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Latin America perspectives a series of information and comment about Latin America with Dr. C. Harvey Gardner research professor of history at Southern Illinois University. These programs are recorded by station w s i u FM. Here now is Dr. Gardner in our day. During these lengthening years of the 20th century we hear much of the common man sometimes because he is a victim of circumstance sometimes because he is synonymous with opportunity unlimited. But whether he is man of limited our unlimited opportunity and limited or unlimited achievement he presently is the object of considerable attention. So much so that one suspects his automatic inclusion in the eventual historical record of our day. But it is not always been so. Indeed the historical record of past centuries so concentrates on greatness and momentous happenings and
foremost leaders that the common man is taken for granted and left in the generalized backdrop for that focus on greatness. It is exceedingly difficult for example to know with that intimacy that gets you inside the nature of another person. A 19th century New England peddler or a Gold Rusher of 1849 or a cotton plantation slave. And even if intimate glimpses are afforded they remain simply that glimpses not lifelong portraits of the common life atoning as much as ONE LIFE CAN far over generalized awareness of the past. Here's a new book based on the life of one clear headed Cuban negro who as he relates it can count more than
one hundred five years of living. His was a life which found him fighting for personal freedom as he battled slavery and a life which found him fighting for national freedom as he battled against mother country Spain. The book is entitled The Autobiography of a runaway slave as stable one tale published by Pantheon Books a division of Random House. And so we meet this man this man of the last century or indeed all of the pages of this book are dedicated to no more than the first 40 years of his life. And so we are in essence recalling in the main the last third of the 19th century. I worked on Teo says in the sugar locker. But this was after I had got experience
spade and shovel work. To my mind even cane cutting was preferable. I must have been 10 years old then. And that was why they had not sent me to work in the fields. But 10 then was like 30 now. Because boys work like oxen. If a boy was pretty and lively he was sent inside to the master's house. And there they started softening him up and well I don't know. They used to give the boy a long palm leaf and make him stand at one end of the table while they were eating and they said Now see that no flies get in the food. And if a fly did they scolded him severely even whipped him. I never did this because I never wanted to be on closer terms with the Masters. I was a runaway from birth and indeed there is enough of that tone of this the rebellious the runaway nature
of Monty Hall that Hervey AIDS not only his life but this book that it makes the title of it the autobiography of a runaway slave. Particularly appropriate. In due course this Cuban Black discusses religion. And you find that much is said because there is a close affinity on his part with the religious beliefs that had come from Africa. And then of course because he the Cuban Black is on the fringe of the world of the whites the mulattoes of the plantation owners. He is also aware of another religion. He puts it this way the other religion was the Catholic one. This was introduced by the priests but nothing in the world would induce them to enter the slave quarters. They were fastidious people with a solemn air which did not fit the barrel Koons the bottle Koons being the slave quarters. So solemn that there were
negroes who took everything they said literally. This had a bad effect on them. They read the Catechism and read it to the others. With all the words and prayers those negroes who were household slaves came as messengers of the priests and got together with the others the field slaves in the sugar mill towns. The fact is I never learned. Someone Teo continues that doctrine because I did not understand a thing about it. I don't think the household slaves did either although being so refined and well treated they all made out they were Christian. This of course raises the interesting point of how much was sincere how much was deep and meaningful in the religious life of such an average Cuban and how much of it was on the other hand. No more than a superficial but there. All of this comes to mind because we have of course as it were a running battle between state
and religion in terms of the communism of Castro's Cuba at the present time. And so the question arises how religious were the people. Indeed how much were they giving up if they became your religious. The slave of course was not only one subject to hard labor but occasional punishment. Montel writes I saw many horrors in the way of punishment under slavery. That was why I didn't like the life. The stocks which were in the boiler house where the cruelest some were standing and others for lying down. They were made of thick planks with holes for the head hands and feet. They would keep slaves fastened up like this for two or three months for some trivial offense. The most common punishment however was flogging. And this was given by the overseer with a
rawhide lash which made welts on the skin. They also had whips made of fibers of some jungle plant which stung like the devil and literally laid the skins off in strips. The educated the superstitious the essentially African based Cuban Black was one to whom no great measure of medical attention was given. And yet it was a time there was a need for medication. And so this too becomes a significant area of the life of the overworked the ill the suffering. Slate There were no powerful medicines in those days and no doctors to be found anywhere. So one tale insists it was the nurses who were half witches who cured people with their homemade remedies. They often cure illnesses the doctors couldn't understand. The solution doesn't lie in feeling you and
pinching your tongue. The secret is to trust the plants and herbs which are the mother of medicine. Africans from the other side across the sea are never sick because they have the necessary plants at hand. Incidentally Monty Hall was not directly from Africa. He was born in Cuba and indeed with a measure of envy looks at those and the knowledge that they brought with them who had come from Africa. Speaking of the herbs speaking of the medication that comes from Mother Nature he continues. All the forest leaves have their uses. I believe that tobacco plants and mulberry trees cure stings. If I saw some insect bite was festering. I picked a tobacco leaf and chewed it thoroughly and then laid it on the sting and the swelling went away. Often when it was cold my bones would ache and the dry pain that would not disappear. Then I made myself an infusion of rosemary leaves
to soothe it and it was cured at once. The cold also gave me bad cos. I would pick a large leaf and lay it on my chest. I never knew its name but it gave out a whitish liquid which was very warming that soothes my cock. When I caught a cold my eyes used to maddeningly and the same used to happen as a result of the sun. In that case I laid a few leaves of the plant out to catch the dew overnight and the next morning I washed my eyes carefully with that water. Here you have the simplicity. You have the superstition you have the home remedy. Also in the home you have more than a little that is on the side of the pesty. The one tiresome thing about the coons the slave quarters was the fleas. They didn't hurt you but you had to be up all
night scaring them off with Spanish Broom which gets rid of fleas and ticks. All you had to do was sprinkle a little on the floor. Personally I think all those insects came to Cuba as the Indians revenge the Indians laid a curse on Cuba. This is to suggest of course that before the Spaniards came there were no insects there were no pests while the Indians had Cuba to themselves. There is of course always this thought that if evil had been brought in. There is some sort of retribution that has been cast up. And there is the thought too that the fleas and other such pests that were there intending to drive off those who had invaded the land indeed had taken over. You have a great deal of superstition and activity of course related to deaths related to courting related to diet. Indeed related to life generally when a worker died on the plantation.
Everyone came to pay respects. They came from faraway villages and one tail was one who couldn't keep still after he heard that someone had died because he was afraid the spirit would walk. We dressed up the dead in their best clothes even their rawhide shoes and buried them like that. There was always a great deal of food that day. In the evening they served rice and vegetables pork white wine and beer. At night there was white Creole and yellow Spanish cheese and coffee the whole time. Coffee the way I liked it served in hollow gourds grown specially for this. That's the only way to drink coffee. And then turning from death returns the life and the joy of courting. And he has this to say about a courting couple. If a courting couple but particularly the girl had parents they courted each other with little stones and grains of corn the girl would stand at the front door and if the man went by he would say stay or whistle. And then she would
look round and smile and he would throw little stones. She responded by picking them up and keeping them. If she were interested in him. If however she were haughty and conceited she would probably pick them up and throw them back. We have in 40 years of life from the 1860s to turn a century by this man who runs away from slavery and then stands up and fights against Spain. A buoyancy a persistence a love of life. In this the man Munn tale. Some might note the negative in the range of his appetites. Others will affirm the positive in his dignity as a person. All in reading and knowing the autobiography of a runaway slave estéban one table published by Pantheon Books will meet a remarkable common man. This was another programme in the series Latin America perspectives with Dr. C. Harvey Gardner research professor of history at Southern Illinois University.
Join us for our next program when Dr. Gardner will comment on another interesting aspect of Latin American affairs. These programs are recorded by station WFIU FM and are made available to this station by the national educational radio network.
Latin American perspectives II
Episode Number
Episode 25 of 38
Producing Organization
WSIU 8 (Television station : Carbondale, Ill.)
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Series Description
For series info, see Item 3544. This prog.: The Autobiography of a Runaway Slave
Global Affairs
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Producing Organization: WSIU 8 (Television station : Carbondale, Ill.)
Producing Organization: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-31-25 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:13:52
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Chicago: “Latin American perspectives II; Episode 25 of 38,” 1969-03-03, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 23, 2024,
MLA: “Latin American perspectives II; Episode 25 of 38.” 1969-03-03. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 23, 2024. <>.
APA: Latin American perspectives II; Episode 25 of 38. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from