Efo Flag - Matanzas
Today the island contains priceless survivals of African cultures - Yoruba, Congo, Old Dahomey, and the Efik/Efo from the Cross River Delta (Nigeria), giving birth to Abakwa and Brikamo. In addition, Cuba hosts a number of communities from the diaspora, especially the Caribbean -- Jamaica, the Bahamas, and other English speaking islands as well as Haiti.
Some pages that highlight these cultures
Each community maintains a certain identity through language, music, dance, religion, and membership organizations ranging from the cabildos (casa templos), self-help associations dating from the days of slavery and organized under African rules, to the West Indian Welfare Center, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary. There is a wealth of culture for those discerning enough to look. Our aim is to help you do that by putting up as much material as we can. See our Table of Contents to access such major categories as Music, Author & Teachers on AfroCuban culture, Organizations that teach courses and workshops or are involved in the promotion of the African cultures of Cuba, as well as a number of other categories. In all, there are as of 2013 over 1,300 pages of information available on this web site.
The transmission of these African cultures is in peril. There has been a tremendous resurgence of interest in the cultures and the religions on the part of all Cubans, but for a number of reasons, including the lack of resources available inside Cuba to support an internal apprenticeship of the culture by the young from the old, the result has been incomplete initiations into the cultures. For various reasons, including the US blockade and internal racism, the Cuban educational system has not been able to work with the communities to develop such resources. Those who are within the cultures also suffer from lack of means such as video cameras, tape recorders, or even pen and paper, especially paper which will withstand the ravages of climate and insects. Outsiders come in and and do research but this doesn't necessarily support the internal apprenticeship. We therefore have what has been termed the "descomposicion" of the religion, its falling apart, much as DNA strands decompose under aging. There are many examples of this, including the passing of Luis Calle, holder of the Brikamo, in November, 1997. His very extensive knowledge was irreplaceable.
We hope to support a "realimentacion," feeding
the roots of these cultures. And help rescue from oblivion the more obscure and
interesting elements now in danger of disappearing. Many of the Music
pages are devoted to people whose passion is the recovery and maintenance of their old
traditions. They have interesting ideas for doing this and many seek outside contact and
We will work with those who have a love for these cultures and appeal to those who go down to the island to bring back material such as you find on these pages. Since we are interested in showcasing AfroCuban culture, we can give you web space for this purpose. Everyone we talked to down there is very interested in being known on the net, so you will have no shortage of material if you ask. Just be sure to get addresses and phone numbers (likely of neighbors) so folks can be contacted as a result of their material.
Because everyone in Cuba is neither Black nor White, but Cuban, AfroCuban culture is in a difficult position. There are no web sites dedicated to it on the island. The Ministry of Culture funds many AfroCuban musical groups and artists, but generally does not allow efforts based on ethnic identity. This line of thinking combines hispanic denial around issues of race with the leftist inheritance of state building projects based on the French Republic, where what counts is citizenship. [See Nation and Multiculturalism in Cuba: A Comparison with the United States and Brazil by George Zarur for a discussion on this topic.] These forms of denial aggravate and feed ibero-spanish supremacist attitudes.
Cuba's Music & Tourism Industry
Sad to say, it is in something of a disarray. This is one potential source of revenue for cultural activities if handled correctly, both from the point of view of generating revenue and of doing it in a way that does not trample on cultural values as has happened with Santeria in New York.
Tourists going to Cuba are basically sold sand and hotel rooms, not Cuban culture. The tourist industry is dominated by Europeans and Latin Americans who deprecate and minimize the value of African culture. There is still very little information available on Cuban web sites about carnavals, bands playing (this is changing, see Live Music in Cuba), clubs (especially clubs oriented towards Cubans). This dearth of information reaches truly abysmal proportions, even at major events such as the 1999 Havana Jazz Festival, where the playlist was only available two days before opening. The result of this is that tourists to Cuba are not repeat visitors, they tend to go once and move on to the next exotic destination for more fun on the beach. This flies in the face of the richness of Cuban culture and its musical heritage.
Though it is legal to sell Cuban CDs in the US, there has been little organized effort on the part of the Cuban labels to do so, including a minimal on-line presence for ecommerce and none at all in the US market at places such as amazon.com.
We find plenty of fault to go around on both sides of the Florida Straights, where both establishments are top heavy with white leadership, the one in Miami even more so. We do not view the Cuban Government as an enemy, it is solidly in place and will remain there. They have taken a number of steps to reduce racism, they are acutely aware of the problem, especially at the higher levels. They do engage in the classic hispanic patterns of denial and avoidance, reaching such absurd levels as conducting a census based on ethnic self identification and pretending to believe the conclusion that Cuba is 65% white, a conclusion a person with modest powers of observation would deny after walking down virtually any street in Cuba!
While we sympathize with the pain of black exile groups in the US, we note that some work closely with the white exile groups and tend to be funded through US government mechanism like NED (National Endowment for Democracy). Such an approach can be confrontational and counterproductive. We wonder what possesses them to make an alliance with the plantocracy, the Diaz-Balarts, the Bacardis, and the Fanjuls, all families whose fortunes are rooted in slavery. Some dissidents on the island have in the past also been funded by the US and have worked closely with the US Interests Section in Havana. Again, the approach tends to be confrontational and counterproductive.
Cuba is a very complex place with regions having very different characteristics: Pinar del Rio in the west has far fewer Afrodescendientes than Oriente in the east. Havana and Oriente have more black leadership, while Matanzas, which has a very strong African presence, is stuck in el tiempo de España. Certain ibero-spanish individuals in the leadership have proven far more racist than others, and these have sometimes been sacked as a result, though in classic republican fashion, this is never given as the reason. Armando Hart comes to mind.
Racism in Cuba is best confronted taking into account the parameters of allowed discourse, pushing where need be. It is counterproductive to threaten the existence of the state, which will naturally react in a strong fashion as a result, as does any state, especially when it is besieged by external enemies. Education, promotion of alternative views, persuasion, these are tools that can be effective in dealing with a moral scourge that is increasingly unacceptable the world around.
Venezuela presents an opportunity in this dynamic: Hugo Chavez is of African descent, Native and European as well. The Africa centric point of view is far more accepted in Venezuela, where there are numerous black organizations and initiatives. Some of these have supported Chavez from early on and have his ear. Many Cubans travel to Venezuela, mostly to work there. There are reports of Venezuelans explaining to Cubans teachers coming to work in Venezuela what a far more enlightened approach to black history should look like and actually having some success in persuading them to adopt it, at least in Venezuela.
Populations in Cuba
Prior to the 2002 census, both the Cuban Government and the CIA Fact Book stated that Cuba's population of African descent was around 62%. Now they both claim 65% white, a remarkable convergence of views in such a rapid manner! The 62% may well have been an undercount. Much of the controversy in these figures, when they are debated, stems from the Cuban approach to racial categorization, which in turn derives from Latin culture. Mulatos (a term from animal husbandry) are counted separately and are not counted as "Black" so there is a tremendous undercount. There was a great deal of mixture in Cuba so mulatos are numerous. Even Fidel Castro, normally though of as white, is said to have had a mulata mother, who was the unmarried servant of his father. [See Victor Franco, The Morning After: A French Journalist's Impressions of Cuba Under Castro, trans. Ivan Kats and Philip Pendered (New York: Praeger, 1963). p. 79.]
CIA Fact Book pre-2002 census entry: "Ethnic groups: mulatto 51%, white 37%, black 11%, Chinese 1%" (51+11=62...QED!)
In closing, a salute
We take this opportunity to express a special salute to all those Cubans who gave their energies and their lives in the wars of liberation in Southern Africa, remembering especially those who won the great victory at Cuito Cuanavale against the well equiped South African Defense Force and its Savimbi-led allies. This victory defended Angola against the supremacists as well as forced them to a settlement in Namibia and to a transition in South Africa. Let it not be forgotten.
See Pedro Perez-Sarduy's poem Cumbite: "in memory of those who have struggled and fell for the Ngola of today."
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"Mira Cuba, de lo mas tranquilo, nadie discute la dominacion de los españoles y las plantaciones con los esclavos como si nada." ["Look at Cuba, very peaceful, no one is talking about the domination by the Spaniards, and the plantations with their slaves go on as if nothing were happening."] - Simon Bolivar, circa 1815. He was referring to a time when the most conservative Spanish families fleeing the struggles for liberation in South America took refuge in Cuba.
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