Prieto: Yorùbá Kingship in Colonial Cuba during the Age of Revolutions

Prieto: Yorùbá Kingship in Colonial Cuba during the Age of Revolutions

Prieto: Yorùbá Kingship in Colonial Cuba during the Age of Revolutions

Prieto: Yorùbá Kingship in Colonial Cuba during the Age of Revolutions

Synopsis

This Atlantic world history centers on the life of Juan Nepomuceno Prieto (c. 1773-c. 1835), a member of the West African Yoruba people enslaved and taken to Havana during the era of the Atlantic slave trade. Richly situating Prieto's story within the context of colonial Cuba, Henry B. Lovejoy illuminates the vast process by which thousands of Yoruba speakers were forced into life-and-death struggles in a strange land. In Havana, Prieto and most of the people of the Yoruba diaspora were identified by the colonial authorities as Lucumi. Prieto's evolving identity becomes the fascinating fulcrum of the book. Drafted as an enslaved soldier for Spain, Prieto achieved self-manumission while still in the military. Rising steadily in his dangerous new world, he became the religious leader of Havana's most famous Lucumi cabildo, where he contributed to the development of the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria. Then he was arrested on suspicion of fomenting slave rebellion. Trial testimony shows that he fell ill, but his ultimate fate is unknown.

Despite the silences and contradictions that will never be fully resolved, Prieto's life opens a window onto how Africans creatively developed multiple forms of identity and resistance in Cuba and in the Atlantic world more broadly.

Excerpt

On Sunday, 12 July 1835, word spread around Havana that a group of Lucumí slaves, free persons, and enslaved Africans liberated by the Anglo- Spanish antislave trade commission were attempting to seize Havana and overthrow the colonial government. Despite the involvement of only about thirt people in some kind of a disturbance in a city with tens of thousands of residents, military police and concerned citizens mobilized themselves and then descended on the small group violently. in a matter of minutes, the angry mob killed four people of African descent and injured the remaining participants. That evening, officials from the island’s military court began searching for the under lying motives of the alleged crime. Within four days, officials identified the participants, imprisoned the suspects, and executed the leaders by firing squad. Then they displayed their decapitated heads in cages around the city to serve as a warning to others. Over the course of the swift trial for what was but a minor disturbance, authorities speculated that a major conspiracy was afoot and that a network of people of African descent were organizing an islandwide revolt in pursuit of Cuban independence and the abolition of slavery.

Two days into the investigation, Manuel de Moya, police captain of the Havana neighborhood of Jesús, María y José, alleged that “the negro Juan Nepomuceno Prieto leader of the nación Lucumi Elló had participated in the conspiracy.” Moya believed Prieto— whose name means “black”— was the architect of this plot, which he had or ga nized along ethnic lines. the majorit of the participants that Sunday were “Lucumí,” a colonial designation for those who are generally identified as Yorùbá in Cuba today. Prieto was a well- known leader of a cabildo de nación Lucumí, which was a legally sanctioned and church- sponsored socioreligious brotherhood for Lucumí in Havana. His cabildo was formally known as the Mutual Aid Societ of the Lucumí Nation of Santa Bárbara (Sociedad de Socorros Mutuos Nación Lucumí de Santa Bárbara). Prieto led this cabildo for nearly two decades after he retired as second sergeant of Havana’s Loyal Black Battalion (Batallón de Morenos Leales de la Habana).

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