Frédéric/Federico Mialhe (who lived in Cuba from 1838 to 1854), ”Dia de Reyes” (also known as “Twelfth Day Festival, or “Day of the Kings”), ca. 1851
In nineteenth-century Cuba, people of African descent were organized in cabildos-associations related to African “nations” or ethnic groups. During the Day of the Kings on January 6 (Epiphany), authorities granted the cabildos permission to celebrate on the streets.
Permitting slaves certain days of fiesta was a way for the slave-owners to keep up a sense of morale or at least keep rebellion at bay, but this fiesta was highly significant because the owners declared their slaves free for the day. Each ethnic group of slaves would choose a king, and then each group would parade down the street, demanding money from the crowd, the government officials, and the houses they passed. Their costumes—imitating liturgical colors, white elites’ formal dress, or devils—were meant not just “to reenact African ritual practices but to astonish and even to frighten.”