This short story is a dedicated to African Americans and their struggles.
The story is the effort of the spirit to achieve freedom. – Friedrich Hegel
Author: Joseph Nolberts, 2019
Photographer: Marlen Vistorte
Photograph of Andres, the great-great-grandson of a rebellious slave. We met when I visited Cuba last summer. Here Andres is trying to show how Cimarrons looked during that time
***Bakkán, the las Cimarron ***
In 1879 still in Cuba, slavery was legal. Slavery was officially abolished in 1886. In 1878, as part of the Zanjon Pact, the slaves who participated in the Ten Years’ War were freed, but those who did not, remained in captivity. The Ten Years’ War was the first of the three Cuban wars of independence against the Spanish colonial forces. This war began with the “Grito de Yara” on the night of October 9-10 of 1868, at the Farm La Demajagua, in Manzanillo, which belonged to Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. It culminated in the Zanjón Pact that established the capitulation of the Cuban Liberation Army, called Mambises, guaranteeing the Spanish government that neither of the two fundamental objectives of this war: the independence of Cuba and the abolition of slavery would be granted by Spain to Cuban Mambises.
The landowners and slavers who settled around the village of Victoria de las Tunas, a small town, founded in 1796, around the church of San Geronimo consequently as the result of the ten years of bloody struggles, did not free their slaves. Instead and in retaliation increased their mistreatments and abuses. “Victoria de las Tunas,” which is also known as the terrace of Cuba, is located in the eastern part of Cuba, and many claims that it was once part of Camaguey. Our ancestors often stated that Camaguey and Holguin were always the most prosperous provinces in Cuba.
One of the ranchers, Mr. Rodolfo Valencia, who was part of one of the most illustrious and wealthy families in the region, known as the Valencia’s, became one of the cruelest slaveowners with their African captives. Valencia’s property was situated very close to where El Cornito is now, also known as the Cucalambe Park. In this picturesque place, five kilometers from the city, composed much of his work, the poet Juan Cristóbal Naples Fajardo, known as “El Cucalambé.” Mr. Valencia did force his slaves to work from very early in the morning until late at night. He whipped and tortured them without any particular reason. However, among his slaves besides including docile ones, also mixed gelfes who belonged to a tribe known for their great corpulence, pride, and rebellious character. According to some experts, this tribe was divided, and its members sold in Cuba, New Orleans, and Brazil.
Juan Napoles Fajardo, El Cucalambe
One of the slaves from that tribe, Bakkán, had long been unhappy with the slaveowner’s treatment and brutality of the pawns. Slaves worked in agriculture, and when they retreated to the barracks to sleep, they were chained. One day one of the pawns, Don Rafael, sent Bakkán to load firewood for the residence, and without any intention, the wood collapsed from his arms. Don Rafael whipped him without remorse until he saw blood flowing from the whole body of that burly slave. Bakkán confronted him, burst the chains that tied one of his hands to his right foot, disarmed him with dexterous movements, and with blunt blows killed him. He escaped to the fields that were very thick at the time. He ran barefoot through those forests without anyone being able to catch him. The slaveowner, his pawns, and their hunting dogs, trained to hunt slaves who escaped, were looking for him without result for several weeks. The slaves who escaped were called in Cuba “Cimarron.”
The Cornito or Park Cucalambe
Bakkán found a cave behind a small waterfall and in it hid. He only left early in the morning to hunt and look for food and went back into hiding. Thus, he lived almost ten years, completely isolated. According to the legend well known in Victoria de las Tunas, once Bakkán went hunting and stumbled upon a group of Spanish soldiers hanging around the area. Bakkán only had one machete, and climbed on a small hill, closed his dark black eyes expecting the worst, a shot from the muskets carried by the soldiers. However, the Spanish soldiers had what they called “The Code of Honor.” Today’s men find it difficult to understand what this code means. Instead of shooting, they went up one by one to fight with their swords with Bakkán. Today’s men would have climbed all at once or shot him without any compassion. Of course, Bakkán was much more robust and wounded and disarmed all soldiers. Conceding that they had lost the battle, they let him escape. Those were the rules of our ancestors, the Spanish army.
As mentioned before, in 1886, slavery was officially abolished in Cuba, and Bakkán was discovered by peasant creoles, while hunting around the waterfall, two years later. They took him to the city and explained that he did not have to fear because slavery had ceased in Cuba. The last Cimarron was frightened; ten years had passed since his escape to the beautiful fields of the Balcony of the Oriented. The peasants took him to the only church that had Las Tunas at the time and baptized him, giving him a new name Victor, a name that comes from the word Victoria. Victor married a beautiful mulatta, and they had two sons Miguel and Bakkán. Victor began working as a coachman, and his life was filled with the peace and love that all human beings deserve. In Victoria de las Tunas the transport of carriages tied by slender horses is a beautiful tradition.
Later in 1895, Victor joined the troops of Antonio Maceo, fighting this time for Cuba’s independence. In the invasion from East to West, Victor, crossing the fort from Júcaro to Morón, did not overcome seven gunshot wounds that reached his broad chest and buried in the province of Las Villas with all the honors of a Mambí warrior. The first independent President of Cuba, Tomas Estrada Palma, ordered the construction of a monument in close to the church where Bakkán was baptized, in honor of Bakkán. In the monument, they embedded the machete used by Bakkán for ten years and inscribed the following words: “Bakkán, the last Cimarron, and the bravest Mamba warrior.” Every time I visit Cuba, I go to the Church of St. Geronimo to honor our hero Bakkán.
Blessed be your lives
The short story is lightly edited.