1.Esteban Montejo always knew that his memories would be of utmost importance because he wanted to narrate his life story to others and make the world know who he was as a slave. One of the important memories that he had was of himself living as a fugitive slave hiding in the forests of Cuba. Later, he visualized himself as recounting his story to interviewers in order to help the slaves achieve a better status in society. Furthermore, he recalls how the blacks made us of healing substances and magic in order to deal with sicknesses and with insect bites.
Life in the barracoons was indeed very tough for the slaves; two important aspects to understand here are that a number of slaves had to live together in a single barracoon and thus often felt suffocated because of the lack of space and terrible living conditions. Moreover, illnesses were widespread due to the lack of sanitation within these homes, if they could be called so. Due to the number of tics and rampant potentiality of sickness, the slaves were living under terrible conditions. Hill writes, ‘the masters wanted the barracoons to look clean outside so they painted them with whitewash.” (p.23) this helps the readers to understand the mentality of the masters and how badly they treated their slaves while making them live in horrible homes which looked neat from the outside so as to provide a different picture to the rest of the world.
Esteban tried to leave escape the plantation in order to taste freedom however since he had never been anywhere else other than the plantation, he was a little lost upon entering the woods. The reason why most slaves did not bother to runaway was because they feared being caught and then being treated in an even worse manner by their masters; Esteban thus wanted to taste a slice of freedom and act carelessly; he was not afraid of being caught because of the sole reason that he did not know worse fear than having to bow down to other human beings and do as they say without uttering a word. For a long time, he hid in cave and ate pigs in order to not be found and whenever he heard dogs barking, he immediately took off his clothes to prevent the animals from picking up his scent. – That was one of the methods of his survival. “The cave was big and dark like the mouth of a wolf.” (p. 45)
2.The second section is entitled ‘The Abolition of Slavery’ and talks about Montejo’s life until his emancipation in the year 1886. He worked in the sugar mills for a long time as a free worker and laboured his years away, working hard at the machines as well as performing manual labour acts of cutting and harvesting sugar cane. This helps in an understanding of the harsh lifestyle that peasants were forced to lead and the difficult work that goes into the forming of sugar and cane and the hard work required to sell it in the market at terribly low costs, not taking into account the labour that has been put into it.
“There were masters, or rather, owners, who believed that blacks were made for locking up and whipping. So they treated them the same as before. To my mind blacks didn't realize that things had changed [with emancipation] because they kept on saying 'Your blessing, Master'…. [The white man] believed they were the owners of humanity” (p.62) He was highly critical about the life that the blacks and the mulattos were forced to lead and the lack of education that they were subject to, thereby ruining their chances of ever having the opportunity to lead a better lifestyle. Further, he also spoke very lowly about the Catholic priests who treated women like whores and forced them to have sex with them and procreate as many children as they could.
The workers enjoyed themselves as they often entertained themselves by playing games in the barracoons. They played games like tejo (p.26) where they used a corn on a cob to flip a coin and win coins from one another. Playing games was the only source of fun that they had and an aspect which took them to another world for sometime, making them forget about the harsh lives that they were forced to lead otherwise.
3.In the third section, he talks about the tactics that the Cuban guerrilla soldiers used in order to kill the enemies. Montejo condemned propaganda that minimized the role of black soldiers in the war. He claimed that 95 percent of blacks had fought, but their involvement and sacrifices did not prevent them from being “left out in the street” after the hostilities ceased. Esteban Mesa Montejo talks about the manner in which he tried to escape and reach the peak of freedom and how, against the backdrop of the war and the Cuban problems, he was successful in doing so on a personal level. Despite being witness to some of the most turbulent moments in the history of Latin America, Esteban managed to become an inspiring figure for slaves all over the world with his story and his need to be free and feel free.
Working on this paper has enabled me to enhance my knowledge regarding the Caribbean islands at the time and how slavery ensued during the period and the treatment of the blacks by the whites. There were a number of black slaves at the time who managed to emancipate themselves and lead a better lifestyle however, this brings no doubt that the existence of the institution of slavery was condemned by many people who rose against it with time.
Hill, Nick. “Biography of a Runaway Slave.”