From the 1600s onward, enslaved Africans who never did get to run away, didn’t entirely succumb to their new horrific plights of slavery just like that. Many of them found ways to not only survive but also to preserve their heritage and African identities as best and as discrete as they could. They found ways to hide and incorporate elements of their African customs and traditions in these new constrained lives they were now faced to live in foreign lands.
One of the ways they developed was the establishing of ethnic associations called Cabildos. Cabildos de Nacions were mainly found in Cuba and each Cabildo consisted of a community of enslaved Africans usually of the same or similar ethnicity. Cabildos such as Mina Guagni, Mandinga, and Lucumi flourished for their respective ethnic groups such as the Ekpe, Yoruba, and Igbo of Nigeria, Malinka of Sierra Leone, and Akan of Ghana among several others from West and Central Africa.
Cabildos served as mutual-aid societies and religious fraternities, where free and enslaved Africans would hold meetings, gather financial and moral support for needs, and practice certain African religions whenever they could. The interesting thing about some of them especially in the 1600s and 1700s, is that albeit the Africans had hidden motives and activities within the Cabildos, the Catholic Church and the Spanish Government in Cuba officially recognized the councils as legitimate with permission to operate.
In a Cabildo, one would find a King and Queen, a Court, and members of the same ethnic group. The Cabildo King or Captain would be the group’s official representative to the Captain General of the Island. Around 1755, there may have been more than 24 Cabildos in Havana alone. Over the decades, the value and existence of Cabildos began to decline in value as ethnic distinction became less an attribute. Also, as slave rebellions increased throughout the Americas going into the late 18th century and 19th century, more Cabildos lost their official status and favor among colonial officials. These days, on January 6th, Afro-Cubans celebrate the legacy of Cabildos with colorful and musical fiestas along Havana.