Commanders in the Diaspora: West African Warfare in Colonial Cuba and the Issue of Leadership

Sunday, January 4, 2015: 12:10 PM
Bryant Suite (New York Hilton)
Manuel Barcia, University of Leeds
Cuban historiography has usually diminished or overlooked altogether the impact of African events and past experiences upon the many slave conspiracies and revolts that took place in the island between the late-1790s and the mid-1840s. A discussion of West African military leadership in particular has been found wanting until now. As a matter of fact, many of these African-led slave movements have been ignored for failing to embody the European or American “revolutionary ideas” that have come to represent the Age of Revolution, as if ideas and ideologies associated with African events, and African warfare in particular were not relevant enough. Although Creole urban leaders were not a total anomaly during the period, they were far from being the norm. Because the movements they led were better documented they have come to epitomize slave rebellion in Cuba.

Taking this into consideration, this paper explores the role of the West African commanders on African slave armed insurrections staged across the western plantation region of Cuba during the first half of the nineteenth century, suggesting that their actions and decisions could be better characterized and studied as instances of West African warfare in the Diaspora. I have selected the leaders as the focus of this examination partly as a result of the quality of the historical sources available, which frequently focused on them, and partly because their behavior and actions may illustrate in a much clearer manner the connections to the war-related African past I intend to explore and reveal here.

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