Her Roots in Africa and the Journey to Slavery
Carlota Lukumi was born a Yoruba girl in Benin in the early 19th century, though it is not known exactly when. When she was at around the age of 10 years, the Carlota was abducted from her home and sold into slavery.
She was transported by sea to the Spanish colony of Cuba, where she would be forced to work in the cotton and sugar plantations.
By the 1840s, when Carlota was all grown, the conditions in which the slaves, who were mostly black, deteriorated. They were forced to work harder and treated with cruelty. And when they tried speaking against the ills being done against them, the masters and the colonial government would torture or kill them.
Carlota, like most of her colleagues, was already feeling fed up with the harsh situation she found herself in. Refusing to go on living in such hardships, the African-born woman mobilized the other slaves and organized revolts against the overseers and plantation owners.
On November 5 1843, Carlota led perhaps the most severe slave uprising of the century. On that day, she and her fellow slaves got the attention of the Spanish colonial government and instilled confidence among the enslaved for later liberation struggles.
Carlota’s Difficult Life as A Slave
In spite of the world’s move toward the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, the vice remained rampant in Cuba, permitted by the Spanish colonial government and the Cuban masters.
The cotton and sugar plantations were vital in the Cuban economy at the time and the owners of these plantations only had plans to boost the production.
Because of the need to increase the productivity on the plantations, the number of people being sold into slavery in Cuba kept rising. The slaves were mostly black people kidnapped from Africa. In the process, Carlota found herself working in a plantation in Matanzas, Cuba, as a slave.
Her childhood was robbed from her, and throughout the rest of her life, this African girl would have a difficult life in a foreign land.
But as the number of enslaved Africans rose, the slaves figured that with their numbers, they had a fighting chance.
Organizing the Revolt
In this life, the slaves had little to look forward to. It was their closeness that kept them going. According to one narrative, Carlota had a close friend, whose name is not documented. The slave master’s daughter at the plantation where they worked had killed her, citing laziness at work.
Carlota, enraged, realized that no one would save her and her fellow slaves unless they stood up for themselves. Before, she had supported non-violent methods of resolving the slavery issue, but after the gruesome death of her friend, Carlota knew force had to be used.
Teaming up with another black woman, Firmina, Carlota started inciting the other slaves at the Triunvirato plantation to fight back.
They took several weeks to plan the attack and set it to the night of November 5 1843. It would take the courageous efforts of Carlota and Firmina to pass the message among the slaves, not only in the Triunvirato plantation, but also the ones surrounding it.
Preparation to Strike
Carlota employed the talking drum communication method, which she had learned as a kid, to communicate with the other revolt organizers.
The colonialists and the slave masters assumed the hourglass-shaped drums and the sounds the slaves were making with them were all about music.
Little did they know they were used to communicate vital messages regarding how to fight back.
By the evening of November 5, almost all the slaves in the Triunvirato plantation were armed with a machete.
As the slave masters feasted in their mansion, Carlota stormed in with a group of slaves. They ravaged the house, slaying every slave master and slavery sympathizer in it. Carlota went for Maria de Regla, the overseer’s daughter, attacking her with a machete, before leaving her to bleed out on the floor.
Meanwhile, on the outside, the slaves ransacked the entire plantation, destroying the crops and burning the structures on the property.
Later in the night, following distress calls by the slave masters, the colonialists deployed a large number of troops to the plantation. On the morning of the following day, Carlota was found among those that had lost their lives.
Though Carlota Lukumi died in the battle, her legacy lived on. Following the news of Carlota’s death, further revolts sprung up across Cuba, with slaves rising against the masters in a bid to try and free themselves.
Carlota’s actions of rising up to defeat the oppressor shaped not only the course of Cuba’s history but also the course of the fight against slavery in many parts of the world.
The plantation where this brave African woman worked would later be converted into a museum. Today, visitors can stand in awe of the statue of Carlota with a machete in her hand while glimpsing at the remains of the sugar mill.