Not long ago someone pulled down art works off the wall that mark the spot in Havana where one of the black martyrs of November 27, 1871 was murdered. On that historic day at least five black members of the Abakua order staged an armed protest in an attempt to prevent the firing-squad execution of eight white Cuban medical students by Spanish troops.
The murdered victim along the wall was a boy “around 14,” according to the colonial police authorities of the time, making him probably the youngest killed on that fateful day. Contrary to the university students, the names of the blacks are unknown.
The pieces of artwork were not stolen but thrown on the ground at the foot of the wall. I found this out thanks to the security personnel at one of the nearby hotels. During the almost five years since activities began in commemoration of the historic uprising that occurred at that site, hotel workers and neighborhood residents have always supported these homages by lending their valuable assistance to the organizers.
The historical research that identified the site was the work of writer and documentary maker Tato Quiñones, while the homages carried out there every year are independently organized [without government or Communist Party involvement] by the Haydee Santamaria Collective and the Cofradia de la Negritud (the Negritude Brotherhood). The concept of a memorial emerged autonomously, and the art work representing graphic “signatures” of Abakua societies was the work of artist Wilay Mendez. Several publications already exist on these efforts and studies.
Obviously we don’t know who was or were responsible for venting their rage on the two metal works that constituted the sole existing monuments to the black martyrs of November 27.
The spontaneous nature of the commemorations drape a veil of judicial defenseless over the memorial itself since the site does not enjoy the official status of “Historical Patrimony”; however, it is already viewed in this light by critical activists and by the Afro-Cuban and Abakua communities.
Though the memorial was not destroyed completely this time, what was damaged was not only the labor of so many people to revive the memory of the dead, but also the public’s enthusiasm in the felt need to recall that memory.
I am not saying that they destroyed the dignity of our dead, because they are certainly safe from any attempt by vandals or provocateurs to eliminate their memory.
The site of the recollection ceremony is a few meters from the Granma memorial, where the eternal flame burns for those Cubans who died in the struggle for our dignity. There are always armed soldiers standing guard in the place and there are monitoring cameras.
Nevertheless, we found out about this attack thanks to a completely spontaneous initiative, one as spontaneous as our past commemorations of the black heroes.
It is indispensable that the officials in charge of the Historical Patrimony of the city make the decision to recognize this corner as such, where the anonymity of a few decent people doesn’t prevent their action from continuing to contribute to efforts to decolonize our minds.
But independently of the bureaucracy, we will take charge of reconstructing the site and guard it against any provocation. The vandals will be unable to prevail against the revolutionary commitment of the humble people of Cuba.