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Photo © 2004 Luis Bennett Robinson

Eugène Godfried (right)
Caribbean specialist/journalist
Radio Habana Cuba
Radio CMKS, Guantánamo, Cuba -- Guantánamo, 010601

Photo © 2004 Luis Bennett Robinson

Historian from Guantánamo Province, Cuba
Director of Cultural Patrimony, Guantánamo Province


It is a pleasure for us to share our microphones with our guest Diego Bosch Ferrer, who is a historian and presently the Director of Cultural Patrimony of Guantánamo province.

Diego, thank you for joining us in this dialogue. As far as I know you dedicated a good part of your life doing research on the social category denominated as ‘Cimarrones’, the Maroons or Outlyers.


Yes, that is right. Fundamentally on the consequence of the founding of the ‘palenques’, formed by the Maroons in the jurisdiction of Guantánamo and Baracoa.


Let us start by making things clear for all those friends who are actively following us in this dialogue with you, Diego.

The first concept, ‘MAROOONS’. What does one have to understand when you say Maroons? That is the first concept.

And secondly the concept ‘PALENQUE’, what is a ‘palenque’?


In the world of researchers Maroons were signaled as being those persons who not only fled away from the sugar-cane and coffee plantations, but that pronouncement existed before it was used to refer to runaway enslaved Africans.

In documents referred to by, for example, Queen Isabella, references were made on that. So, the black slave was not taken as a reference, but, first, the Indian [indigenous]. One could read that when the concept was used for the first time, reference was made to the Indian, One meant the Indian who escaped from the plantations, who were fundamentally subjected to the ‘encomienda’ system, which was the method of submission used in the initial stage by the Spanish Colonialists. He fled away from that and was given the name of Maroon. Afterwards when the labor force was changed from the indigenous to the black slave, that denomination was used for both the Blacks and the Indians who fled away from the plantations. Both were called Maroons.

But, we could also state other fundamental elements. Other researchers said that there existed a ‘simple maroonage’ and an ‘active maroonage’. For example, the researcher from Santiago de Cuba, Rafael Duharte, speaks of the existence of ‘maritime maroonage’, and ‘urban maroonage’. ‘Maritime Maroons were slaves who managed to escape and dedicated themselves to piracy, considering piracy to be another form they could use to express themselves against the exploitation to which they were submitted. Or, the ‘urban maroonage’, who were those Maroons who worked as shoe – makers, etc., and who fled away and moved between the big cities. So, that’s how we can also speak of the denomination ‘urban maroonage’.


Let’s place each and every thing in historical time and space. Those persons who fled away from the plantations, you mentioned Queen Isabella. We are talking about the Spanish colonial era with Queen Isabella, the wife of the ‘Great’ Fernando, both personalities were from Castille and Aragon. Then we are talking about the plantation economy system, as you already said. And, also, about the system of enslavement of human beings of indigenous origin here in Cuba, it seems to me that those were the Tainos, you can maybe tell us more, and those brought from Africa. We should remember that way at the beginning of the introduction of enslaved African in Cuba, that the colonizers also brought enslaved Africans directly from Spain. So, furthermore, that denomination – MAROON – seems to be a terminology originating from the Iberian languages, Portuguese and Spanish. Am I right? Do you agree with me?


Yes, sure.


Yes? Fine, we are already reaching mutual understanding between the two of us and that is very important for our dialogue.

So, fine, fine, fine, are we talking about resistance of those individuals [indigenous people], who were first enslaved through the encomienda system, and afterwards the Africans and a form of liberation?


Yes, sure, a form of liberation. We could say that there existed two forms of liberation. A passive and an active one. I believe that there was a first stage in which the black slave manifested himself by breaking his work instruments. That was a conceptual demonstration that we can state of confronting slavery in that stage. Another example was the act of committing suicide by hanging themselves. The black slaves thought by using the method of hanging themselves on trees and dying, that in doing so they manifested themselves against the system of slavery. In that case it meant that they used passive methods. The more active methods were the uprisings on the sugar plantations. But, we consider that the strongest method was the one which provided more concrete unity towards acquiring freedom. And that was the method applied by establishing the ‘palenque’ systems.

Inclusively, before the creation of the palenques, if I could speak a little more on that, we could say the following. Slavery used the method to confront the act of suicide that the blacks used, by cutting off their hands and heads and putting their bodies high up in a cage. That was a response of the slaveholders to counteract the blacks, who believed that when they committed suicide they could return to their homeland.

So that was a method used by the blacks to confront the system. That of committing suicide, because they believed that they could return to their homeland. In the film "Francisco, el otro Francisco", for example, those conceptual elements are shown.


Very important, very important Diego Bosch Ferrer, historian and Director of…..


...the Provincial Center of Cultural Patrimony of Guantánamo.


Exactly. Two forms of maroonage. Two forms of resistance seeking their liberation by the indigenous, as well as the African peoples. The Africans, who always, as you well said, aspired to return to their homeland in Africa, the African continent. What significant and big conflict between Europe and Africa that meant right?

So, then, fine, the active and the passive form of action, The phenomenon suicide which you mentioned that the slaves used, made me think of other countries in our Caribbean area, such as Curaçao. The slaves of that island used to eat earth in order to commit suicide, because they used to think then, that by killing themselves, their spirit would be able to fly to Africa. It seems to me that there were more such examples here in Cuba too, is that so?


Yes, sure. I would say that was the case in the whole of the Caribbean, and major countries of the Americas. Like in the case of Brazil, for example, one can notice the existence of the palenques with the ‘Kilombos of the palmares’. There is also a film, on the Kilombos of the Palmares which deals with those facts in a very interesting way. That film exposes the resistance of the black slaves.

Different methods were used, but in the case of Cuba the method of ‘hanging one –self’ on trees was frequently used. That’s why the dominant elite dealt with that phenomenon in reaction by using severe force. But, there were several methods that were used in the Americas, regarding this case we are referring to.


With regards to the concept ‘palenque’, you mentioned it already on different occasions in this dialogue, or also the process of creating palenques, "enpalencamiento", as is said in the language of the Spaniards. Now, what do we have to understand by the term ‘palenque’?


There are many researchers who spoke about the ‘palenques’, but among them Pedro de Chanchapo is one of the specialists who produced a conceptual element. And, I believe that among the fundamental things when referring to that phenomenon, that it formed a bulwark of resistance in which Africans of different ethnic, cultural and historic backgrounds united with the zeal of conquering their freedom. I believe that this is where the fundamental element lies when we want to define what is a ‘palenque’. That is the way we can make our statement.


That means to say that it was a manifestation, which became known in the history of Guantánamo right here in Cuba, in the very early stage of Spanish colonialism. Precisely, on the land of the indigenous people of Cuba. Then, history continues, because the indigenous people, and thereafter the Africans brought both from Spain and Africa by the Spanish colonialists, went through that experience. But, Africans were also brought to Cuba from other places like, for example, Haiti around the Haitian Revolution, which started in 1791 through 1804 when Haiti won its independence to become the first country to really liberate itself from colonialism here in these lands.

Can we also speak of the time when the African Haitians arrived in Guantánamo? Many times forced to do so by the French colonialists, who today are getting all the glory (in the official discourses. But, fine, what interest us is the following. Do the occurrences have any relation with the African component from Haiti who came to Guantánamo.

What can we say of those experiences? Did they also live in the ‘palenques’, or did they just accept their defeat silently?


No, I think that the most important fact here is the date of 1791 when the Haitian Revolution took place. It meant a strengthening of the Cuban economy based on the exploitation of the slave labor force, but exploitation of the black slave brought in from Africa. A fundamental element is that when the Haitian Revolution took place, the open markets left by Haiti were taken over by Jamaica and especially Cuba, which took over the first place on that market.

An essential element is the case of the zone we are referring to which is Guantánamo, where one could notice the appearance of several sugar factories, but mainly coffee plantations. Here in Guantánamo, for example, more than eighty (80) French coffee plantations appeared. Those Frenchmen came to Cuba, but with their slaves. But, there were also new purchase of slaves. The number of slaves augmented extraordinarily. The census of that epoch proved that the number of slaves in the decade of the 1860’s, which is a more advanced date, there were two (2) slaves to each white man. So, that shows us the amount of black slaves existing at that time in our land.

We could tell you that out of that number of French coffee plantations is where our ‘palenques’ were formed and which could be found here. More than thirty (30) ‘palenques’, I could tell you, existed during the first decades of the 19th century. To mention some names like, "El Frijol" (The Beans), "Maluala", located between Guantánamo and Holguin, "Quivijan", "To Tenemos" (We Have Everything), "Guarda Mujeres" (Hidingplace for Women) to mention some. But they formed a force, a concrete unity, because despite of the fact of being blacks of different ethnic origin, they gathered in those ‘palenques’. Thus, they formed the maroonage that was characteristic for those ‘palenques’ at that stage.

I believe that was essential, because it was not only the plantations that produced coffee, but as I mentioned before, there were also sugar - cane plantations where those palenques were formed. We are very close to Santiago de Cuba, but here there was a big number of coffee plantations and sugarcane factories, that was more than the rest of the five jurisdictions surrounding us. Like Bayamo, Holguin, neighboring to us, etc.

Therefore, a big number of ‘palenques’ were founded in our region following, or as a consequence of, the Haitian Revolution.


‘Palenques’, I understand it to be a liberated community of men, women and children of African descent here in Cuba, Guantánamo, and all the other areas described by you. You said there were more than thirty of them, who resisted and said NO to the cultural, political and economic hegemonism of the European colonial factor, in this case Iberian Spanish, seconded by the French factor coming from Haiti, fleeing the Haitian Revolution. The conditions to continue practicing the system of enslavement of men, women and children from Africa did not exist there anymore.

Then the Spanish government told them, you are welcome here in Cuba, let’s introduce the coffee plantation - economy over here without any problem, and you can continue to exercise the system of man by man exploitation. In this case the exploitation of the African man by the European colonialists. That is what I am understanding that you, Diego Bosch Ferrer, are explaining to us.

Then, it seems to me that such an experience formed the base or the guideline of thinking for all those insurgents who stood up in the struggle for independence and the abolition of slavery in Cuba, just as was seen with Antonio Maceo right here in Cuba.


That’s clear and that is a very important element. Eugene, I want to stress something. I believe that not only the Haitian Revolution gave that possibility. There was a series of consequences that occurred from that moment. For example, the geographical situation, and that is a very important element which should be taken into account.

Seventy percent of the zone where we are consists of mountains. That element made it possible for blacks who escaped even from the most western regions of our country to come and hide themselves in the mountains close to Guantánamo.

And, that confirms…..


Just a moment Diego, before you continue. We are here in a really very pleasant Dialogue, which is very instructive, thanks to your collaboration, that is inspiring me in an extraordinary manner to think, to make reflections and to consult with you as a colleague cultural worker, colleague historian, and colleague journalist which you also are. You have an extraordinary radio voice. Do you agree with me?



Partly, partly.


Thank you for that part, and I will put the other part myself. Congratulations for your modesty.

Anyway then Diego. It so happens that when I hear you saying "the black slaves". And it makes me think further. Especially, as I recall reading here and there as they speak or write about ‘whites’, ‘mulatos’. It takes me way back in history when the Portuguese went down to Africa as early as the years 1398 and early 1400’s after they solved their conflict, (‘bronca’, as we say in our lovely Cuban language), with the Muslims on their lands. Subsequently, at the beginning of the fifteenth century men like Nunoo and all of those men, much earlier than Vasco da Gama, already went down all along the western coast of Africa and committed horrors! Look at the case of Guinea BA SAU, they even started to change the names of the land of the African brothers into Guinea BI SSAU!

I don’t know who invited them to do so.

On the other hand, the Spanish colonialists also went down over there starting to change the name of places into Canary Islands, putting the names of their convenience. And they started to call those people in the Canary Islands ‘INDIANS’, because they were obsessed with their desire to reach India. But, that was not the problem of any one else in the world, I think.

I am an aggressive journalist, and I say that myself. I give opinion when we talk, to make the conversation develop in such a way that I can also learn from you, Diego Bosch Ferrer.

What happens? It seems to me that we are talking about AFRICAN (raise voice) men, women and children. Those who were first captured on African soil, imprisoned in Africa, imprisoned on ships that brought them here to Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean, only to be imprisoned again in the ports and to afterwards be imprisoned once more on the plantations.

It is appears to me that there was no other form than to resist and the desire to liberate oneself. There was no other option for the enslaved African, in this case Cuba?

In addition to that, the words which the Portuguese and the Spaniards introduced into the world, in the international vocabulary, and still are existing nowadays of who was ‘white’ etc., I don’t know. The Germans don’t consider the Iberians to be fully white at all over there in Europe. And who were black or mulato. I don’t really know what is a ‘mulato’.

(Diego smiling)

Your commentary on all that?


That undoubtedly is like that. I believe that the limitations that came out of all that process you explained really exist and still have its consequences in the African lands. And, inclusively, I believe, that as Cubans, therefore, we owe a debt to the Africans. I think that was partly balanced through the international help we gave for the development of African countries.

Because a part of that historical fact shows that the black slaves, besides creating a series of palenques, when the process for independence began they didn’t only consider the palenques to be a gathering point to fight for their freedom. But, by integrating themselves in the Liberation Army they also really responded to the objective of gaining their freedom. Because, by gaining freedom from Spain, they would achieve freedom for the fatherland as well as their own freedom as a race.

I believe that an important guide was our national hero, José Martí, who categorically spoke about those things. Because, José Martí said, man is more than white, black and mulato.


Perfectly, but that was said way before him by Antonio Maceo. He made that clear in 1878 on the occasion of what became known as the PROTEST OF BARAGUA.

I am very glad that it later on served as a base to enable Martí to to think and to arrive at the same conclusions, which were already totally clear to Maceo and Máximo Gomez.

And also for Toussaint L’Ouverture (Haiti,) way before all of them, Desallines (Haiti), Alexandre Pétion (Haiti), Tula, in 1795 in Curaçao, Kofi (Guyana), and a series of other personalities that we could mention who struggled for Liberation and Equality.

You as a historian, Diego, and what makes me happier is the fact that you are a cultural worker like myself. You are inspiring me to think as I already told you. The internationalist help to Africa is a very important factor of which the Cuban people could be very proud. And the peoples of the whole world too, for that courage and that bold attitude of those Cuban brothers and sisters for having participated in the struggles for Liberation in Africa from European colonial domination.

But there is something more. Cuba also has an African diaspora living on its soil. Right?


Yes, that is right.


We are committed as Cubans, Caribbeans, and all to the Liberation of the AFRICAN, who was told that he was not a person any more. That was the gravest factor in the whole of that story. You are a ‘non – person’, and consequently, you have to forget your continent. And we are seeing if we compare the data that you are supplying us now, that there did exist preoccupations against that. Especially by Antonio Maceo, I should say, more than anyone else here in Cuba. It becomes clear why the African factor, the African Diaspora in Cuba had to fight for his Liberation.

You have clarified much more of that to us by explaining to us the existence of the palenques and the maroons.

Isn’t that the case?


Inclusively, Eugene, there is something very important that we cannot allow to escape us. It is the case related to what you said -- that the black slave was not considered to be a human being. And that is true! He was branded……


He was considered to be a ‘non – person’!! Therefore, non – existent for European colonialism. And in so doing, not one country of Western Europe is left out. From Spain, Portugal, Holland up to Denmark, Norway and Great Britain!


Yes, indeed a non – person. Inclusively, how black slaves were branded like animals. Nowadays, we know that with hot iron you could brand cattle, and that was precisely the way black slaves were treated.

I believe that is important not to forget certain things that occurred in the region of Guantánamo. For example, the volume of slaves as well as the palenques that existed in our lands in the year 1803, when a "Company of Coast Hunters" was founded. That only existed in this part of the country and until 1816, when colonialism ended the use of that method. Especially their actions raiding palenques and so forth. The Company of Coast Hunters occupied five places in this region. For example, Jatibonico in order to control Guantánamo Bay up until Baconao River. In the case of the Guantánamo Bay, they settled in that department at Playa del Este. Boca del Rio at Yateritas aiming at maintaining vigilance until Sabana La Mar River, including the territory around Rio Waitikiri. That name[Yateritas] is still found today. Bello Cabo in order to control the land between the coast of Makambo and Imias. And Escaleta to control the coast between Cajobabo and Obando. That is the region close to Maisí. That was also the nearest one to Haiti.

Above all this shows that it was a method to limit the possibilities of contact between the blacks here with Haiti. That means to say preventing the blacks [in Guantánamo] from having any relation with the Haitian Revolution.

That’s one of the aspects I think that is important for us to take into account.

Another aspect is to have a look at the methods of struggle used by the palenques. The methods used were the guerilla methods. Both the Mambisi Army and the [1950’s] Rebel Army also used those methods afterwards. That was the guerilla warfare method.

I could mention a few examples to you of palenques, which were outstanding in employing those methods. Take for example Quivijan, with an important and recognized captain of the palenque at that time. There is the case of To Tenemos and Guarda Mujeres. To Tenemos owes its name to the fact that it was the only palenque where the blacks had their wives with them. That’s why ‘To Tenemos’ [which means] ‘We have Everything’. When that palenque was assaulted, the women and children were transferred to another palenque called ‘Guarda Mujeres’ – ‘Hideout or hiding-place for Women.’

The attacks against the palenques were well repulsed at the beginning. And that was thanks to the methods used to defend the palenques. I could also mention the case of the palenque ‘El Frijol’, the Beans, because different methods of defense were used, like encircling, sharp pointed objects, and unknown traps. Posts were made to enable the insurgents to overlook and trace the enemy’s location from a long distance. ‘El Frijol’ had a very interesting method, and it was also the palenque that had the most important economic structure, to the point that it even had a little sugar factory. That made it possible for the settlement to exist for a longer period with big plantations. It was difficult for the enemy to reach that area and the method of defense applied made it possible for the blacks to be warned and to retreat before the enemy arrived. And after the enemy’s departure they returned to their own original spot. That’s why it was very difficult for the colonial forces to appropriate that zone entirely. The zone was located way inside the mountains, but also the methods used by the blacks didn’t allow the colonialist to be successful.

Those are important examples, right?


Yes, we have arrived at the stage of the struggles for independence. You said at the beginning of our dialogue, Diego Bosch Ferrer, that there existed two types of maroonage. That means to say, those forms of resistance and rebellion against the hegemony and domination of the Spanish factor, the colonizers of Cuba then. It seems to me that in the period after the independence of Cuba, which took place in the year 1898, that that expression of constant resistance and rebellion inside the African community continued to exist, right? I insist that I want to talk about the African diaspora in Cuba, no matter which were the shades of the color of the skin of those brothers and sisters – I refuse to call them ‘negros’, like we do in Spanish language. I refuse to call them ‘mulatos’, as they used to be called by both the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, British, Danish and Swedish traders, buyers and sellers of human flesh.

I can’t do nor say anything different, because it is all there recorded in history. And, we have to talk about those questions, and no one can tell me no, because you yourself are a historian and you know that, otherwise, we will not be able to understand either the present societies or the future ones if we don’t do this exercise. Are we right?


Yes, you are right.


Thank you, thank you, thank you. Diego just briefly responded to me: "Yes, you are right".

(laughter by Diego)

Here we have to talk, just feel yourself free as if you were to be in your own home. There can be nothing to hold us back, because when we talk about our history we have to be extraordinarily strict with ourselves. Not one detail could be left out, much less could we be complacent to anyone. That is a real professional posture, which is related to the science of history. Please tell me that you share this view with me, and please say a little more than ‘yes, you are right!!’.



That is a very important aspect. I believe like another great discoverer said, "Cuba is a big melting pot". I believe that within that big melting pot the black man who came from Africa is an important element.


Who wrote that book?


Fernando Ortiz, and I said that he was one of our great discoverers. And I think that is important.


Did he discover that Cuba was a big melting pot?


Cuba was already a big melting pot. But, when he had to define that, he proved that Cuba was not only integrated by the Spaniard who settled here, but also the Indians (indigenous) whom we many times tend to forget and who are still present in our culture. But, the blacks are very important when we are looking at these matters.


I think that he (Fernando Ortiz, E,G.) said something that was already known by the Indigenous and the Africans much earlier than him, since they were already united in the palenques. Together they fought for the independence and liberation of Cuba. Isn’t that so?


Yes, you are right. You have called my attention a while ago, for saying "yes you are right!!", but now I reaffirm by saying YES!!!.

When you make a study of the Independence Army, then you will see that the black man was highly represented in the Mambi forces. There we have the examples of Guillermon Moncada, and a lieutenant of Maximo Gomez, "El Viejo Odua". He was a member of a palenque, and from the palenque he joined the independence forces. That shows us also that besides the palenque, the Mambi Army for independence was the only way though which freedom could be achieved.

It is important when we want to deal with this question not only within the context of independence or of political process, but it should also be related to culture. As it

was being inserted in the national culture, it became impossible to separate what was left of the Indigenous, of the Spaniards from one another. That’s why I spoke before of a big melting pot.

That is a very important factor when we are talking about nationality in Cuba.


Clear, clear, clear. You are right, but I insist that the people already knew all of that. You see? The Indigenous people, the Africans, the African diaspora right here in Cuba, including the European people themselves, saw and knew it. But, also the Chinese people who were brought to substitute the Africans and the rest doing forced labor in Agriculture saw and knew that. Because we also speak of the Chinese Mambises, who joined the rest, since they knew that it was a matter of unity.


Yes, of a concrete unity. I believe that the Chinese factor is also very important in this context, and we cannot allow it to escape us.

And when we want to measure the Cuban nationality, then we have to look at all aspects as a concrete unity.


Exactly, but multi-national, multi-cultural or multi-ethnic!


Multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, right.

So when we want to analyze religion and problems regarding our culture etc., then we have to measure all those elements which determine who is the Cuban. We have to take all those factors into account.


We have to do the same thing when we want to define who is a Trinidadian. What is a Trinidadian if we don’t talk about the Indigenous Kalinagoes, the factors from Europe, the French colons, who fled away from the Guadeloupe Revolution (in 1791 and crushed by Napoleon in May, 1802). Moreover, if we do not talk about Africa, India, Pakistan, China, Syria, Lebanon, from the Jewish areas. Otherwise, we will not be talking frankly about Trinidad and Tobago. You see?

The same thing accounts for Cuba, which is the largest among the Caribbean islands.


The Caribbean has undoubtedly not been taken into account in this history. I believe that more than talking about globalization now, we already had a historical globalization since long ago.

When the history of these people had to be defined, they have been somehow discriminated and they have not been taken into account in that big world history. Because, some way some how the imperialist interests prevailed, that means to say of the big powers, which created limitations. Why and how is that so? Undoubtedly, they pursued one objective and that was to divide and impeding concrete unity. And in places where such unity was reached, they tried to make sure that it could not last.

In the case of Cuba it was proven that the black man, the white man, and the indigenous were elements that should prevail. But, fundamentally unity had to be achieved.

It should be clear when we want to define the concept of identity, I believe that Identity expresses which could be our differences, but what is above all most important is what unites us. Because, we have to find out what unites the black with the white man, the black man with the Indian [indigenous], and that is what will form the nationality of a country. I believe that this is an element which prevails, for example the people of Africa where colonialism tried by all means to maintain divisions between certain peoples and some tribes, and to a certain extent succeeded, therefore creating the absence of a profound concept of nationality. An example of that is the case of Angola, where one always spoke of ‘from Cabinda to Kunene, one people’. That is a concrete example whereby one tries to find a force and a strong conception of the concept nation.

Colonialism always pursued that aspect of division and disunity, in this case Portuguese colonialism. Their aim was not to promote unity among those people in order to maintain their privileges as a power.


Precisely, the Europeans who arrived to colonize Africa had a lot of experience with tribal differences, because they already knew that same phenomenon in Europe where they too knew tribes. Up to present date they are fighting among themselves. There is no difference in that. If they want to enjoy themselves by talking about us referring to tribes in Africa or Asia etc., then in Europe too they have tribes with over 2000 years of killings, conflicts and wars all the time.

So they should also not be surprised when they touched African soil and saw the same manifestations. Neither, when they started to rob the lands of the indigenous people, the first inhabitants of this continent where we have the fortune to be living presently. They did the same things.

Throughout all that period they continued to provoke the same policies. That is why we have to talk, and we are so happy that you, Diego Bosch Ferrer, historian and Director of the center….


... the Provincial Center of Cultural Patrimony of Guantánamo.


Wow, such a long name with so many words!! All I know is, I can see a woman blowing a trumpet on the top of your building. I don’t know who is that woman. What is her name?


La Fama.


Oh, yes? I don’t know what kind of ‘fame’ she has, I only hope that she doesn’t represent that fame which we are talking about! But, the other fame of the exploited people, the people eliminated by colonialism, which is related to the continent where that lady is coming from. I believe she comes from there right?

Photo © 2004 Luis Bennett Robinson



Photo © 2004 Luis Bennett Robinson



It is precisely so, an Italian by the name of Americo Cheiny made it. It is allegoric of the Greco-Roman culture and she was an envoy of Zeus. Well, it comes from that culture.


Greco-Roman culture, you said it correctly. You make me only think of many things. Greco-Roman, yes, the formation of Africans in this part of the world, indeed into Judeo-Grec-Roman Africans, as Grenadian born historian Dr. James Milette, once said. Yes, precisely in this part of the world, the Americas, also named after another Italian man known as Amerigo Vespucci. At the same time I think of another Italian, a Genovese, Christopher Columbus.

You make me think of many other things. I think of Ethiopia, Abyssinia all those areas and peoples who were also brought to Cuba. When I walk the streets of Cuba, especially here in Guantánamo, I can see lots and lots of people who remind me of the peoples of Abyssinia, Ethiopia and those regions on the African continent.

We have to think and talk about all those affairs. I hope that La Fama on top of your building is not hiding away that part of history? Diego, you tell me please?


No, no, not all, on the contrary. I believe that is more a cultural element, which appeared in the Province of Guantánamo, through a process in which the people of this province were given the opportunity to express their opinion on the symbol identifying the city of Guantánamo. I think that was an element that occurred in 1921 when the construction of the building Salcinez was concluded. And, in a way it was also derived from the consequences of the studies those personalities did, while not having in-depth knowledge of our culture either, starting from the point of views of the Indigenous, and also the Africans. That shows the consequences we can obtain on short and long term.


Around that period of 1921, I remember that Marcus Mosiah Garvey from Jamaica, who founded the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), came to Cuba and to Guantánamo. He came from Jamaica and the United States to see what was happening with the marroonage type of situation which was existing around here in Cuba.

I hope that "La Fama", who won that position you explained us about, was aware of that, or at least would have consulted those friends, brothers and sisters, the marroons. Marcus Mosiah Garvey came down from the United States and Jamaica to come and find out about that situation of both active and passive maroonage which existed then in the early 20th Century, especially around the far-most eastern provinces of Cuba.

Let us continue speaking a little more about ‘maroonage’, which was the objective of our gathering. I don’t forget anything and I don’t loose track, Diego. These are no deviations, but we are talking about relations between concepts.

It seems to me, as I as you already heard me saying in this little introduction, that the teachings that you gave us in this interview on Maroons, palenques, are very enlightening, but let me ask you something else. Could we say that ‘LA LOMA DEL CHIVO’, the urban quarter of predominantly people of African descent in the City of Guantánamo, is also a ‘palenque’?

Could we look at it that way?



There exists in that urban quarter of the City of Guantánamo a concentration of cultures, which could really be identified like that. I am not an expert in that field. But, as a citizen of Guantánamo I know that there do exist elements that enable us to identify it in that sense. I believe that there in la Loma del Chivo elements of our culture were concentrated which come very close to things that happened during the time the palenques were founded.

I think there also was a culture of resistance, and I think that we cultural specialists have to try to identify ourselves with that culture and see to it that it continues to be strong.

Undoubtedly, guaranteeing that it could be identified with the most important things of the national culture.

That’s why we should try by all means to make those things that prevail in Guantánamo be maintained as a sign of our identity. That is fundamental when we want to get to unity in our culture and that no element is lost. We have to face the globalized world more every day with our vision and present ourselves with that identity which is truly ours. Not only of the Black man, but of all those who form this big community. Neither should we reject those who came from Europe. But, undoubtedly those are key elements…..


Yes, you are right, we should not at all and not one moment leave any aspect out. Because, I remember something that they used to tell Antonio Maceo, when he spoke of these matters. They used to tell him: you should not talk about that, you are against whites, or Europeans, you want to introduce the Haitian Revolution here….

And why could he [Antonio Maceo] not express himself? Simon Bolivar was in Haiti in the key moments of the Haitian Revolution, and nobody told Simon Bolivar that he did not respect Europeans nor whites, or that he wanted to re-edit the Haitian Revolution in Venezuela, Columbia, Peru, Ecuador and Panama and the whole of South America.

You see? Those are postures that lack all type of frankness by the official ‘eurocentric’ historiography. The official historiography is commanded by elements who want to justify both directly and indirectly all those European or Eurocentric historical processes. And that is something that we cannot permit. Neither do you, as a historian and cultural worker, want to permit that, Diego?


I share that point of view completely with you. Let us go to the African world. Comander in Chief, Fidel Castro on many occasions stated that how could the African world come up only with what Clinton said by having computers and telephones. What African could reach that stage if he doesn't have a big power. Having a population of over 800 million inhabitants, just as an example, I don’t know what the exact figure of the population on the African Continent would be. The African continent and the under-developed world is very little identified with what could be defined with a whole culture, which is reflected in big countries like the United States, with great potentials in its hands to diffuse the culture of its interest. Undoubtedly, this globalized world is affecting our cultural identity.

I remember now, a statement by Martí that says, "humanity should be a big hug". Martí means to say by this that humanity should be all people united in one love. I believe that’s elementary when we want to identify ourselves.


He said that very fine, but I am critical of each and every individual, you see. He stated "humanity should be a big hug", but when he reached Curaçao, as expressed in the book "José Martí Obras Escogidas, [Tomo 19, pp. 129], he leaves us to think a lot! He was a colleague journalist, just like we are. Among colleagues, fine, what else can we do, we have to talk things out with frankness. For, we are in no one else’s service than our peoples’ and their history. That article left me thinking a lot and I invite you to please read those articles telling us about on his voyage to Curaçao in Spanish and then in French. By then you and I will have a look at especially the anthropological analysis he made with regards to the people of African descent in Curaçao. Hmmm, we say!!

Fine, let us continue, Diego, I don’t want to take too much of your time. I know you are the Director of an important Center, which bears high the statue of La Fama. Fine, lots of applause for her and the Greek culture, which was not written only by Aristotle, and so on, but the Greek people, you see, who has also gone through many things, but some other time we’ll talk about that.

Now, we are concerned with the phenomena of maroonage and palenque, the resistance and liberation of all oppressed human beings from any hegemonism and any domination by forces that have nothing to do with their interests.

Do you believe, or let us better ask you to express your closing message in this sense. You see, when we talk about culture we talk about human beings. On many occasions I said that culture is not singing and dancing for tourists! It is talking about our own selves, without leaving out one single aspect. So, we saw a series of manifestations in the 20th Century. We saw the "Partido Independiente de Color", The Independent Party of Coloreds, as well as "sociedades de color" or societies of people of color, named like that not by the people of African descent, but rather by the official discourse, who called them like that. We saw all those manifestations.

Do you believe, or let me ask you in a more modest way, what do you think of the existence of that historical phenomenon, and how does it currently reflect itself in the consciousness and attitudes among the people who went through all that experience in Cuba? You can tell me whatever you want.


Fine, that is an important element when talking about that fact. Presently, in our country a very interesting process is taking place. First of all departing from the official policies defined by our government, which pursues a policy based on Martian ideas. I think that is very, very important. Where one tries to find above all, as we paraphrased before to define that man is more than black, white, mulato, to find unity among all elements. And, I believe that stands above all. Above all to try to have those cultures prevail. Cultures which were somewhat forgotten.

For example, what remained of our aborigines, are some of those things that are little dealt with. It is important to retake that history and let the people gain consciousness of matters. Because, for example, many times we mention the denomination – GUANTANAMO - but we don’t know that the original word or denomination was "WATANABO" in the Arawak language. The same thing happens with the name BARACOA, etc. There are also many things in our own culture, like when we have to define our kitchen, we still are using many things that were brought by the black African.

In Cuba we could say that there are blacks, who nowadays are medical doctors. But, the same thing we could say of other countries with a different system than ours. In the United States e.g. there are blacks who can also be medical doctors. But, the difference is that in Cuba any black man could study without having to pay anything and that is the difference. I think that the element of money is a fundamental aspect, when wanting to show a difference between our countries and others.

And the free education given to all children is a very, very important element, because it creates a labor force which many countries in the world do not have like we have it in Cuba. When visiting many countries, one could observe and identify the many possibilities that some don’t have. Sometimes they have other types of possibilities, but they don’t have a labor force that could meet with that.

I think that the educational element has been of key importance when we want to define what were the possibilities that the black race [within Cuba], in comparison with other countries. Especially, when if they don’t have money they won’t have the same possibilities.

That’s why I say that we could not separate things just so. Because we can say we have doctors, but the others also have doctors. Moreover we should also take into account the formation or education that a man could have, regardless whether he is white or black. We should not only identify him by looking at the development of either his country or he himself only. But, we should identify the man on the basis of what he could offer for that collectivity, that great humanity. That’s why I told you and I wish again to remind you and therefore retake that word in which I quoted José Martí, saying, that humanity should be a big hug. The statement says ‘should be’, and I also think that says a lot by itself. Meaning that it could not be reached yet and could not be achieved right now. It is because those existing big differences are restricted by politics, which do not agree with the principles of SOLIDARITY. And I think that is the word, which should prevail over globalization.


We share a big hug with Antonio Maceo. Another big hug with José Martí for such beautiful words. Again another hug to all the Maroons that Cuba knew, Indigenous, of African descent, the Chinese Maroons, and those of European descent, who joined the struggles along with their brothers right here in Cuba.


Sincerely, you taught us great lessons today on Maroonage and the existence of the Palenques, communities that were real shelters for Resistance and Liberation. The first ones to break unconditionally with the metropolitan powers. And in a cultural sense, as cultural workers as the two of us are, I think that those were moments in which those who struggled persistently wanted to ensure that the Cuban cultural identity would be a representative one, regarding its multi-ethnic and its multi-national composition.

So, a very special fraternal hug to you too, Diego Bosch Ferrer. And I wish you a lot of success in your work as Director of the Center, not La Fama, but the Center………..



Provincial Center of Cultural Patrimony of Guantánamo.


And, that the cultural patrimony of both Guantánamo and of Cuba could ALWAYS be a reflection of the ENTIRE PEOPLE OF CUBA. Just as Antonio Maceo envisioned, when he brilliantly expressed himself in the historical Protest of Baragua.



Thank you very much…..

(broad, sounding??? and shining smile)

Photo © 2004 Luis Bennett Robinson



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This article © 2004 Eugène Godfried

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