Carlotta Lucumi, “La Negra Carlota” (?- 1844)

Carlota Leading the Slaves in Matanzas by Lili Bernard
Carlota Leading the Slaves in Matanzas by Lili Bernard
Public domain image

Carlota Lucumi, a kidnapped African woman, is known as one of the leaders of the slave rebellion at the Triunvirato plantation in Mantanzas, Cuba. Carlota was an African-born free woman from the Kingdom of Benin, West Africa. Her last name, Lucumi, comes from her ethnic group, the Lucumi people, Afro-Brazilians, who are descended from the Yoruba of present-day Nigeria and the Benin Republic.

Lucumi was kidnapped around the age of ten, and taken from her African homeland to the Matanzas province of Cuba. The intensification of plantation agriculture in Cuba led to several slave revolts throughout the 1830s to 1840s. Lucumi lived and worked as a slave on the Triumvirato sugar plantation. Although slavery had died in nearby Haiti in 1803 and was being abolished throughout Latin America and in the British Empire, it continued in Cuba and Lucumi suffered under harsh conditions and brutal treatment by Spanish plantation owners.

In 1843 Lucumi and another enslaved woman, Firmina, began to plot a rebellion among the slaves. Their plan called for a simultaneous uprising on Triumvirato and surrounding plantations. A plantation owner found Fermina as she was distributing this information to other plantations and had her severely beaten and then imprisoned. Despite this setback, Lucumi continued to organize the uprising. Using music as a form of communication, she sent coded messages by talking drum to nearby slaves, coordinating the rebellion.

On November 3, 1843, Lucumi along with other tribal leaders Filip, Narcisco, Manuel Ganga, and Eduardo, led a raid which initiated what would be known as the Triumvirato Rebellion. Wielding a machete, she first freed Firmina and a dozen other slaves being held in captivity in a house on the property. She then burned the house that had been used to torture slaves, killed the overseer’s daughter, Maria de Regla, and then forced Julian Luis Alfonso, the owner of the Triumvirato plantation, to flee.

Lucumi and her followers then went to the Acane plantation, killing as many whites as they could find. In their brief two-day rebellion, they destroyed five sugar plantations, as well as a number of coffee and cattle estates. The day the last plantation was destroyed, Lucumi and Firmina were both captured and executed. Lucumi’s body was tied to horses and dragged until she died. Her followers found her body on the morning of November 6, 1843, and vowed to continue to fight for their freedom. Finally, in November, heavily-armed Spanish colonial forces overpowered the machete wielding slaves and the revolt ended.

The following year, 1844, became known as the “Year of the Lashes” in Cuba as slaveholders brutalized virtually all enslaved people on the island to punish both those who participated in the uprising and intimidate those who did not.

Lucumi’s tale of bravery during the revolt, however, spread throughout Cuba. Her actions inspired numerous subsequent rebellions against white slave owners on that island and throughout the Caribbean. There is now a monument to the legacy of Carlota Lucumi at the Triumvirato sugar mill.