Frank Yerby: A Victim’s Guil
Plot To Bring Cuba Into the United States to Support Slavery
Frank Yerby: A Victim’s Guilt Revised/Abridged Edition
Papa Legba loved debauchery and sexual perversion.
He remains a god to this day. He roams the world with a swollen penis that can never be satisfied. Papa Legba’s only pleasure
is tricking humans into behaving like animals while he eats their brains.
The first thing Yerby noticed was that Pedro ’s home was
anything but pleasant; it was a typical bohio, the kind of hut lived in by all Cuba ’s blacks, even those who were free.
This hut had a dirt floor with the fronds of palm trees for a roof, and clapboard and mud for walls.
Pulling himself off of the floor and brushing himself off, Yerby went out the hut’s single entrance into a bright Caribbean sun. In front of the hut,Yerby found a muscular young black man reclining in a hammock tied between branches of a ceiba tree.The massive ceiba dwarfed both the black man in the hammock as well as the man ’s nearby hut.The ceiba tree ’s undulating truck reminded Yerby of the coils of Damballah, Dahomey’s snake god. Near the hammock reclined a beautiful woman. The woman ’s mixed ancestry produced such a sultry, natural beauty that it would have been appealing to either the white or black races. Carlota simply took Yerby’s breath away. She was tall, but thin with full hips that swayed as she walked, as if she were in complete harmony with the rolling Caribbean itself. Her honey creamed skin glowed. A great mass of reddish-brown hair flowed about her in continual ringlets and curls like the cascading petals of glorious sunflower. Carlota ’s eyes were mysterious and shy, reflecting the innocence of her soul. And her eyes, her heart and her soul, all belonged to Pedro. Ever since he had deposited the glow of life between Carlota ’s legs, her face glowed each time she touched the slight protrusion in her stomach. Carlota prayed that Pedro’s child would be a boy child, a perfect gift of love.
“What place is this?” Yerby asked the black figure reclining in the hammock.
“This is Guanabacoa, Señor Yerby,” the young man said. “And I am Pedro.”
“How is it that you know me?” Yerby asked, looking around, somewhat disoriented. He did not know quite where he was, but he didn ’t think that he was any longer in ninth-century Spain.
“My uncle Tolomeo, Babaluaye of this village called for you,” Pedro answered.“You are here to assist us in our revolt against Spain. No?”
“I am here to assist you in your revolt against Spain, no!” Yerby replied. “Guanabacoa. Is that Guanabacoa, Cuba?”
“Si, señor,” Pedro replied.
I was afraid of that, Yerby thought. There is going to be a dandy little rebellion here, soon. Just what I wanted! To die proving that blacks were not guilty of being victims. Close to ninety percent of Cuba ’s population was black and of that number, eighty percent were slaves. The blacks labored for the hacendados, the Cuban plantation owners. All but a few of the hacendado plantation owners were native-born Cubans of Spanish descent. But the true masters of Cuba were the Spanish aristocrats who ruled Cuba on behalf of the Spanish Crown. Cuba’s Spanish aristocrats insured that the wealth of Cuba flowed into the coffers of the king t, while, at the same time, generously helping themselves. Profits from Cuban tobacco, molasses and cane sugar were exorbitant. The amount of gold bullion passing through the port of Havana on its way to Spain was unimaginable. There was no wonder that raiders from England, Scandinavia and from all over world continually stalked the galleons transporting the treasures of the new world back to Spain.
The Spanish Crown forced the hacendado planters to sell their products to the Factoria, the government monopoly owned by the Spanish Crown. The Factoria purchased all of Cuba ’s produce far below fair market value. Yet any hacendado attempting to sell sugar cane or tobacco or any other produce to any buyer other than agents of the Factoria was guilty of smuggling and punished by fines and imprisonment. A black man caught smuggling tobacco out of Cuba would be summarily executed. Yet, despite the penalties, smuggling was the primary occupation of free blacks and hacendado planters. Hacendados dreamed of freeing themselves from the Spanish Crown by leading blacks, slave and free, in an insurrection.
“Who is he and why is he in your bohio ?” Carlota asked Pedro, referring to Yerby.
“I was feeding Chango at his Royal Palm,” Pedro explained. "All at once Chango called for the drums. I answered and
answered. I stayed there all night answering Chango ’s call, beating the drums until I became exhausted and collapsed.This morning, there he was, laying there in front of me.”
“Who is he?” Carlota insisted..
“Señor Frank Yerby.” Pedro replied making the introductions.
Carlota did not believe Pedro, but she stopped questioning him. Pedro seemed more irritable than usual. Sometimes she wondered if he wanted their baby, at all. I will keep my eyes on you, señor Yerby, Carlota vowed to herself. Carlota who was soon to marry Pedro in a Lukumi Voodoo ceremony, decided to keep her distance from the stranger. At least for the time being. When Carlota returned to her own hut, she decided that she hated this señor Frank Yerby, whoever he was.
The only thing that mattered to Carlota was Pedro. From before she could remember, Carlota had loved him; she loved him completely.They were soul mates. Like Pedro, Carlota was an orphan. But unlike Pedro, Carlota didn’t have an Uncle Tolomeo who was Babaluaye of the Lukumi Voodoo cult. She had no family whatsoever. Carlota’s mother, a mulatta, died in childbirth; her father was a passing Spanish soldier who forced himself on Carlota’s mother who was but a twelve year old child. Carlota’s remarkable beauty was a curse, she had to hide whenever any man, soldier or hacendado appeared in her village.
Glancing about, Yerby noticed that the villagers were lying about. “Everyone seems to be waiting for something,”Yerby commented to Pedro.
“Yes,”Pedro responded.“They are waiting for my uncle. He is the village fisherman.The entire village depends upon my uncle to return with a boatload of mackerel.”
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“He must be a very good fisherman,”Yerby observed.
“Yes,”Pedro replied, “my Uncle Tolomeo is an excellent fisherman. But he left early this morning not only to catch fish for the village of Guanabacoa, but also to catch sight of the ships that will bring American fighting men, guns and supplies to support our glorious Cuban insurrection.”
“You are expecting Americans to come here to free Cuba from Spain?” Yerby asked.
“Si, señor ,”Pedro replied.“But we just don’t know when the americanos are coming.”
“When will the americanos come?” the villagers ask hundreds, no,thousands of times. Tolomeo promised that the americanos were coming to free them. As the Babaluaye, Tolomeo was respected. But now, even his staunchest supporters were becoming impatient. Some even whispered that the Babaluaye was responsible for earlier failure at overthrowing the Spanish, a failure that had cost many lives.
“They would not have revolted if they hadn’t believe that the americanos were coming to help them,” the villagers grumbled.
“Your uncle is beginning to lose support of the villagers because he promised americano support for the insurrection?” Yerby asks. He is hopeful that they would all forget this nonsense about revolting against Spain.
“Si, señor Frank,” Pedro replied. “A month ago, the hacendado, Joaquin de Aguero, declared Cuba free of Spain. Some of our Lukumi warriors joined Aguero and other planters in the hills. My uncle promised that the americanos would come soon. But the americanos did not come and Jose Guiterrez de la Concha, general of the Spanish army slaughtered them.”
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For years the hacendados plotted to overthrow Spanish rule in Cuba. They met surreptitiously in a saloon known as the Havana Club and raised a million dollars for the sole purpose of hiring American mercenaries to fight against the Spanish Crown.The Havana Club was organized by Narciso Lopez who had helped the Caudillo of Spain revolt against the Spanish monarchy. When the caudillo was overthrown and the Spanish monarchy restored, Narciso Lopez was forced to flee to Cuba. Before plotting with the Havana Club, Lopez had landed a force of American mercenaries at Cardenas but was soundly beaten by superior Spanish troops. Now Lopez promised the Havana Club that he would raise another force of American mercenaries, if they would get the Cuban blacks involved in an the insurrection. Narciso convinced the hacendados that their army of black slaves, joined by his American mercenaries, could overthrow Spanish rule in Cuba. The Havana Club hacendados recruited the religious leader over all of Cuba’s blacks, the leader of their Voodoo cult, the Babaluaye Tolomeo. I turn, Tolomeo convinced his followers that Americans were coming to free them from slavery and that they should be prepared to join in the insurrection. However, the hacendado planter, Joaquin de Aguero, was overly eager and revolted before the Americans had set sail. So now each day, the Lukumi warriors asked Tolomeo, “Have the americanos arrived yet?”
“My Uncle Tolomeo likes to spend his time on the water,”Pedro explained to Yerby.
“What else does he do?”Yerby asked.
“He is a smuggler,” Carlota laughed from inside her hut. “Pedro ’s uncle takes cigarsband tobacco from the plantation owners and sells them in Florida.”
Pedro gives Carlota an angry look.
“Well, you said he is here to help, didn’t you?” Carlota says mischieviously. “He needs to know everything, doesn ’t he?” Carlota wants to make Pedro sorry for abandoning her for this Frank Yerby.
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“Sometimes my uncle serves the hacendados by selling their tobacco to americanos in Florida,” Pedro explains to Yerby. “But the Spanish have so many ships that smuggling is very dangerous right now.”
“Your uncle trusts the hacendados?” Yerby asks.
“Oh, yes, they are very good men. They are working to end slavery here in Cuba.”
It was possible that the ‘good’ hacendados for whom Tolomeo smuggles tobacco and from whom the Voodoo priest gets his information were not in possession of all the facts. Even as the Havana Club plotted their revolt, the Spanish consulate in New Orleans was warning Spain'sCrown ’s personal representative, Jose Guiterrez de la Concha, about the slave insurrection that the hacendados were instigating. It was the Spanish Consul who had warned General la Concha about Aguero’s revolt. La Concha’s Spanish army possessed modern weapons while the slaves were armed with machetes and clubs. There could be no doubt as to the outcome.
Meanwhile as he had promised the Havana Club, Narciso Lopez actually recruited a 435-man American mercenary force and even now the brave, if foolhardy band, sailed out of New Orleans in a leaky steamer called the Pampero to challenge 8,000 of the best trained, best equipped and best organized fighting force in the Americas, under the mistaken belief that the insurrection of black slaves under Joaquin de Aguero's leadership was still underway.
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But none of this was known by Tolomeo, Pedro, Carlota or any of the black Lukumi warriors still waiting for the drums to signal the insurrection. So all they could do was wait for Tolomeo to return with news of the expected americano army.
“Senor Yerby, did you know that Pedro is going to lead the americano attack against the Spanish?” Carlota asked in a laughing voice from inside her hut. Yerby glanced over to Carlota’s hut which was less than ten yards away from where he lounged in the ceiba tree. “The Babaluaye Tolomeo predicted a great future for Pedro.What do you think, Senor Yerby?”
“I think it is unlikely that when the americanos come they will follow Pedro,” Yerby observed.
“Pedro is a dreamer and he truly loves me,” Carlota said, “and my Pedro loves his people and wants his people to love him. So he dreams of ending all this.” She waves indicating the poverty, illness and ignorance all about the village. Although many of Guanabacoa’s residents are actually free, they are mostly elderly and lacking the basic necessities. Only the smouldering anger in their eyes hint at their obsession with the great insurrection about to take place.
“I think Pedro does not understand that it will take more than driving the Spaniards out of Cuba to change all of this,” Yerby says.
From his hammock, Pedro joins the conversation. “What ’s wrong with wanting to help your people?” he asks.“Somebody needs to help them.”
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“I think what Carlota is saying,” Yerby observes,“is that she is concerned that you will be harmed long before you are able to do any good.”
But Pedro takes Yerby’s presence as an omen of success. He dreams of leading black Cubans to freedom. When the americanos arrived with their guns, supplies and men, Pedro will become a great leader. Now that the Babaluaye Tolomeo has provided me with the services of Frank Yerby, Pedro thinks to himself, I cannot fail.
Carlota gazes out across the waters of the Caribbean, shielding her eyes against the sun. “Is that not the Babaluaye Tolomeo coming in now?” she shouts. But even as she speaks, what had been a blotch on the water only moments before began to resolve itself into the shape of a small fishing boat. The solitary figure maneuvers the boat closer until it enters a small inlet. By the way the gulls circle overhead, squealing out the news, it is clear that Tolomeo’s boat is filled with mackerel.
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The villagers begin racing down to the beach, laughing and waving. Pedro and Frank Yerby, accompanied by Carlota, join them. Uncle and
nephew hail each other good-naturedly.Then they fall to the task of securing the good-sized fishing boat onto the wooden dock, midway up the beach.Tolomeo ’s boat has a cleverly contrived keel that can be raised. Without this keel, sailing upon the Caribbean would be impossible. Withdrawing the keel allows Tolomeo to safely beach his fishing boat, fitting it snugly onto a wedged sled. Then with the aid of a wooden winch and block and tackle, Tolomeo and Pedro pull the boat onto its dock.
“Any sight of the americanos ?” Pedro asks, giving his uncle a warm hug.
“No, not yet,”Tolomeo replies “but they will be here soon.”
Tolomeo gives his nephew a confident wink. “But,for now, let us get these mackerel out of the boat.”
They leap over the side and lower nets into the great barrel built into the bottom of the boat. Then they begin scooping out mackerel and lowering the fish onto the beach. Carlota and other women transfer the fish into the community pool. The villagers help themselves. Soon the beach is alive with laugher. The men and women sing while preparing to feast on Tolomeo’s catch.
“Your people are happy with you today, Babaluaye,” Pedro said.
“Today! Yes, they love me today. They have fish today. But tomorrow, who knows.” Tolomeo smiles at his Pedro. The Voodoo priest is proud of his nephew. One day he will be the Babaluaye, Pedro, Tolomeo tells himself.
“Most certainly they will love you tomorrow as well," Pedro laughs. "Tomorrow I will defeat the Spanish. You, Babaluaye, have promised it. Most certainly, your people will all love you for giving them revenge for the floggings they have received, for the sons and daughters they have lost, for the labor forced upon their bodies and for the shame they have harbored in their souls. Oh, yes, Babaluaye, they all will love you, tomorrow.”
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