Voices of the Enslaved in Nineteenth-Century Cuba: A Documentary History

Voices of the Enslaved in Nineteenth-Century Cuba: A Documentary History

Voices of the Enslaved in Nineteenth-Century Cuba: A Documentary History

Voices of the Enslaved in Nineteenth-Century Cuba: A Documentary History

Excerpt

I have translated many and varied things over the years: journal and magazine articles, books, all kinds of documents, even the résumé of a Chilean pig farmer. The level of difficulty in this translation far surpasses anything that I have ever done: the archaic Spanish, the syntax and sentence structure, the unfamiliar context, the sometimes impenetrable prose. Even I did not fully appreciate the degree of complexity of these documents until I had produced a few unsatisfactory English versions. This book is the end result of that long and arduous process.

Without realizing it, I have accrued a number of slavery-related credentials. I was probably most influenced by a course I took on slavery taught by Eric Wolf in the City University of New York many years ago. There we met and listened to Herbert Gutman, Sid Mintz, and Peter Worsley, among others. A fellow student introduced me to the shadowy world of Santería. Years later, my familiarity with slavery in Latin America served as an invaluable resource when I translated Arturo Warman’s Corn and Capitalism: How a Botanical Bastard Grew to Global Dominance.

What intrigues me most about this translation process is not unusual words or obscure colloquial expressions or improbable usages but the social forces informing the events and occurrences related in the text. It is quite impossible for me to translate anything unless I have a firm grasp of the social context behind the printed page. I am an anthropologist by training, more a social historian than a linguist per se. I like to think that this, rather than any formal training I may have received, is the key to any good translation.

One linguistic issue tempered by social history was that of race. The documents specifically identified an individual slave by his name, and often his tribal affiliation and occupation, naming his owner and place of residence. They also provided the slave’s racial designation. Those mixed-race slaves were referred to by the terms pardo or parda and their plural forms (brown, brownish-gray, gray, drab brown), moreno or morena and their plural forms (brown, black, dark brown, or mulatto), black or Negro (synonymous with slave), mulatto, colored, and so forth. At first, I attempted to find Englishlanguage equivalents: yellow, high yellow, quadroon, octoroon, darkie . . .

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