The term mambises refers to the Cuban guerrillas who fought against the Spanish during the Ten Years' War (1868–1878) and the War of Independence (1895–1898). The mambises are named after black Spanish officer Juan Ethninius Mamby, who joined the fight for Dominican independence in 1846 in Santo Domingo. The Spanish began to refer to the guerrillas as "the man of Mamby," or "mambies" as a derogatory term. When the Ten Years' War began many of the soldiers that fought in Santo Domingo were reassigned to Cuba where they applied the related term "mambises" to Cuban fighters; the Cuban fighters adopted the name with pride.
The mambises comprised of a mixture of indigenous, Afro Cuban, Asian Cuban, and Spanish descendants. They called on agricultural workers and freed slaves to join them. They were mainly poor men, who wore typical white and straw hats. They were poorly armed and outnumbered by the Spanish. Because the mambises had no access to conventional weaponry they had to use guerrillastyle tactics and were known for their use of the machete.
During the War of Independence they were led by General Máximo Gómez and General Antonio Maceo Grajales. Generals Maceo and Gómez led the forces west, to the greatest concentration of wealth and government. They traveled over a thousand miles in ninety-two days, fighting twenty-seven battles against numerically superior Spanish forces. Maceo was known as the "Bronze Titan" for being an outstanding leader. Despite Maceo's death in December 1896, the mambises continued the fight until U.S. intervention in 1898.
Another important figure was General Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau, who led the Spanish forces against the mambises. He became known for the "re-concentration" camps used to separate common people from fighters. Anyone caught outside the camp would be considered the enemy and be killed.
Barnet, Miguel. Biography of a Runaway Slave. Translated by W. Nick Hill. Willimantic: Curbstone Press, 1994.
Moreno Fraginals, Manuel. Cuba-España, España-Cuba Historia Común. Barcelona: Grijalbo Mondadori, 1995.
Pando, Magdalen M. Cuba's Freedom Fighter: Antonio Maceo: 1845–1896. Gainesville: Felicity Press, 1980.
Alinne B. Oliveira