Yorùbá Kingship in Colonial Cuba during the Age of Revolutions

By Henry B. Lovejoy

240 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 6 halftones, 8 maps, 2 graphs, 17 tables

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4539-1
    Published: February 2019
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4538-4
    Published: February 2019
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4540-7
    Published: November 2018

Envisioning Cuba

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Awards & distinctions

Co-winner, 2020 Isaac Oluwole Delano Book Prize for Yoruba Studies, Isaac Delano Foundation, Babcock University, and the Pan-African University Press

Finalist, 2019 Albert J. Raboteau Book Prize, Journal of Africana Religions

This Atlantic world history centers on the life of Juan Nepomuceno Prieto (c. 1773–c. 1835), a member of the West African Yorùbá people enslaved and taken to Havana during the era of the Atlantic slave trade. Richly situating Prieto’s story within the context of colonial Cuba, Henry B. Lovejoy illuminates the vast process by which thousands of Yorùbá speakers were forced into life-and-death struggles in a strange land. In Havana, Prieto and most of the people of the Yorùbá diaspora were identified by the colonial authorities as Lucumí. Prieto’s evolving identity becomes the fascinating fulcrum of the book. Drafted as an enslaved soldier for Spain, Prieto achieved self-manumission while still in the military. Rising steadily in his dangerous new world, he became the religious leader of Havana’s most famous Lucumí cabildo, where he contributed to the development of the Afro-Cuban religion of Santería. Then he was arrested on suspicion of fomenting slave rebellion. Trial testimony shows that he fell ill, but his ultimate fate is unknown.

Despite the silences and contradictions that will never be fully resolved, Prieto’s life opens a window onto how Africans creatively developed multiple forms of identity and resistance in Cuba and in the Atlantic world more broadly.

About the Author

Henry B. Lovejoy is assistant professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

For more information about Henry B. Lovejoy, visit the Author Page.


“In his detailed biography of the life of Juan Nepomuceno Prieto, Henry B. Lovejoy takes the story of one enslaved Yorùbán in Cuba to reveal the broader context of the transatlantic slave trade and colonial life on the island. . . . In presenting Prieto’s story, Lovejoy opens up the broader history and narrative of identity and its construction in terms of both race and religion. . . . Prieto adds to [the] conversation, providing us with another window onto the world of enslaved and freed slaves in the nineteenth century.”--New West Indian Guide

“Lovejoy not only immersed himself in Pietro’s historical record but also in the other scholarly reconstitutions of the diverse cultures in the Americas and especially those in Cuba. . . . The incorporation of this wideranging investigation gives the reader a fuller picture not only of Prieto’s life but also of the lives of the peoples in his world and a notion of how his world evolved into ours.”--Nova Religio

“The enslaved African known in Cuba as Juan Nepomuceno Prieto is a fascinating example of an Atlantic Creole. Working through Prieto's voluminous trial record and the registers of Africans brought to Cuba, Lovejoy shows how Prieto’s eventual downfall was tied to the escalation of racial fears of slave conspiracies.”—Jane Landers, Vanderbilt University

“Through the life story of a single individual, Prieto illuminates the important role African forms of association and religious worldviews played in shaping the experiences of enslaved and free blacks. An important contribution to the understanding of blacks’ resistance to slavery, this is a welcome addition in the fields of Cuban, Caribbean, and Latin American history, African diaspora studies, and religious studies more broadly.”—Matt D. Childs, University of South Carolina