The memory of slavery has yet to be written. But it must be told that in a period of our history, a small number of countries perpetrated with impunity the greatest of atrocities: to capture free individuals in their places of origin, move them against their will to another continent, and enslave them for life, all to the benefit of the capturer. Also in nineteenth-century Cuba, with the approval of the Colonial Government, the slave trade had at its disposal the most skilled mercenaries; An army of clerks, copyists, trustees, and notaries proliferated along the length and breadth of the island, rearranging regulations, drafting contracts, enforcing "the letter of the law," attempting to give order to the complicated and unequal links between masters and slaves.
All this happened in a place that, at the time, was under Spanish rule.
In the silence of the archives, sleeping questions lie; Certificates of birth, baptism, marriage, death... manumissions, deeds of sales, purchases, and rentings of slaves, plagiarism, letters of freedom, wills... all await their moment. They are traces that prove the existence of "people without history" and compile the trail of those who were disregarded due to being slaves.
Perhaps we are still in time to talk about it.
An unexpected event, a posthumous request, and a strange will and testament turn the peaceful day-to-day of a mansion on Amargura Street upside down.
Una casa en Amargura transports us, through the eyes of an African woman who cares for a young white girl, to a Havana plagued with black slavery, rich Chinese arriving from California, archives of copyists, notary offices, and the unique homes of the street scribes.
The story of Una casa en Amargura takes place in the years before and immediately after he law that order the abolishment of the state of slavery in Cuba (1880) and recreates the daily life of master and slave in the elegant mansions of Havana.
Given its name for a Lent tradition; every afternoon the Third Order of St. Francis had a procession that went through the street to the church of Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje.
While they were preparing dinner, we began to show him the house, for I only wanted my guest to feel at ease, as if in his own abode.
I will pause for a moment before continuing so that the reader knows who the handsome young man who accompanies me is. At the beginning of these pages I have referred to him as my "domestic confidant".
In Havana only the well-to-do families had cooks, generally black Ladinas who had patiently learned the trade from their masters.
Shortly after I turned nine, my father, who had always been a member of the “Liceo Artístico y Literario de La Habana”, had been an excellent friend of one of its founders, who insisted on registering me as an associate's daughter so that I could attend classes.
The Xing disembarked on the island as "Oriental Californians," forming part of the second Asian migration that Cuba received, and landed in the Royal Villa of San Cristobal de Havana on a cloudy morning of December 1871.
With a thousand smiles and a gesture of the hand I indicated to my guest that everything was ready and that we could climb into the quitrín carriage. He accepted, though has since refused to separate from his three bags and a pair of hat boxes.
When we entered into armed conflict with Spain the tranquility of those who wore a blue tie, a garment with which the Cuban patriots were recognized and which, while the Spaniards did not discover their meaning, allowed them to be identified with the naked eye, was truncated forever.
«Of the master's wife, who had gotten engaged to her husband-to-be, a recent widower with a daughter, having seen him only in a framed, embossed glass image sent to Bordeaux, I had to call her "Madame Denise". It seems that the portrait did not do justice to the man, because it showed an angelic being, when in fact he got fiercely angry for saying "good morning sir" too low, but married the two anyway, by proxy and at a distance.»
The doctors left, and I withdrew so that the maidservants, who truly valued Misterio, could busy themselves with washing and clothing her body. In order not to be carried away by grief, I wanted to keep myself occupied.
They said that the ingenious master was a person who lead an organized life, and from the very first moment I was in agreement. He used to wake up in the middle of the night to work by sperm whale candlelight and dedicated quite a few hours to his job.
"The patriotic enterprise of Cuban aid and Galician salvation" of Urbano Feyjóo, which was nothing more than covert slavery, worked as follows...
At first in the "Rising Sun" there was only the owner and five destitute Chinese people so unadjusted to Cuban customs that they had not yet cut off their ponytails.
The morning that Misterio appeared in the study of the grand administrator she had to arrive very early. The servants commented that when they came to open the gates, she was third in line.
An important date was that of June 1, 1870, because on that day we received the most awaited of notices: the state declared themselves free of dependence, and therefore all blacks who arrived to Cuba in ships between 1849 and 1853 were also free!
The Casa de Beneficencia, The Charity House, rewarded the women who had just given birth with some wine, chocolate, and biscuits, but in my case, as the labor had been terribly difficult, they also added half a hen...
Literary and historical sources that served as a guide, publications and papers that helped me to understand the particular aspects of the daily life of the slaves in the Spanish slave society, and the documents consulted in archives, museums, and libraries, are all grouped by their area of interest and, in some cases, include comments
Laws that order the abolition of slavery on the island of Cuba
Documents that regulate the life and emancipation of slaves in Cuba
From island to island, I confess that this book has been a long journey. Fortunately it was not a solitary journey-- quite the opposite-- I was accompanied by the generosity and encouragement of a handful of friends and collaborators with whom I am affectionately indebted...
:: Texts ::
Elisa Vázquez de Gey
:: Images and Documentation ::
Archivo particular de fotografías y documentos de Elisa Vázquez de Gey
La fotografía “Niña Dulce y su Muleque” es propiedad de Fernando Montero
El óleo “Tres Pilluelos” es de Juana Borrero (1877-1896)
El óleo “La siesta” es de Guillermo Collazo (1850-1896)
Las escenas cubanas son de Víctor Patricio Landaluce (1830-1889)
La “Vista del puerto y la ciudad de La Habana” es de Louis le Breton (1818-1866)
Textos extraídos de los diarios cubanos “La Gaceta de La Habana” y “El diario de La Marina”
La obra "Lo que fuimos y lo que somos o La Habana antigua y moderna" de José María de la Torre:
Imprenta de Spencer y Compañía, Habana 1857
Las fotografías en BN con subtítulos en inglés pertenecen al libro: “Greater America; Heroes, Battles, Camps; Dewey Islands, Cuba, Porto Rico” 1898, de F. Tennyson Neely.
Las vistas de ingenios son de Eduardo Laplante, pintor, grabador y litografista.
Diarios gallegos “La Voz de Galicia” y “La Opinión de La Coruña”
www.habananuestra.cu Portal de la Oficina del Historiador de la Ciudad.
www.habanaradio.cu Tribuna del Historiador de la Ciudad, que transmite desde la Lonja del Comercio.
www.opushabana.cu Revista de la Oficina del Historiador y de actualidad cultural de La Habana Vieja.
www.lahabanaelegante.com Revista de literatura y cultura cubana, caribeña, latinoamericana y de estética.
::Immigration records of Gallegos, Cuba::
Immigration records of Gallegos to Cuba: www.xenealoxia.org/rexistros/galegos-a-cuba/2126-urbano-feyjoo-sotomayor-y-cejo-181-1898
:: Cover of “Una casa en Amargura”::
Ediciones B, Barcelona, 2015
Asís G. Ayerbe (www.losduelistas.es)
::Editing and Digitizing documents and photographs from the 19th century::
Simón Jiménez Rodríguez
Copyright 2015 - Elisa Vázquez de Gey
If you use these texts, please cite them
Please contact with any questions or comments: