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Juan Francisco Manzano — was born a house slave in the Matanzas Province of Cuba during the colonial period. Manzano's father died before he was 15 and his only remaining family was his mother and two brothers. Manzano worked as a page through his whole life, which was a privileged job for a slave. He wrote two works of poetry and his autobiography while still enslaved. The Autobiography of a Slave is the only existing documented account of 19th-century Cuban slavery and the only existing narrative account of slavery in Spanish America.
Irish abolitionist Richard Robert Madden published his Poems by a slave in the island of Cuba in He obtained his freedom in and later wrote a book of poems and a play Zafira. After his release from prison in he did not publish again and died in In his youth, Manzano was not allowed to play with other black children from the plantations. He was treated like a criollo or Spanish child and had a comfortable life in comparison to other slaves in the important sugar region.
However, the life of a house slave was isolating and left him ill-prepared for his next mistress. In , at the age of 40, Manzano escaped and became a free man. Despite holding a position in the house Manzano faced many forms of physical and mental torture. As a child, Manzano was forced to stay up till midnight sitting still on a stool. This was then followed with being forced up to hold a lamp well hanging from the back of a carriage.
Once, in the infirmary, an assistant overseer entered ordered Manzano to be tied up similar to Jesus Christ during his crucifixion. He was then beaten to the point he lost so much blood he passed out. Finally, Manzano was falsely convicted of stealing a chicken and was beaten for 9 days until he was proven innocent.
During this time he was still expected to complete his normal task when he was not getting tormented. Manzano was a domestic slave with little power over his life, but he was taught to write by his master. Subsequently, with a master, Manzano was not allowed to use time that he could be working to recite by heart or write letters, but he practiced writing letters with the discarded notes of his master, first copying the script and then writing himself.
Writing allowed him to express his own viewpoints. The group took up a collection to buy Manzano's freedom. Manzano's poetry was edited by publishers who sought to create a cleaner version of the text, but in the process, the poems lost their authenticity.
While still enslaved, he wrote Poesias liricas and Flores pasageras In , he began writing his life story at the request of Domingo del Monte , who bought Manzano's freedom in In correspondence between Manzano and Del Monte, Manzano was initially hesitant to reveal details that he though would not be well received by his benefactor.
He gained greater self-confidence and certainty about his autobiography with time. He held back some material that he wanted to put in a later book, which never appeared. His work appears to be the first slave narrative published in Spanish America. He writes, "remember when you read me that I am a slave and that the slave is a dead being in the eyes of his master,"  He had this master until he was 12 years old and she died. He remembers little of her death except standing in a line in his mistresses bed and cryng afterward.
Manzano's biography makes reference to his body as a tool for his mistress's pleasure. His second mistress, Marquesa de Prado Ameno, exercised control by dressing him up. When dressed in fine clothes, he was on his mistress's good side. When dressed in rags, this symbolized her displeasure.
His change of dress publicized symbolically him being stripped of his identity in front of others. Manzano's dignity was removed, due to his constant change of costume. His mistress would cage him up for 24 hours at a time without food or water.
Spanish colonial regime suppressed the history of marginalized social groups such as the African and the Chinese during the period the autobiography was written. During that time the Cuban sugar economy depended on slave labor for its economy. Even after the end of the Spanish rule in , the book was unavailable to be published in Cuba or the Spanish colonies. The autobiography was the property of Del Monte, passed to Del Monte's heirs and then passed to the national library in Havana where it was published in In the 19th century, Abolitionists published the literary works of slaves.
In Manzano's case, his autobiography was published with the help of Del Monte and Madden. In North America, slave narratives were translated and edited, partly for dramatic effect and would sometimes omit details. In Manzano's case, names, places and dates as well as instances of brutality were removed.
Molloy points out that "on occasion the narratives contain so many of the editors views that there is little room for the testimony of the fugitive". Manzano's play, Zafira , was published in Zafira takes place in 16th century Mauritania in North Africa. The play follows Zafira, an Arabian princess, who mourns the loss of her husband and dreads the wedding with the Turkish pirate, Barbarroja, who wants to rule the coast.
Her son, Selim, returns in disguise to reclaim the throne. He allies himself with the slave Noemi to challenge the reign of Barbarroja. The revolt led wealthy landowners to flee to Cuba bringing stories of the rebellion. French slaves were not allowed in Cuba for fear of another revolt.
There was a presence of Spanish soldiers to prevent another uprising. In the play, Selim possesses a mysterious letter. Zafira presents the letter to Barbarroja who responds to the letter with fear. This represents the Spanish and Cuban's fear of another uprising like the Haitian revolution.
The themes are tyranny, exile, subjugation, slavery and rebellion in 19th-century Havana which indirectly challenged Spanish colonial rule. His drama reflects the intellectual and political values of the enlightenment such as reason, order, justice and equality. Manzano may have found inspiration for Zafira from an earlier Spanish version entitled Tragedia. The Spanish hero in the original version,was taken out in favor of the slave Noemi who represents Afro-Cuban slaves.
In resistance writing, meaning is hidden in a symbol that appears harmless although it is full of complex double meanings. Literary critic Jose Antonio Portoundo's article "Toward a new history of Cuba", written shortly after the triumph of the Cuban revolution, says: "there is no history among us that did not study the rise and fall of the dominant hegemonic class: the island bourgeoisie.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Cuban writer and slave. This tertiary source reuses information from other sources but does not name them. Volume 10 of Latin America. Peter Lang Publishing. The Cuba Reader. Duke University Press. Academic Search Complete.
Detroit: Wayne State University Press, Slave narratives. Slave Narrative Collection. Robert Adams c. Francis Bok b. Joseph Pitts — c. Lovisa von Burghausen — Olaudah Equiano c. Jewitt England — United States. Wilson Zamba Zembola b.
Africa Robert Adams c.
The Autobiography of a Slave / Autobiografia de un Esclavo
Series: Latin American Literature Series. Juan Francisco Manzano , an urban slave who taught himself to read and write, and who ultimately achieved fame as a poet in Cuba's colonial slave society, wrote the only known autobiographical account of Latin American slavery. His narrative, composed in two parts, is a heart-rending history of the systematic, unrelenting destruction of human dignity and individual will. It bears the marks of slavery, not merely by virtue of the countless oppressive autobiographical events and the cruel punishments that are narrated, but also because of its unorthodox syntax and orthography in the original manuscript, and the destruction of the second half of Manzano's history which "disappeared" mysteriously during his lifetime and has never surfaced since. In this first bilingual edition of the volume, Evelyn Picon Garfield provides a careful translation of Manzano's somber narration. Ivan Schulman introduces the text to place it in historical and cultural context.
Juan Francisco Manzano
Madden, M. London: Thomas Ward and Co. Poems by a Slave contains a narrative and poems written by Juan Francisco Manzano Manzano was born a slave in Cuba and is considered one of the founders of Cuban literature. He is the only slave in Spanish American history to achieve success as a writer. According to the narrative, he experienced a relatively easy, carefree childhood.