Q . Why were slaves imported into Cuba and what were the
reasons for this?
In 1860 much of Cuban Society was like a caste system. Color and
ethnic origin took precedence in ones social standing. Based on a multi
racial and ethnic society it sort of went like this Whites, Free people of
Color and of course then the slaves. What is interesting is that a lot of
times the slaves were put above the indigenous people by the colonizers
on the Island of Cuba. This is primarily to the fact that they adapted to
the colonial culture easier than the Indians did. Non-the less it was the
slave at the bottom of the cast system in actuality.
Most of the business controlled in Cuba was by the Spaniards from Spain
called the Peninsulares. There were those of Spanish decent as well that
were born in Cuba. They were called the Criollos. But the elite were
those from Spain. It was the Criollos that involved themselves with
agriculture and the plantations. The gentes de color were the free people
of color in Cuba. They for the most part were a mixed race of illegitimate
children from slave masters and slaves. The free people were also
classified as either mulatto (mixed) or black. In 1847 another group the
Chinese were brought into Cuba as indentured servants. They were
called coolies. After the emancipation of the slaves in 1886 in Cuba, the
Chinese became the lowest on the equality totem pole.
The slaves were blacks who were owned by white slave masters. There
purpose was to provide free labor in exchange for slavery. Although
slavery started in 1500 in Cuba, it wasn’t until much later that the
Africans were brought in droves to Cuba. In 1860 there were over
370,000 slaves in Cuba. Out of the 370,000 slaves, 218,000 were males
and 152,000 were women. They were all primarily African or from
African decent. Eighty percent of the slave population worked on the
sugar cane plantations.
Of the Africans who were brought as slaves to Cuba, Four main groups
maintained their cultural and ethnic identities throughout the slavery
period. The first was the Kongo people. This made up the largest
Africans of the slave population in Cuba. It was estimated that there
were 400,000 Kongo/Bantu slaves imported to Cuba. They were brought
to Cuba through out the whole of Cuban slavery to work the sugar cane
The next largest groups of slaves from Africa were the Lucumi people.
These were Yoruba slaves from Southwestern Nigerian origin. They were
brought to Cuba primarily from 1820 to 1860, which correspond to the
fall of the Oyo Empire. It was estimated that approximately 275,000
Lucumi were brought to Cuba.
It was the free blacks that formed cabildos or houses based on the
ethnicity of the free black. These cabildos maintained the African
cultures and religions of the various groups that were enslaved in Cuba.
This is how the Afro-Cuban cultures and religions survived slavery.