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Bakkán, the last runaway slave

[Lightly Edited]

Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally. - Abraham Lincoln

By 1879, in Cuba, slavery was still in place; Spaniards officially abolished it in 1886. In 1878, as part of the Zanjon Pact, slaves who had taken part in the Ten Years’ War were freed, but those who did not remain in captivity. The Ten Years’ War was the first of three Cuban wars of independence against Spanish colonial forces. This war began with “El Grito de Yara”, on the night of October 9-10, 1868, on the farm La Demajagua, in Manzanillo, which belonged to Carlos Manuel de Cespedes. It culminated in The Zanjon Pact, which established the capitulation of the Cuban Liberating Army, called Mambises, ensuring the Spanish government that neither one of the two fundamental goals of that war would be conceded: The independence of Cuba and the abolition of slavery.
The ranchers with estates around the village of Victoria de las Tunas, a small town founded in 1796, around the church of St. Jerome because of ten years of bloody struggles, did not free their slaves and in retaliation, increased the mistreatment against them. As this city is also known, Tunas is located in the eastern part of Cuba, and many claimed that it was part of Camaguey at one time. Our ancestors often commented that Camaguey was always the most prosperous province in the country.
One of the ranchers, Mr. Rodolfo Valencia, who was part of one of the most illustrious and wealthy families in the area, known as Valencia’s, became one of the cruelest tyrants to his African captives. His land was located very close to where El Cornito is now, also known as the Cucalambe Park. In this picturesque place, five kilometers from the city, composed much of his work the poet Juan Cristóbal Naples Fajardo, known as El Cucalambé. Mr. Valencia exploited his slaves from very early in the morning until late at night. He whipped them and tortured them for any reason. But among their slaves, in addition to having docile slaves, some were gelfes, a tribe known for their great corpulence, pride, and rebellion. According to some experts, this tribe was divided and sold in Cuba, New Orleans, and Brazil.

One of the slaves from that tribe, Bakkan, had long been unhappy with the treatment of the landowner Valencia and his brutal assistants. Slaves worked in agricultural work, and when they retreated to the barracks to sleep, they were chained.  One day one of the servants, Don Rafael, sent Bakkan to load firewood for the ranch, and unintentionally the firewood collapsed from Bakkan’s arms. Don Rafael whipped him without remorse until he saw blood flow from the whole body of that muscular slave. Bakkan confronted him, burst the chains that tied one of his hands to his right foot, disarmed him with precise-handed movements, and with blunted blows killed him.  He escaped to the fields that were very thick at the time.  He ran barefoot through those bushes without anyone being able to reach him. With their hunting dogs trained to hunt maroons, the landowner and his employees were looking for him without result for several weeks. The escaped slaves were called runaway slaves or cimarons.

Bakkan found a cave behind a small waterfall and hid in it. He only went out early in the mornings to hunt and look for food and hide again. So he lived almost ten years, completely isolated. According to the well-known legend in Tunas, once Bakkan went hunting and stumbled upon a group of Spanish soldiers who roamed the place. Bakkán had only one machete, and climbed to a small hill, closed his black eyes like a jet waiting for the worst, to be shot from the muskets carried by the soldiers. But the Spanish soldiers had what they called “The Code of Honor.” Today’s men find it extremely difficult to understand what this code means. Instead of shooting, they went up one by one to fight melee with their swords the African cimaron. Of course, Bakkan was much burlier, and hurt or disarmed them all. Consenting that they had lost the crusade, they let him escape. Those were the rules of our ancestors, the Spanish army.

As I had already mentioned, in 1886, slavery was officially abolished in Cuba, and Bakkán was discovered by peasant Creoles while he was hunting two years later. They took him to the city and explained that he had not to fear because slavery had ceased to exist in Cuba. The last maroon was frightened, it had been ten years since he raised in the beautiful fields of the Balcony of the Cuban East. The peasants took him to the only church that had Las Tunas, at the time, and baptized him by giving him the name Victor, a name that comes from the word Victory. Victor married a beautiful mulatta, and they had two sons Miguel and Bakkan. Victor began to work as a coachman, and his life was filled with the peace and love that all human beings deserve. In the province of Tunas, the transport of carriages pull by slender horses is a beautiful tradition.
Later in 1895, Victor joined Antonio Maceo’s troops, fighting for Cuba’s independence. In the east-to-west invasion, Victor, crossing the trocha from Jucaro to Moron, did not overcome seven gunshot wounds that reached his broad chest and was buried in the province of Las Villas with all the honors of a Mambi warrior. The first president of independent Cuba, Tomas Estrada Palma, ordered the construction of a monument in the Tunas in honor of Bakkan. In the memorial, they embedded the machete that Bakkan used for ten years and inscribed the following words: “Bakkan, the last maroon, and the bravest Mambi warrior.” Every time I visit Cuba, I go to St. Geronimo Church to honor our brave hero Bakkán.

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