Manuel Hernández González
The configuration of Canarian migration during the Conquest and colonization of the Spanish Caribbean was significantly influenced by its historic continuity, familial nature (with an elevated presence of women and children), dedication to agriculture, and contribution to the settlement of towns. This migration gave rise to quintessentially rural prototypes, such as the Cuban guajiro, linked to self-sustaining agriculture and tobacco; the Puerto Rican jíbaro, a coffee grower; and the Dominican montero or farmer from Cibao. All of these contributed a great many aspects of their speech, idiosyncrasies, and culture.
The migratory dynamic has evolved since the Conquest and includes such processes as Cuban tobacco colonization, the foundation of townships in Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico (in order to further analyze their adaptation to the economic boom of sugar plantations in Cuba and Puerto Rico), and the uprising of slaves in French Santo Domingo, as well as the cession of the Spanish portion of the island to this country in 1795. This event merits special focus, due to its great transcendence in terms of the signs of identity that emerged during the rebellion of the Canarian vegueros against the monopoly within the Havana context, and the defense of their configuration as a distinct people in San Carlos de Tenerife: processes that explain their response to 19th-century innovations in Cuba and Puerto Rico and to Dominican political avatars, as well as their attitudes toward criollismo and emancipation. Their singularities are reflected in the mass Cuban emigration that took place during the early decades of the 20th century.
Although the slave trade to Brazil did not end until 1850, and slavery itself lasted until 1888, the practice of freeing slaves had been common from the time of first colonization by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and the children of freed women were born free. The result was that, by the time of a national census in 1872, there were 4.25 million free blacks and mulattos in the country, accounting for over three quarters of all those of African descent and two fifths of Brazil’s total population.
To understand the willingness of Brazilian slave owners to free so many one must first consider the general nature of Brazil’s social structure and the paradigms that ordered it. For most, society was not thought of as being made up of individuals equally protected in their rights and mobile in relationship to one another, but by castes, ranks, corporations, guilds, and brotherhoods, layered one atop another or arranged side by side. Almost everyone could feel superior to someone else, even if inferior to others. The nuanced distinctions of ranks somewhat restrained the threat to social order that free and freed blacks might otherwise have been thought to pose. “Free-and-equal” was not a phrase heard in Brazil.
There is overwhelming evidence that race was an important variable affecting one’s position, and discrimination against blacks was widespread and constant. The government reinforced the prejudices of white Brazilians, acquiesced in maintaining a hierarchy based on color, and presented obstacles to the ambitions of free African Brazilians. Civil service positions were usually denied to them, regardless of their qualifications. Recruitment for the army was focused on the poor, that is, on African Brazilians.
Yet, it is also true that many individuals found their way around those obstacles and rose to positions of some importance, for skin color was just one of the many characteristics to be considered. There are multiple examples of freeborn mulattos (and some freed and freeborn blacks) who succeeded in 19th-century Brazil. Some became doctors, pharmacists, journalists, and teachers. Others entered politics and rose to positions of real power. A few worked energetically to bring about the end of slavery.
Communities of runaway slaves, more commonly known as “Maroon communities,” were created throughout the Americas. Enslaved people ran away from their owners all the time, often just for a few days, but some decided never to return to slavery and instead found permanent (or semi-permanent) refuge from the harsh life on the plantations in swamps, jungles, forests, and mountains. Sometimes in very small groups of less than ten people, but more usually in much larger numbers, maroon communities attempted to live independently, free from white interference. White responses to maroon communities varied over time and included military assaults and peace treaties.