Nigerian woman who led a mass uprising in Cuba, by Owei Lakemfa

The uprising began in full on Sunday, November 5, 1943 at 8 p.m. when Carlota set fire to the places of torture and detention, the house and the mill of the slave master. With sharp machetes, she and her followers attacked the overseers and their assistants, killing them… Within hours, the insurgents had overthrown the mayor of Matanzas, Julian Luis Alfonso Sole, who was also the owner of the local sugar factory. They also invaded five plantations.

Carlota Lukumi, a Yoruba from Nigeria, was about ten years old when slavers abducted her about two hundred years ago. She was one of approximately 12.5 million Africans abducted. She survived the dehumanizing passage of the Atlantic Ocean into slavery, during which at least 2.5 million people died. She was sold as a slave to work in the sugar and cotton plantations of the Cuban province of Matanzas.

As in almost all cases, her original name was lost as she was given a new name, Carlota. His surname, Lukumi, comes from the habit of Yoruba slaves, in recognition of their kinship, calling themselves ‘Olukumi’, which means my close friend. It was very much like the Argentine international doctor, Ernesto Guevera, referring to himself as “Che” (Buddy) and it becoming part of his name.

More than 600,000 slaves were taken to Cuba in the 19th century and subjected to inhuman and backbreaking labor in the fields. The Spanish colonialists treated slaves as beasts of burden. Their living conditions were quite harsh and some of the slaves thought the best option was the overthrow of the slave masters, who were also the Spanish colonialists. Uprisings like these were quite bloody and brutal and in almost every case associated with masculinity. But Carlota and another woman of African descent, Fermnina, decided to lead a revolution to overthrow the system. They formed a triumvirate with another African slave, Evaristo, and began mobilization in July and August 1843.

With the Triunvirato and Acana mills as their base, they employed the use of talking drums, which a number of slaves had learned themselves. Slave owners assumed that talking drums were ways for slaves to remember their ancestors, whereas these were war drums.

Unfortunately, part of the plan leaked and Fermina was exposed as a rebel planning an insurrection. On August 2, she was arrested, tortured and detained. But the slave masters did not realize that this was only the tip of the iceberg and that the insurrection, coordinated by Carlota, was rumbling like a volcano.

Three months later, on November 3, the insurgents, led by Carlota, moved from their base at Triunvirato Mill to Acana Mill, where they liberated Fermina and freed the slaves.

Carlota’s early capture and execution, rather than deterring the insurgents, galvanized them for greater action. While she carried out the full insurgency for a single day, the revolt lasted a year; the biggest against the slave owners in Cuba.

The uprising began in full on Sunday, November 5, 1943 at 8 p.m. when Carlota set fire to the places of torture and detention, the house and the mill of the slave master. With sharpened machetes, she and her followers attacked the overseers and their assistants, killing them. Some witnesses testified that Carlota personally seized and killed her overseer’s daughter. Within hours, the insurgents had overthrown the mayor of Matanzas, Julian Luis Alfonso Sole, who also owned the local sugar mill. They also invaded five plantations.

It was a very brutal uprising, with neither side taking any prisoners. When Carlota was captured, she was promptly put to death on November 6, 1843. It is not known how she was executed, but a popular claim by witnesses was that: “Repressive forces tied her to horses sent to run in opposite directions in order to completely destroy her body so that she is forever unrecognizable.

Carlota’s early capture and execution, rather than deterring the insurgents, galvanized them for greater action. While she carried out the full insurgency for a single day, the revolt lasted a year; the biggest against the slave owners in Cuba.

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Fermina and seven others were shot in March 1844. This year became known as the “Year of the Lashes” because angry slave owners and the Spanish armed forces massacred many Cubans of ancestry African, regardless of gender and status; slaves and freed men and women.

The uprising had an international echo. A few days after the start of the rebellion, an American warship, a navy corvette, the Vandalia, docked in Havana. Its commander, Rear Admiral Chauncey brought a letter of solidarity to Leopold O’Donnell, the Captain General of Cuba, offering American assistance in crushing the “Afro-Cuban” rebellion. Mr. Campbell, United States Consul in Havana, accompanied Rear Admiral Chauncey to the official ceremony where the letter was presented. It revealed that as early as the 1880s, and even before the Berlin Conference of 1844-45 where Africa was divided into colonies, Western Europeans and Americans were working together to dominate the world. This was also evident in their support for apartheid South Africa in Angola, Namibia and South Africa. It is still played out today in the Russian-Ukrainian war.

Carlota’s uprising occurring after the Haitian Revolution of August 22, 1791 to January 1, 1804, in which slaves faced the colonialists, alongside the British and French armies, snatched victory, freed all slaves and declared the independence, led to the dismantling of slaves and colonial systems in the 19th century.

In 2015, the memorial site hosted the 40th commemoration of “Operation Carlota”. Carlota Lukumi seems to have lived the last three centuries, as the leader of the 19th century slave uprising, in the UNESCO slave memorial of the last century, and in the 40th commemoration of Operation Carlota in the 21st century.

Carlota has become not only a symbol of the strength of the Cuban woman, but also a symbol of resistance and resilience.

When Western-backed apartheid South Africa invaded Angola in 1974, President Agostinho Neto sent an SOS message to Cuba on November 3. The positive response came two days later: “The Communist Party of Cuba made its decision without hesitation. The Cubans’ choice of November 5 to meet the Angolan demand was symbolic, as it reminded them of November 5, 1883, the day Carlota began her revolt. For them, it was time for Cuba to show its gratitude for the fundamental role that Cubans of African descent, like Carlota and General Antonio Maceo, played in their liberation. Maceo, known as the “Titan of the Bronz” because of his skin and his bravery in war, was the second in command of the Cuban Army of Liberation from colonial rule.

As Cuba sent tens of thousands of troops to Africa to halt the march of apartheid on the continent, including its invasion of various African states, its then leader, Fidel Castro, named it “Operación Carlota “(Operation Carlota) in honor of Carlota Lukumi. . The decisive Cuban military victory over the apartheid armed forces not only forced the racists out of Angola, but also led to the independence of Namibia and South Africa.

With Operation Carlota, Cubans linked not only their ancestral past to Africa, but also the ideals of the Cuban Revolution to the total liberation of Africa.

In 1991, as part of the UNESCO Slave Route project, a memorial honoring Carlota and the heroic slaves who fought for freedom, was erected on the site of the Triunvirato plantation. where the revolt began.

In 2015, the memorial site hosted the 40th commemoration of “Operation Carlota”. Carlota Lukumi seems to have lived the last three centuries, as the leader of the 19th century slave uprising, in the UNESCO slave memorial of the last century, and in the 40th commemoration of Operation Carlota in the 21st century.

Owei Lakemfa, former General Secretary of African Workers, is a human rights activist, journalist and author.


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