” and that their specific activities were not carried out by other organizations or Cabildos. This was a two-pronged attack; limiting the number of cabildos and secondly, forcing Afro-Cuban children into the very few state schools that existed for them so they could continue to be inculcated with Christian and Catholic values. By then it had become mandatory, rather than voluntary, for all the cabildos to take on names of Catholic saints. 1888 was also the year in which the regulation demanding that cabildos govern themselves according to the rules and regulations applicable to Cuban associations, rather than by the supplementary decrees of earlier times, was proclaimed. 

In the late nineteenth century the walled city of Havana geographically reflected the racialized character of its society. Afro-Cuban low-income settlements and cabildos were to be found outside the walled town. Even today, one of Havana’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, the Vedado, continues with its name from that colonial time, meaning, the “forbidden” or the “barred”. Some commentators see a measure of privacy afforded to Cubans of colour as a result of this spatialized measure of inclusion and exclusion. Studies of Apartheid South Africa, Argentina, and other colonial settler urban centres demonstrate the unequal relationship of the colonized and colonizer to the colonial and neo-colonial territory. Strong Santería and Abakuá associations, legacy of the cabildos, flourished in largely poorer Afro-Cuban neighbourhoods in places such as Regla. During the nineteenth century, (the)

  Clubhouses [of Cabildos] …could only be located within designated districts whose neighborhoods were deemed undesirable by both blacks and whites. In Havana for example, during the first half of the nineteenth century, the majority of the Cabildos were located near or around Montserrate street….outside the city walls. The property surrounding Cabildo houses was considerably undervalued by the government. This…occurred in spite of the fact that the cost of housing increased while the city’s population grew.

The ability to be ‘public’, to take social and physical space in a particular society, is a complex yet fundamental process in societies formed by migration, whether forced or ‘voluntary’. Writing on recent Muslim exclusion in the Canadian landscape and polity, Engin Isin and Myer Siemiatycki show us how layers of administrative and regulatory frameworks impact on the ability of communities to both ‘integrate’ as themselves and be seen as “Canadian.” This type of legal and social analysis is important in any study of racism and citizenship claims because patterns of indirect yet nonetheless violent suppression of racialized minorities have historically formed part of bourgeois social and political development. I argue that such zoning, municipal and administrative laws inflict an indirect violence — that is they have the machinery of the state, with its civil and penal law apparati, to give force to their racialized spatialization. Behind the spectre of legalism and formal inclusion falls the shadow of what Louis Althusser calls the repressive state apparatus. 

However, by the end of the nineteenth century, legislation aimed at the cabildos and at the sociedades de color was not always based on formal segregation identifying a category of people. Rather, in the waning years of the colony, it was aimed at the associations and assemblies in a more general way. However, the law’s target groups and purposes were clearly understood to be focused on people of Afro-descendance. And by the 1880s, the regulations affecting the sociedades de color were part of a general legislative approach for the social control of organizations of all Cubans, blacks or whites.

Understood in conjunction with the rise of new quasi-legal ways of thinking about blackness and nationhood and the contradictions infusing Afro-Cuban involvement in the island’s independence struggle, the colonial authorities struggled to maintain a ‘civilized’ hold on Cuban public life.  Celebrations of African origins were seen as a threat to ‘public order’; immoral; and even condemned as ‘vulgar’. White fear of black assembly and uprising characterized the declining years of Cuba’s status as a Spanish colony, a fear shared by most colonial and anti-colonial elites alike and continued into the early years of the twentieth century. 

While the surveillance of cabildos had huge drawbacks for Afro-Cubans, some cabildos even resorted to the colonial justice system to resolve internal disputes. By petitioning the governor general of the island or the provincial governor, they might get a hearing and a disposition.  But keep in mind that civil law systems did not rely on precedent, but rather on interpretation of codified principles. I outline very briefly the key distinctions between civil and common-law jurisdictions. Whereas the common-law is associated with: adversarial, judge based, precedent system. It is dependent on categorization, is inductive, outcome-based, incremental, and is competitive with other courts. Different characteristics, procedural, and conceptual frameworks apply to the civil law, descended from the Napoleonic codes of the French revolution. Some of its characteristics are that it is: inquisitorial, jurist based, shaped by annotation and the development of legal codes; not court specific (different notions of jurisdiction); deductive; theoretical; and integrated.  Some Afro-Cuban individuals also turned to this type of law for redress against racial discrimination.

The impact of laws and regulations were important because they played into and furthered hegemonic understandings of blackness, nationhood and citizenship. They sought to remake “black” experiences and identities into those considered more apt for participating in bourgeois democracy and even for being ruled. As the colony came to end (to be superseded by U.S domination) citizenship came into the reach of Afro-Cubans at the beginning of the twentieth century and “culture” rather than “race’ became the yardstick of suitability for full citizenship. While slavery had formally excluded Afro-descended peoples from citizenship rights as the property of slave-holders, the elimination of the slave-holding regime left white elites struggling with ways to maintain the exclusionary framework in place during the move to free waged labour. Along with emerging morally regulatory frameworks addressing appropriate gendered and class behaviour, the development of laws directed to limiting black public presence and Afro-Cuban cultural and religious practices, taught people that success in Cuban political, economic and social circles would come from being associated with European and later, white North American, values and cultural aspirations.   Only by ignoring or denigrating what were seen to be African characteristics and physical features, could Cubans of colour in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, even dream of economic stability and social advancement. Successful citizenship, that is,  full civic, economic, cultural and political rights, were made available to few individuals of colour, and these were men who were quick to distinguish themselves from both more ‘radical’ and certainly, more ‘African’ elements among Afro-Cubans. 

The Multifaceted Nature of the Cabildos

As Phillip Howard and Matt Childs demonstrate, the cabildos in the earlier era were sites of multiple objectives, processes and dynamics that assisted in “humanizing”  the slave experience and later, the experience of free Afro-Cubans, who were socially and economically relegated to inferior societal placement.  In particular, the cabildos provided a social and religious space that allowed for the transmission of language, music, dance, beliefs, the exercise of intellectual abilities denied to many blacks at the time, and political participation. They provided a space where autonomous and collective action and democratic processes could take place away from the world of slavery or racist Afro-Cuban/white social relations. Over time, they contributed to the formation of new post-slavery identities for Afro-Cubans, identities that maintained an ‘agentic’ dimension outside of the immediate purview of Cuban colonial and later white criollo elites. According to Professor Helg, 

Afro-Cubans learned how to use the domains in which Spanish authority was weak, such as religion and culture, to organize independently. This strategy allowed those who identified with their original culture in Africa to hold to a reconstructed African world…They created community forms of self-help and mutual assistance that constituted a kind of alternative way of life.

Matt Childs also stresses that relationships to power might be inverted in Cabildos:     “Although Cuban society at large tended to privilege Cuban-born blacks over Africans, within Cabildos, African bozales [a Cuban term referring to first-generation Africans] exerted more authority by claiming “legitimate” ethnicity as members of the nation.” This reversal of power permitted first generation Africans some legitimacy, in spite of the “seasoning” process applied to all newcomers. 

As vehicles for cultural transmission, the cabildos took the place of family, for the slaves were often separated from immediate family members at the behest of their owners or simply through the vagaries of the slave trade. Accordingly, kinship relations became important sites of resistance to the ‘totalizing’ mission of slavery. These were fostered through the structures and social relations of some of the cabildos. They may have been ‘fictive’ rather than consanguineal but they were nonetheless concrete social relations, honoured by their participants. 

 Along with blood relationships, lifelong relationships based on the extended family structure were formed. Thus the cabildos permitted people with no or minimal bodily or social autonomy, a type of psychological refuge, where ‘normal’ human relations were not denied to them.  The dynamics of social, economic, and psychological support develop ways of relating that in other circumstances might have fallen under the purview of the ‘family’, now emerged as an element of the social relations of the cabildos de nación

The Spanish Colonial state and the Catholic Church at times had a strained relationship with regards to certain aspects of the Colonial project. Nonetheless, the two could agree that Catholicism was a civilizing and necessary influence on peoples of African descent, a path to lifting them out of their ‘barbarous’, ‘heathen’ and ‘savage’ practices. What they forgot was that social relations and epistemologies are not static and thus culture is always in a state of transformation. Thus the enjoinder to Catholicize the cabildos was often transformative for Afro-descendents through the emergence of a syncretistic relationship between Spanish Catholicism and African religious practices. Such a process took place as well in Brazil, where the Portuguese were also convinced of the civilizing mission of Catholicism and Afro-Brazilian slaves undertook a similarly syncretistic project.  

In Cuba such syncretized religious practices took on the names “Palo Monte” and “Santeria”, and continue to be practiced to this day in Cuba and in the United States. The most visible deities of the Santería (Yoruba speaking) pantheon are Chango/St. Barbara, Ogun/St. George, Ochun/the Virgin of Caridad de Cobre (patron saint of Cuba) and Yemaya/ Our Lady of Regla, a port city in Havana Harbour.  Presiding above them all is Olodumare, the Supreme Being and Eleggua/ the ‘Devil’, who must be invoked before any of the other saints “comes down” at a Santería ritual. 

Finally Abakuá secret societies still exist as multi-racial brotherhoods that do not give up their underground status. In many ways similar to the Freemasons, the Abakuá, controlled patronage networks and entire occupational sectors, such as the Dock-workers guild in the port of Havana, from the  nineteenth century practically up to the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. Having white members may have permitted the Abakuá to flourish and the story has it that its secrets were sold to a White criollo by its priest, Andres Petit in Regla, in the late nineteenth century. He ostensibly did this, to ensure the survival of the fraternity, but the shroud of secrecy remains more or less intact, in spite of the best efforts of anthropologists and criminologists. Abakuá initiates are called ñañigos, and much anxiety about delinquency, crime and witchcraft was generated by their presence in Cuban society in the early part of the twentieth century.  The melding of the Yoruba Pantheon with that of the Roman Catholics, served to ensure the modified survival of the cabildos, and the sociedades de color that followed them in the late nineteenth until the mid-twentieth century, of which more is discussed later. 

Emancipation and its Aftermath in Cuba

In slave plantations, the rural “barracon” or slave barracks, provided a meeting-space, albeit one completely at the behest of the slave owner. Slave barracks were notoriously dirty, overcrowded and ill-repaired. Slaves were often locked in and let out solely to do their work. Cuban visitor William Henry Hurlbert commented, “Even on the best of the great estates, from November to May, the negroes are required to work sixteen to nineteen hours a day.” Describing the processing of sugar, traveler Robert Baird, observed “When once the grinding and processing of cane is begun… it proceeds day and night, with the exception of Sundays and other holidays (and ofttimes without these exceptions) till the whole is completed.” While these examples emerge from the rise of sugar production in the eighteenth century, Cuban slavery was quite distinct from its Anglo-American counterparts. Little emphasis was put on reproducing the labour force through ‘breeding’ and the availability of cheap (and later, contraband) slave labour meant that the average life expectancy of slaves during the mid-eighteenth to nineteenth centuries was seven to ten years. Domestic work, and child-rearing fell under the purview of Afro-Cuban women, but during the harvest and processing periods they were not exempt from harsh and unremitting field labour. Overseers from poorer white backgrounds than the slave-owners, were employed to keep the slave labour force in line and as productive as possible. While it is certain that slaves developed ways to make daily life more bearable, and engaged in acts of cultural defiance such as African and syncretic religious worship and political resistance such as infanticide, running away, and participation in slave uprisings, the primary legal restrictions of chattel slavery certainly defined the limits of their experience. Slave participation on both sides of the Ten Years’ War, however, led to some important changes on the part of the Spanish Crown.

In order to prevent a full-scale radical slave revolt, on July 4, 1870, the Moret Law was passed by the Spanish Crown in Puerto Rico in order to govern the transition from slave to free-wage labour in Cuba and Puerto Rico. The law emphasised the following points: The emancipation of all children born after 1868 to slave mothers; the emancipation of all slaves who fought on the side of the colonial power; the emancipation of all slaves above the age of 60; the liberty of all slaves confiscated in contraband slave trade and under the possession of the Spanish Crown. Slaves were to be indemnified at the cost of 125 pesetas a person. And finally, the Moret Law ushered in a system of tutelage or apprenticeship, known as the patronato, to last until the final abolition of slavery, or full Emancipation in 1886, making Cuba the last legal slave-holding regime in the Americas.

Scott reminds us, 

(I)t was a “preparatory bill for the gradual abolition of slavery” that [promised] an indemnified emancipation of the rest would be introduced once Cuban delegates were seated in the (Spanish) Cortes—something to be expected only with the end of the war. The bill outlawed the use of the whip and provided that any slave proven the victim of “excessive cruelty” was to be freed. Juntas Protectoras de Libertos (protective councils of freed peoples), one half of whom were to be slaveholders, were established to oversee enforcement.

The law was predicated on the understanding that Afro-Cubans were incapable of self-rule and integration into waged work, the plantocracy’s fear of ‘abrupt’ abolition, and implemented in response to the slave and anti-Colonial uprisings of 1868. Thus it gave slave-owners time to ‘adjust’ to the new realities of hiring free wage labour. Scott emphasizes the gradual and ‘piecemeal’ way in which slavery was extinguished in Cuba, “meager wages (were) introduced but corporal punishment maintained, in 1880; stocks and chains were prohibited in 1883.” Howard argues that although the War of Independence from Spain lasting from 1868-1878 (the 10 Years’ War) failed to produce a victory, the Moret Law signalled an important step on the part of Spanish authorities toward abolition. In another article, Scott finds examples of former slaves mistakenly buying their own freedom after full Emancipation, as they did not know that slavery had been abolished and there was little benefit to the slave-owning class to have such knowledge promulgated. Slaves also did not always know their ages and thus application of these provisions were often piecemeal.

With Emancipation, as numerous historians of African diasporic communities have noted, came increased white anxiety and elite surveillance and control of the populations of colour. Laws with regard to ‘miscegenation’ were “abrogated…in 1881…though the legally sanctioned union between a white and a person of color remained uncommon, particularly between a white woman and a man of African descent….White women were expected to legally marry within their class and race.”  In practice intermarriage was held up to scrutiny on a couple by couple basis. The exchange of the darker female partner’s property for the benefits of being associated with a lighter-skinned mate was deemed to be a culturally understandable practice, and perhaps even desirable.

Divide and rule tactics in the Caribbean have borne fruit to this very day, as the importation of Chinese and Indian indentured labour into the English Caribbean was aimed at further destabilizing any Black advancement in the post-Emancipation era. Although many Afro-Cubans stayed on in the country side, their eagerness to work as wage labour on their former slave plantations was understandably diminished. 

Vast numbers of Chinese immigrants were recruited to Cuba, experiencing a different type of racism vis-à-vis their own social relations with whites. In Cuba, this ‘dilution’ of the island’s Afro-Cuban population by the Chinese, was augmented by massive migration from Spain at the behest of the colonial and particularly the neo-colonial or post-Independence government. Approximately one million Spaniards came to make Cuba their home during the early period of the neo- Republic, more than at any other period since the founding of the colony. White populism, founded on a discourse of white superiority and its impending doom, donned many guises: scientific; religious; legal and cultural. 

Suffrage at the end of the nineteenth century was far from universal. In the 1890s, approximately three percent of the population had the vote due to the high poll tax of 25 dollars. Property rights were tied up with voting rights and disenfranchised not only the vast majority of the population of colour in Cuba but also poor whites. Thus, although not reflecting direct racial discrimination, the class composition of voters were a priori exclusive and exclusionary on economic grounds and ethnic affiliations. Afro-Cubans for example dominated specific low-paying trades such as shoemaker, bricklayer, gardener, musician, and plantation labourer. Universal male suffrage was granted in without regard to property or race in 1901. Women received the vote in 1934. Emancipation fifty years before saw a massive migration of former slave women into towns and urban centers, where they vied for work as laundresses, domestic servants, nannies, cooks, street-vendors, prostitutes, and the like. 

Neo-Colonial Cuba and Anti Afro-Cuban Regulations

On April 6, 1900, the City Council of Havana passed a law which forbade the use of African drums inside buildings, public thoroughfares or La Comparsa [street festival] because ‘they caused uproars that disturbed the peace and tranquility of the city.’ Anyone caught thumping a drum of African origin was punished with a fine of ten dollars in American gold.

Drumming and singing were a key part of African religious, social and political identity. Childs reminds us, “Festivals more than any other activity united the nation….In addition, on other religious holidays, Sundays, and to transfer power to a newly elected leader or commemorate the death of a past one, cabildos hosted gatherings where they performed music and danced.”

By banning the Conga drum, the newly independent authorities of Cuba were telling Afro-Cubans that their culture was not acceptable; it was savage, and shameful. At the same time, they were manifesting their fear that once Afro-Cubans got together on a regular basis they would undermine the principles, first of a colonial slave society and, after 1898, of a white supremacist neo-colonial society and culture. This racist anxiety on the part of white Cuban elites both Creole and Spaniard, dated from the Haitian revolution late in the eighteenth century and was reinforced by two unsuccessful slave and free Black uprisings in Cuba, the Rebellion of Aponte in 1812 and the Escalera Conspiracy of 1844. In Nodal’s eyes, conservative ambitions triumphed during what Cubans call the “First Republic”:

In their zeal, they went further in the repressive measures they took than did anyone during the period of Spanish control…Black religions were persecuted and the use of African drums forbidden. Reactionary forces attacked the casas de santos [houses of saints] where African ritual ceremonies were held and burned or confiscated the musical instruments, especially the drums.

 By 1903 the Abakuá secret society was banned, and in 1922 it was resolved by the Executive Power to:

[p]rohibit in the entire territory of the Republic, as prejudicial to public safety, and contrary to morality and good custom, all Afrocuban ceremonial dances, especially the one known by the name of “Bembé”, and whatever other ceremonies which, in conflict with the culture and civilization of a people are notorious as symbols of barbarity and social order.

In the mean time, 1925 saw the conga-style comparsa of Santiago de Cuba banned specifically. Santiago, in the predominantly black province of Oriente, was famed for its celebration of Carnaval in which the streets erupted with dancers and the intoxicated. Ned Sublette, pointing out that the word ‘conga’ is derived from the Bantu, defines it as a “percussion driven dancing parade that anyone could join in.” Such musical and dance traditions were passed on through the cabildos to the broader community. General Gerardo Machado was the President of Cuba at the time and years later, his description of Afro-Cuban culture is the following:

I refer to as the “conga” that strident group of drums, frying pans, and howling, to the sounds of which epileptic, ragged and semi-naked crowds run through the streets of our city. Between lubricious contortions and brutal movements, they disrespect society, offend the morals, cause a bad opinion of our custom, lower us in the eyes of foreigners, and most gravely, contaminate by example the minors of school age who are carried away by the heat of the display, and whom I have seen, painted and sweaty, engaging in frenetic competitions of bodily flexibility in those shameful wanton tournaments.

Although the suppression of the comparsa took place throughout this period, another more formal ban was enacted in 1913. Under this law, the comparsa disappeared as a predominantly Afro-Cuban festive practice, to reappear as tourist entertainment in 1937. 

The banning of Afro-Caribbean gatherings also took place on Trinidad and Tobago, where the steel pan and the African drum were banned around the same period. Again, the anxiety of a colonial plantation-owning class with regard to the free association of black people and the potentially revolutionary power of their religious and social gatherings, characterized such legal efforts. In Canada, although under somewhat different circumstances, we know that the Potlatch was banned in order to prevent the handing down of traditional indigenous practices. And indeed, under an amendment to the Indian Act in the late 1920s, it was, for many years, illegal for Aboriginal nations to hire a lawyer to represent their causes in Court. 

Social Science and Law in Cuba’s Early Twentieth Century

While public expressions of African-derived culture were being prohibited, other normative and prescriptive developments in the philosophy and practice of criminal law were directed at Afro-Cubans as well. The development of penal sciences such as criminology and forensic science were strongly linked with positivist, social Darwinist and eugenicist thought. Class and race were at the forefront of hegemonic thinking about crime, its causes, and its punishments. Scientificism reigned as a paradigm that sought to posit and solve social problems with the application of ‘expert’ and ‘specialized’ knowledge. Knowledge was translated into social practices and relations of oppression. Lombrosian and other eugenicist thinking had a great influence on intellectuals, lawmakers, and enforcers in the early years of the Republic.  Law was thus not immune from broader political and intellectual currents. Such an approach was challenged first by Jose Marti’s pragmatic humanism in the late nineteenth century, and by the emergence of a frustrated Afro-Cuban intelligentsia, military, and political sector, little accommodated by the existing political apparatus and ethos. 

Splits between Afro-Cuban thinkers, showed the ways in which belief in classical liberal ideals divided them. While individuals experience concrete social relations, their capacity to make meaning of what is happening to them and thus act, is what makes social movements possible. But this process also signals to the flaws in the analytical tools available to them. Thus, it was that a fractured liberalism gave birth not only to the ideals of Martí, but also to the rise of autonomous black political thought. Such liberalism was challenged by race and racism, and the claim to “liberté, égalité et fraternité”, posed by black militants in the War of Independence and its aftermath. In the years just before Independence according to Ada Ferrer, “free persons of colour demonstrated their awareness of the new rebel discourse of freedom and equality and their willingness to make demands on the basis of that discourse.” 

By the early 20th century, the cabildos had all but disappeared. As a result of their surveillance and regulation by colonial and republican authorities, they became relegated to associations with religion, with disorderliness, with ‘barbaric’ and backward social practices. Modernity meant Europeanization and Americanization of social and political processes and the Cabildos represented an unwanted African past and a reminder of the slave society that engendered such a past. Ruling conceptualizations of blackness were associated with three primary characteristics: labour—both manual and sexual; entertainment; and criminality. 

As the cabildos decreased in prominence, the sociedades de color, with a strong welfarist aim, took their place. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, the sociedades became the prime vehicles for Afro-Cuban organizing by the early twentieth century. For the first 3 decades of the twentieth century they provided a space for black intellectual and political discussion and mobilization. Such organizations represented Christianized groupings where charity, etiquette, debate and social recreation were seen as the chief aims. Although the sociedades had historically harboured many supporters of the nationalist and even abolitionist cause, they were not directly associated with Santería and other Africanized beliefs. 

It is at this juncture that criminological and eugenicist thinking entered the criminal law realm and black people were consequently “reconstructed”. Their practices were no longer seen as religious and possibly politically seditious, but as dangerous criminality—disruptive, transgressive of a civil rather than political order. The practice of syncretized religious forms became seen as “witchcraft”. Although witchcraft was not a crime recognized by law in colonial or republican Cuba, it was a social practice quickly linked to “African” masculinity. In particular, first generation Africans were exemplified as male “witches”, while in later years, Haitian immigrants were singled out. Ethnologist and criminologist Fernando Ortiz for example,

  carried on his campaign against “African fetishism” as an expert for the prosecution of alleged brujos (witches). As a congressman, he presented a bill against “antisocial superstitions that targeted traditional healing, santería, brujería, and cannibalism. A majority in the House however thought the current penal code already applied to crimes motivated by brujería and rejected his bill.

Aline Helg contrasts these images of Afro-Cuban masculinity with those created by Southern U.S. racism, where Black masculinity is configured as hyper-male and hyper-sexualized. In comparison, the witch image, argues Helg, conjures up a terrifying, but also feminized image (from a Eurocentric standpoint) —that of the cannibal stirring his pot. This caricature of black masculinity and religiosity entered into a common-sense lexicon of stereotypical and disenfranchising images of blackness as ‘culture’. And as with the repression of the cabildos, it served to keep Afro-Cubans distant from the liberal promise of full racial equality and thus, citizenship. These stereotypes played off the age-old “divide and rule” strategies of colonial white supremacy, dividing blacks between the ““civilized” and “savage”…they allowed whites to blame black “barbarism” on a black middle class unable to “civilize” its lower classes, and by extension, stigmatized the entire “black race” as being prone to rape and witchcraft.”

More frighteningly, the conflation of social conditions and biology as explanations for the causes of criminality lent itself to a discourse in which blackness itself became equivalent to criminality. And thus, with the end of the cabildos, Cuba entered into a modernity characterized by preoccupation with liberal thought, positivism, eugenics, economic dependence, white populism, and law and order. This version of modernity, she shared with numerous other ex-colonies in Latin America.

Such epistemological shifts are present as early as the first decades of the twentieth century, when the study of folklore and ethnography contributed to the institutionalization of new ways of knowing about capitalist social relations of class and racialization. They served to neutralize and disempower the Other’s practices and mode of being, by recasting powerful and thus threatening, aspects of the Other’s cultural survival as entertainment, secularizing the sacred, simplifying the complex, and commercializing and commodifying non-European understandings of sexual expression and gender identity.  

Cuba provides an excellent example of racial fears on the part of both colonial and creole elites, as even immigration policies were changed in the early twentieth century to encourage Spanish and European immigration to Republican Cuba. This was done, in the elite’s view, to ‘rebalance’ the population in favour of higher white demographics, because the growing Black population and intermixing between blacks and whites fuelled racist fears of being swallowed up in a sea of blackness. While in the 1850s, Afro-descendents made up more than half the population, by the beginning of the twentieth century, Afro-Cubans made up just over one-third of the total population of the island.  Contraposed to this demographic reality, Alejandro de la Fuente’s research points to an emergent nationalist discourse of “mestizaje” or ‘racial mixture’ throughout Latin America which strove to create a national identity that is “raceless”. Such constructions, he argues, were both beneficial for people of colour in Latin America and Cuba, but also problematic for their insistence on a utopic mutual acculturation or a “colour-blind” notion of citizenship, which refused to address racial inequality. This latter notion can be found in the writing of Jose Marti, who conflated black and white prejudice as being equivalent examples of racism, both of which he contraposed against “colour-blind” social equality.

Ideas about race clearly varied depending on one’s location in, and analysis of, racialized and classed hierarchies, but a sizeable portion of the Afro-Cuban population had internalized their own denigration. Marriages of darker skinned individuals to lighter ones were seen as a way to “advance” or “improve” the race by producing lighter and lighter descendents. Such a belief can be found in present-day Cuba as well, through the common usage of the expression “bettering” or “advancing”, the “race”. Through “breeding” and religious and cultural instruction, the “black race”, it was hoped, by most whites and some blacks and mulattos, was destined to disappear. While such regulations sought to control reproduction between blacks and whites, other forms of social engineering linked to hegemonic legitimation through law were on the rise. 

Criminology and the Social Sciences: Quasi-Law Approaches to ‘Blackness’

Fernando Ortiz and Israel Castellanos were contemporaries who initially shared their perspectives on crime. For Ortíz, the study of crime metamorphosed into the study of ‘Cubanness’. Both included a sizeable discourse on “races”, what distinguishes them, what unites them, and what characteristics seemed to ‘innately’ be associated with blackness or whiteness. While he starts out applying classic Lombrosian approaches to Cuban society and delinquency, his appetite for ethnography leads him to the question of what ‘Cubanness’ might mean, and he comes up with the idea of ‘transculturation’. By this Ortíz refers to a process whereby both African and Spanish or European elements had combined to produce a new hybrid, namely Cuban culture. This contribution to Cuban social sciences was important because it posited a notion of culture as shifting, historically contingent and made by and through material social practices, including knowledge production. But it was problematic, on my view, because it pictures the ‘two’ cultures on an equal footing of give and take, and historical accounts clearly indicate that is not so. 

Nevertheless, Ortiz’ work demonstrates the shifts of which one of the country’s social scientists was capable, a trajectory that had significant epistemological and ontological implications for how Cuba constructed both ideas of nation and citizenship in their broadest configurations. Furthermore, Ortiz’s fascination with Santería and Palo Monte and Abakuá religions has been noted earlier and resulted in his now classic text “Los Negros Brujos”. His shift from criminologist to ethnologist and folklorist was managed, as Bronfman emphasizes, through the manipulation of the concept of “time” as a way to mediate the ideological nature of these paradigms. While criminology was rooted in the present, the folklorist approach was set squarely in a historical appreciation of religious and musical practices and oral traditions. Through this slight of hand, Ortiz went on to become one of the leading social scientists investigating Cuban identity. In later years he professed some distance from his earlier views.

Israel Castellanos, on the other hand, shared and furthered the cause of criminology that initially attracted Ortiz, serving for forty-seven years, in various capacities, the Cuban state until the overthrow of Batista in 1959. Castellanos went on to advance the study of “penal anthropology” that is, the study of criminals and their rehabilitation and their punishments. In one of his books, entitled “La Brujeria y el Ñañiguismo Bajo el Punto de Vista Medico-Legal” (Witchcraft and Sorcery from a Medical-Legal Point of View), he discusses the typical characteristics of the ‘criminal’ in Cuba, a largely black stereotype. His work contributed to the increasingly overlapping borders between law, medicine and social sciences. 

Castellanos held a number of influential positions linked to the development of modern ideas of penal practices and reform, including teaching at the University of Havana in the first “Juridical Anthropology” program, running the nation’s Bureau of Identification, and producing study after study dedicated to showing the ways in which blackness and miscegenation could be seen as signs of a criminal and atavistic race. 

More broadly speaking, criminology’s connection with the social sciences also demonstrates the way in which law, in search of maintaining elite hegemony, reconfigures itself as less of an overtly ‘political’ and as more of a ‘social’, benefit. A lawful society implied all sorts of things about how individuals were positioned with regard to citizenship. Those “in trouble” with the law rely on the expertise of those who literally “re-present” them, as do lawyers, judges, prison administrators and social workers and social scientists.  The task of containing and managing crime and criminal procedure becomes the task of managing economic and socio-political tensions. And this, it appeared according to Castellanos and others who shared his beliefs, depended on containing and controlling ‘criminals’, both outside and inside the penal system. Such an approach meant that belonging to the nation meant something very different to those who were biologically and culturally held to be predisposed to crime and those who were ‘naturally’ held to be representatives of law and order. Thus social citizenship, recast in part, as relationship to the legal system, remained elusive, but in new ways, for Afro-Cubans. As Bronfman summarizes, 

The heightened legitimacy of positivistic science…elaborated a set of understandings of race in which Cubans of African descent, especially those presumed to be linked to African-derived cultural practices were deemed deviant, unfit for citizenship and thus occupying an ambiguous position in a national scheme.

With the gradual disappearance of the cabildos and the emergence of the sociedades de color, we see a specific approach to the question of “blackness”. Blackness is conceptually related to an Africa, which was portrayed by dominant discourse as ‘savage’, unknowable, ritualistic, and at times, exotic. Law at this time was particularly concerned with the suppression of practices seen as African, and with the prohibition of gatherings of people of colour. A discourse of modernity equating progress, science, social engineering and the erasure of racial difference, relegated such practices as ‘backward’, hidebound, frightening, and traditional superstitions; obstacles for working-class Afro-Cubans joining the march to modernity. And finally, the early twentieth century is characterized by a powerful shift in legal thinking about Afro-Cubans. Whereas Africanness as cultural practice was criminalized in the previous era, now ‘blackness’ itself became a crime. This conceptual change informed an epistemological transformation, where crime was no longer about “doing” but about “being.”

This transformation in social and juridical understanding led to changes in policy, which had concrete effects on the social relations of racialization for Afro-Cubans. As science and social sciences gained discursive and common-sense legitimacy in how those in charge of constructing the “nation” understood it, Afro-Cubans remained “unknowable” in some ways, subjects of study by criminologists, anthropologists and ethnologists, rendered and represented by experts. 

The marriage of scientificist and legal epistemologies, the centrality of empirical method, and a post-Independence era characterized by a relationship of neo-colonization by the United States, heralded the arrival of new elites in the early twentieth century; elites whose political affiliations lay not with Spain or a national bourgeoisie, but with the United States. Yet these were elites who shared with their predecessors in both settler and plantation Cuba, the fear of the loss of white supremacy.

 I conclude this essay by underscoring how important it is to understand the interplay between cultures, how identities are formed, and law. All colonial societies have in common a power struggle between the colonizer and the colonized, but those who have been victims of genocidal practices like Canada’s First Nations, or those who have a history of being turned into property as slaves, and stripped of their humanity by strokes of a pen, have a particularly complex relationship to law. In the previous pages, this essay has provided an argument about the ways in which law is contingent on ways of making meaning about social relations and social power. Simultaneously, as a site of socio-political power itself, its dictates also shape social relations. As both slave, and a newly emancipated society, Cuban colonial and early twentieth century approaches to law have been appraised for what they can tell us about hegemonic ideas of ‘blackness and ‘Africanness’. This provides a picture of the ways in which law stripped entire populations of their right to a cultural identity, in the interests of ‘public order’ and modernity. Such a cultural identity formed the fabric of social relations as much as formal exclusion from the sites of decision-making, military recognition, and economic impoverishment, and was seen as a dangerous manifestation of ungovernability and unworthiness of claims to citizenship. 

Social movements generally emerge to address concrete and specific demands for employment, participation in various state apparati, public education, and so forth. Yet such movements coagulate in the veins of everyday living, a living where the rights to assembly, mobility, privacy and expression were daily contested. In this context, Afro-Cubans, who thought of themselves both as individuals and collective actors, searched for ways to give meaning to Afro-Cuban identity while coping with social exclusion. The cabildos were the beginning of such a process in Cuba.  Consequently such an analysis leads us to the conclusion that the disappearance of the cabildos de nación was not a random or inevitable act, but an outcome of a persistent politico-legal attempt at cultural suppression and racialized social control.  

In the preceding section we have demonstrated some aspects of a racialized legal apparatus that was in place before neo-colonial policies modified notions of criminality in keeping with world-wide imperialist and neo-colonial strategies reliant on a trope of difference as inferior.

Below, I have included a few  examples of iconic  and contemporary Afro-Cuban Music, surviving  and thriving in spite of  the historical repression and censorship of the early twentieth century discussed in this essay.

1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykVIHBY6kEQ&list=OLAK5uy_khT6kFdLbHc_g-nPNRGx-hWFSzN44mayE

2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mPowSsMa0I

3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzskQzyUPtw

4) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EWkyaYYVc0

5) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TvrHC4qtgA

6) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYyewB0iMyc

7) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHRAPIwsS5I

8) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tGb-0iPODk

9) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGVHdSIMRzA

(lyrics Nicolas Guillen)

10) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8lJ7zMugyU

Materials Cited

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Articles

Judith Bettelheim, “Negotiations of Power in Carnaval (sic) Culture in Santiago de Cuba”, (1991) 24:2 African Arts 66

Antonio Benitez-Rojo; James Maraniss, “The role of music in the emergence of Afro-Cuban culture” (1998)  29:1  Research in African Literatures 179

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1984 vol. 3, Paul Rabinow & James D. Faubion (Eds.) New York: The New Press 2001. 

Anthony Bottoms & Paul Wiles ‘Explanations of Crime and Place’ Changes In Society, Crime And Criminal Justice In Europe Vol. 1 Crime and Insecurity in the City, Cyrille Fijnaut et al. (Eds.) Cambridge, Mass: Kluwer Law International, 1995.

William Chambliss, ‘Toward a Political Economy of Crime’, Theory and Society 2 (1975): 149-70.

Ian Taylor, Paul Walton, and Jock Young ‘The New Criminology’ London: Psychology Press, 1973. 

Stuart Hall, ‘Drifting into a Law and Order Society’ London: Cobden Trust, c1980.

Michael Keith, ‘Criminalization and Racialization’ in Muncie, J., McLaughlin, E., and Hughes, G. (Eds.) Criminological Perspectives: A Reader. London: Sage, 2003.

Louk Hulsman ‘Critical Criminology and the Concept of Crime’ in Criminological Perspectives, in Muncie et al.

Davis, Angela, ‘Race and Criminalization’ in Wahneema Lubiano (Ed.)The House that Race Built, New York: Vintage, 1997. 

Braithwaite, John: ‘Between Proportionality and Impunity,’ in Criminology, (2005), v. 43 (2), pgs. 283-306.

Phillips, Coretta and Benjamin Bowling: ‘Racism, Ethnicity and Criminology,’ in British Journal of Criminology, (2003), v. 43, pgs. 269-290.

Arrigo, Bruce and Young, T.R.: ‘Theories of Crime and Crime of Theorists: On the Topological Construction of Criminological Reality’ in Theory and Psychology, (1998), v. 8 (2), pgs. 219-252.

“She neither Respected nor Obeyed Anyone”: Inmates and Psychiatrists

Debate Gender and Class at the General Insane Asylum La Castaneda

Mexico, 1910-1930. Rivera Garza, Cristina, 1964-

Hispanic American Historical Review, 81:3-4, August-November 2001,

pp. 653-688.

Cultura popular y construcción nacional: la institucionalización de los estudios

De folklore en cuba, carmen ortiz garcía,  Dpto. de Antropología de España y América. CSIC.

Smallpox and Vaccination in Cuba, P. Villoldo,  Public Health Reports (1896-1970), Vol. 26, No. 15 (Apr. 14, 1911), pp. 495-499

The Interplay between Socio-Economic Factors and Medical Science: Yellow Fever Research, Cuba and the United States, Nancy Stepan

Social Studies of Science, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Nov., 1978), pp. 397-423.

Afro-Cuban Religion

From Africa to Cuba: An Historical Analysis of the Sociedad Secreta Abakuá (Ñañiguismo), Shubi L. Ishemo, Review of African Political Economy, Vol. 29, No. 92, Africa, the African Diaspora and Development (Jun., 2002), pp. 253-272.

El Legado Africano en Cuba, Natalia Bolivar, 1996, papers 52, 1997, pp. 155-166.

¿Brujería?: Una visión desde el archivo de Fernando Ortiz. Compilación bibliográfica de los artículos de publicaciones periódicas de la materia BRUJERÍA del archivo.

Alina Cuadrado Castellón, VII CONFERENCIA INTERNACIONAL Antropología 2004, Noviembre 24 al 26.

«Yoruba soy, soy lucumí…».Il trionfo novecentesco della negrofilia cubana

Irina Bajini, Susanna Ragazzoni e Laura Scarabelli

Narco-Trafficking, Afro-Caribbean Religiosity, Its Latinization: the Invisible Syncretism, Andes Perez Mena, 1995. Paper presented at LASA International Congress, September 29th

Raquel Romberg, Ritual Piracy or Creolization with  an Attitude, New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids vol. 79 no. 3 & 4 (2005):175-218.

Immigration

Migration and Culture: A Case Study of Cuba, 1750-1900 , Franklin W. Knight 

The Johns Hopkins University The Historical Society’s 2008 Conference on Migration, Diaspora, Ethnicity, & Nationalism in History, June 5-7, 2008. 

 “Barbados or Canada?” Race, Immigration, and Nation in Early-Twentieth-Century Cuba, Chomsky, Aviva, 1957-, Hispanic American Historical Review, 80:3, August 2000, pp. 415-462.

Identity, Rebellion, and Social Justice among Chinese Contract Workers in Nineteenth-Century Cuba, Joseph C. Dorsey, Latin American Perspectives, Vol. 31, No. 3, East Asian Migration to Latin America, (May, 2004), pp. 18-47.

Undesirable Aliens: Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism in the Comparison of Haitian and British West Indian Immigrant Workers in Cuba, 1912-1939 Marc C. McLeod, Journal of Social History, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Spring, 1998), pp. 599-623.

Critical Race Theory

The Boundaries of Race: Political Geography in Legal Analysis Richard Thompson Ford Harvard Law Review, Vol. 107, No. 8 (Jun., 1994), pp. 1841-1921.

 Equality Trouble: Sameness and Difference in Twentieth-Century Race Law Angela P. Harris, California Law Review, Vol. 88, No. 6, Symposium of the Law in the Twentieth Century  (Dec., 2000), pp. 1923-2015.

 Race Consciousness, Gary Peller, Duke Law Journal, Vol. 1990, No. 4,  Frontiers of Legal Thought III (Sep., 1990), pp.758-847.

 Nationalism and Civil Rights in Cuba: A Comparative Perspective, 1930-1960, Darien J. Davis, The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 83, No. 1 (Winter, 1998), pp. 

Legitimation 

Globalizing Social Movement Theory: The Case of Eugenics Deborah Barrett and Charles Kurzman, Theory and Society, Vol. 33, No. 5 (Oct., 2004), pp. 487-52.

  Review: Ruling-Class Strategies for Maintaining Legitimacy Author(s): Joe R. Feagin Source: Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 8, No. 3 (May, 1979), pp. 393-396.

Race and Racism

Racial Experiments in Cuban Literature and Ethnography, Thomas F. Anderson, Anthurium, A Caribbean Studies Journal, Vol.  10  Issue 1. 2013.

 The Erosion of Racial Equality in the Context of Cuba’s Dual Economy Author(s): Sarah A. Blue Source: Latin American Politics and Society, Vol. 49, No. 3 (Fall, 2007), pp. 35-68.

Fighting an Uphill Battle: Race, Politics, Power, and Institutionalization in Cuba, Henley C. Adams , Latin American Research Review, Vol. 39, No. 1 (2004), pp. 168-182.

 Race and Inequality in Cuba, 1899-1981 Alejandro de la Fuente, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jan., 1995), pp. 131-168.

 Rethinking Racism: Toward a Structural Interpretation ,Eduardo Bonilla-Silva ,American Sociological Review, Vol. 62, No. 3 (Jun., 1997), pp. 465-480.

The Persistent Power of “Race” in the Cultural and Political Economy of Racism,

Faye V. Harrison, Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 24 (1995), pp. 47-74.

 ‘Race’, Nature and Culture,  Peter Wade, Man, New Series, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Mar., 1993), pp. 17-34.

 Interrogating Racism: Toward an Antiracist Anthropology, Leith Mullings ,Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 34 (2005), pp. 667-693.

 The Black Man in Cuban Society: From Colonial Times to the Revolution Author(s): Roberto Nodal Source: Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Mar., 1986), pp. 251-267.

“What, Then, Is the African American?” African and Afro-Caribbean Identities in Black America, Violet M. Showers Johnson, Journal of American Ethnic History, 2008.

Imágenes distantes pero presentes. Una aproximación al estudio de la masculinidad en los hombres negros en Cuba. Michael Colón Pichardo.

George Reid Andrews, Afro-Latin America: Five Questions, Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2, July 2009, pp. 191–210.

Rafael Fermoselle-Lopez, The Blacks in Cuba: A Bibliography, Caribbean Studies, Vol. 12 No.3, 1972, pp. 103-112.

Ann Laura Stoler, Making Empire Respectable: The politics of Race and Sexual Morality in Twentieth Century Colonial Cultures

Elvira Anton Carillo, Phd Diss. University of Granada, Department of Social Anthropology, Spain. Arqueologia del discurso de las elites cubanas sobre raza en el siglo XX: Editoriales y Articulos de Opinion, September, 2005.

 Fear of a Black Nation: Local Rappers, Transnational Crossings, and State Power in Contemporary Cuba, Sujatha Fernandes , Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 76, No. 4 (Autumn, 2003), pp. 575-608. 

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