Winds of Change: Hurricanes and the Transformation of Nineteenth Century Cuba

Winds of Change: Hurricanes and the Transformation of Nineteenth Century Cuba

Winds of Change: Hurricanes and the Transformation of Nineteenth Century Cuba

Winds of Change: Hurricanes and the Transformation of Nineteenth Century Cuba

Synopsis

The first book to establish hurricanes as a key factor in the development of modern Cuba, Winds of Change shows how these great storms played a decisive role in shaping the economy, the culture, and the nation during a critical century in the island's history.

Always vulnerable to hurricanes, Cuba was ravaged in 1842, 1844, and 1846 by three catastrophic storms, with staggering losses of life and property. Louis Perez combines eyewitness and literary accounts with agricultural data and economic records to show how important facets of the colonial political economy--among them, land tenure forms, labor organization, and production systems--and many of the social relationships at the core of Cuban society were transformed as a result of these and lesser hurricanes. He also examines the impact of repeated natural disasters on the development of Cuban identity and community. Bound together in the face of forces beyond their control, Cubans forged bonds of unity in their ongoing efforts to persevere and recover in the aftermath of destruction.

Excerpt

“I was only three years old,” Dolores María de Ximeno wrote of the 1870 hurricane in Matanzas, “and I remember perfectly well the roaring of that storm, the strident, frightful whistling. the painful recollection, the overflowing rivers, the horrifying storm causing ruin and desolation never before seen. I carry the memory of the innumerable deaths and sad scenes of desolation.” Inocencia Acosta Felipe was in Havana during the hurricane of October 1926. “I was young then but I remember it clearly,” she reminisced fifty years later. “Now I’m more terrified of thunder and lightning. My face turns green and yellow and becomes so disfigured with fear that I look like someone else.”

Almost everyone in Cuba remembers one hurricane in particular—that one encounter with terror, often at an impressionable age. But, then, hurricanes have a way of making an impression at any age. No passage of time seems to dim the memory of the experience or its effects: it is something that people recall clearly and often. the episode can serve permanently to demarcate a lifetime, to persist as the reference point by which people make those profoundly personal distinctions about their lives as “before” and “after.”

To firsthand experiences are often added secondhand accounts, tales transformed into legend and lore, of family tragedies and personal triumphs. the experiences become stories passed down and circulated from grandparents to parents to children, among kin and between friends, recounted so often that they insinuate themselves into the repertoire of reminiscences . . .

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