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Biography of a Runaway Slave

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Miguel Barnet's Biography of a Runaway Slave: Testimonial Literature as History

Few documentary sources exist from the Caribbean islands and the Latin American mainland written by Africans or their descendants that describe their life under enslavement. In Brazil, two mulatto abolitionists wrote sketchy descriptions of their personal experiences, and one autobiography of a black man was published before emancipation. In contrast, several thousand slave narratives and eight full-length autobiographies were published in the United States before the outbreak of the Civil War (1860-1865) (Conrad, p. xix). In Cuba, one slave narrative appeared in the nineteenth century. Penned by Juan Francisco Manzano, the Autobiografia (written in 1835,
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Black women and men from various African nations resided on the sugar plantations, including Musungo Congos, Mandingos, Gangas, Lucumis and Carabalis. Montejo comments on the games played by Africans, sugar refining in small mills, taverns that sold supplies to the slaves, and religious practices. He rejects the myth that Africans committed suicide by hanging or drowning themselves, but argues instead that they flew back to their homeland with a religious object (known as a prenda) tied to their waist. Slaves loved music, particularly the use of the drum. Montejo laments that the "white man's music had no drum at all. Tasteless" (Barnet 1994, p. 33). Montejo depicts the Africans with whom he lived as people of great physical beauty, compassion, and sensuality. He also presents clear evidence of the brutal treatment inflicted on these African slaves by masters and overseers. Planters often locked their slaves in stocks for two or three months for minor offenses, and whipping was common. "The barracoon [slave quarters] was bare dirt, empty, and lonely" (Barnet 1994, p. 24). Slaves rose at 4:30 a.m. and then worked from 6:00 a.m. until sunset cutting sugar cane and working in the mill.

In a chapter entitled "Life in the Woods," Montejo talked about his decision to escape. After throwing a rock that hit the head of the overseer, he ran from the fields into nearby
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