This is truly a remarkable narrative by an Afro-Cuban who experienced first-hand the rigors of slavery, life in the barracoons, the loneliness and fear of the runaway slave’s existence, and the excitement and confusion of the Cuban War of Liberation, 1895-1899, when it was difficult to distinguish patriot from opportunist and collaborator. Afterwards the author lived long enough to witness Cuba’s challenge and rejection of the American “presence.” Esteban Montejo brings to life a little-known epoch of Cuban social history in his recollections of rural life in revolutionary Cuba. His account spans a period from about 1870, when he was a teenage cimarron hiding out in the forest for several years to avoid re-enslavement, until just after the expulsion of the Spaniards. His descriptions of life in the plantation labor quarters (which included Negro slaves as well as Chinese and Philippine indentured laborers) offer a wealth of information about human relations, social mores, magico-religious practices, and plantation discipline and management. There are particularly valuable accounts of relations between the creole (Cubanborn) and African Negroes and of the divisions that existed within the latter, not to mention those that separated the white creoles, the peninsulares, the Canary Islanders, the orientals, and the Afro-Cubans.

Montejo’s apparently uncritical acceptance of all Afro-Cuban magico-religious practices and beliefs such as the idea that Bozales could and did fly back to Africa, may raise some doubts about the accuracy and authenticity of his other observations. Still his attitude demonstrates the power and influence which such beliefs had and still have among all sections of the population. Montejo also shows a certain obsession with diet, health, and women without manifesting any desire to accept the usual responsibilities of providing for a steady mate and a family, but this reflects the rather simple and austere mode of living which this highly adaptable man was forced to lead in the Cuba of his time.

Generally Miguel Barnet, his editor, has done a good job of presenting the material. However, the reader is left somewhat confused about the role of the so-called guerrillas, who were not Mambises but apparently an amorphous group of Spaniards and Cubans of all races that harassed the countryside and the Cuban patriots in particular for their own immediate ends.

In the opinion of this reviewer it is regrettable that Montejo did not record his views on events such as the race war of 1912 and the Ley Morua, the Dance of the Millions, the Machado dictatorship, and the Batista and Castro eras, all of which were of momentous importance for Afro-Cubans. Such comments would have lent depth and perspective to Montejo’s obvious dislike of United States interventionism and to the obvious disillusionment which he and many Mambí veterans felt upon seeing the Cubanidad of José Martí prostituted by the subtle racism of Estrada Palma, Menocal, et al.

Nonetheless, this autobiography is a valuable contribution to the historiography of modern Cuba.