It’s probably silly to think I can do a blog about Culture in Cuba in under 500 words and a few photos, but I’m going to make a “sound bite” stab at it.
My sense is that under the communist regime of Fidel Castro and his buddies, the leaders tried to wipe out much of the Cuban culture or what makes Cuba Cuba. Their goal was to create a utopia where all are treated the same and work for the common good, not celebrate individual differences
You see this often when a socialist society takes hold, but the good news is that the underlying culture of the people can’t be suppressed.
Here are some glimmers of what makes Cuba Cuba that we saw on our Backroads People-toPeople trip last January.
It is wild, fun and comes out everywhere. It’s in the Cuban soul. I think you could spend a lifetime enjoying Cuban music. From lunch at Las Terzas, a planned community about an hours drive from Havana, to the streets to an evening at Le Tanque, a community center in a very poor part of Havana, we not only experienced but we “felt” the music. It’s everywhere. Dance too! We had a chance to see a performance given by some young people preserving the dance tradition associated with their religion, Santeria. It was lovely, colorful and full of passion. After the performance the young people got us all out on the dance floor to share dance with them. What a happy time.
This is a form of music and dance that harks back to 1870 and a different era in Cuba. It was elegant, and sedate and lovely to watch. We learned that the lady used her fan to communicated extensively to her dancing partner. Every little flicker of the fan meant something ranging from “I like you” to “Spend the night with me.” Sounds pretty sexy and I think it was.
Many Cubans practice a religion called Santeria (means Way of the Saints) which is a combination of traditions from Yorubaland and Catholic. At first it sounded like a “make it up as you go along” kind of thing, but as I learned more I really appreciated the concept.
Basically the religion centers on the worship of deities called Orishas, which the slaves linked to the Catholic Saints. This enabled the slaves to worship their own African gods while appearing to be playing by the rules of the Catholic Church. Clever. Smart.
We observed the participants dressed all in white as they made their way around the city. They were spending a year of sacrificing and living a sacred life. I have great respect for the dedication it symbolizes. It’s compelling.
The Visual Arts
We visited a publishing house where hand made books were produced. Beautiful. Inspirational. Naturally I came home with one.
Then we walked around the corner to a gallery in a fallen down space. This art had me pondering and thinking about the impact of the society on its artists. I could have spent the day there, talking with the artists about their themes and messages.
Food is tough for Cubans. They don’t get enough of it and variety is certainly lacking. But, the government is now allowing Paladars, which are privately owned restaurants in private homes. You’re probably wondering why all the fuss, but in a communist country that hasn’t allowed private enterprise, it is a really big deal.
Opening restaurants where people can eat in beautiful environments and chefs can be creative and practice their skills is a huge step in the direction of preserving the Cuban Culture. Delightful experience for us as well.
Want to learn more about Cuba? Here’s my recommended reading. Better yet, sign up for a People-to-People trip and see for your self. There are many tour operators now. We had an excellent experience with the Backroads team.
- “Waiting for Snow in Havana:Confessions of a Cuban Boy” by Carolos Eire
- “Bicardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause” by Tom Gjelten
- “Cuban Revelatioins: Behind the Scenes in Havana: by Marc Frank
- “Cuba: What everyone needs to know” by Julia E. Sweig
- Tropicana Nights: The Life and Times of the Legendary Nightclub by Lowinger and Fox