African roots in the Cuban Culture is permanent tribute to African Freedom Day
The Mast, Lusaka, 25th May 2021. When we celebrate the Day of Africa on 25th May, Cuba feels proud of her African roots, which manifest in all spheres of life and not only in the colour of the skin. The culture of Cuba is a complex mixture of different factors and influences. The Cuban people and the customs, traditions, music, religious beliefs, way of life, etc. are mostly based on strong European, African and Amerindian influences and cultural links. Along that historical route, we share history, culture, religion, music, strong friendship and the aspirations and dreams for a better future for all.
During the war against colonialism in Cuba, which started on 10th October 1868, most of the liberator fighters were of African origin because at that time the majority of the population were slaves. That it is not a surprise to see that during the struggle of African countries for their independence, Cuba responded and contributed with internationalist contingents in solidarity with that fight against foreign domination, which resulted in the independence of Angola, Namibia and the end of apartheid. The highest example of that contribution is our beloved guerrilla fighter Ernesto Che Guevara who fought in Congo in 1965. As part of our foreign policy of solidarity, our contribution to Africa is mainly seen through medical brigades in several African countries, first against Ebola in Liberia, Guinea Conakry and Sierra Leone, and lately fighting against Covid-19. But our friendship is sincere and permanent and we thank all African countries for their support to Cuban resolution at UN against US blockade.
The music of Cuba, including some instruments and the dances, is mostly of European and African origin. Most forms of the present day are creolized fusions and mixtures of these two great sources. Almost nothing remains of the original Native so called Indian traditions. One of the main and most popular rhythmic fusions in Cuban music is the son. Other typical Cuban forms are the habanera, the guaracha, the danzón, the rumba, the bolero, the chachachá, the mambo, the punto, Mozambique, guaguancó, timba, and many variations on these themes. Cuban music has been immensely popular and influential in other countries. It was the original basis of salsa and contributed not only to the development of jazz, but also to Argentinian tango, Ghanaian high-life, West African Afro beat, and Spanish nuevo flamenco, among others.
Fernando Ortíz, the first great Cuban folklorist, described Cuba's musical innovations as arising from the interplay ('transculturation') between African slaves settled on large sugarcane plantations and Spanish or Canary Islanders who grew tobacco on small farms. The African slaves and their descendants reconstructed large numbers of percussive instruments and corresponding rhythms. The great instrumental contribution of the Spanish was the guitar. African beliefs and practices are most certainly an influence in Cuba's music. Polyrhythmic percussion with the drum is an inherent part of African life & music, as melody is part of European music. Also, in African tradition, percussion is always joined to song and dance. It is not simply entertainment added to life, it is life. The result of the meeting of European and African cultures is that most Cuban popular music is creolized. The roots of most Afro-Cuban musical forms lie in the cabildos, self-organized social clubs for the African slaves, separate cabildos for separate cultures. The cabildos were formed mainly from four groups: the Yoruba (the Lucumi in Cuba); the Congolese (Palo in Cuba); Dahomey (the Fon or Arará). Other cultures were undoubtedly present, but in smaller numbers, and they did not leave such a distinctive presence.
Since the beginning of the Revolution in Cuba, our leader Fidel Castro promoted the benefits of sports (he loved and used to play baseball and basked ball) which has resulted in Cuba's relative international success in sporting events such as the Olympic Games. Unlike in most of Latin America, but like many nations of the Caribbean and some of Central America, football is not a major game in Cuba, but is gaining popularity.
Baseball is the most popular sport in Cuba. Introduced by American dockworkers in Havana in the 19th century, the game has played a role in Cuban independence from Spain. Banned in 1895 by the Spanish, secret games funded José Martí's revolt during the fight for independence Cuban peloteros rank highly internationally and some have migrated to Major League Baseball in the United States. The Cuba national baseball team finished second in the first World Baseball Classic against the Japanese national team. Boxing is also rather popular in Cuba. They also enjoy basketball, track and field, volleyball, and rugby union. Cuba has several Schools for Sports, like the Sports School Initiation (Spanish acronym: EIDE). EIDE students attend regular classes, receive advanced coaching and take part in higher level competitions. The top graduates from the school enter one of several Schools of Higher Athletic Performance (Spanish acronym: ESPA).
Traditional Cuban food is, as most cultural aspects of this country, a syncretism of Spanish, African and Caribbean cuisines, with a small but noteworthy Chinese influence. The most popular foods are black beans, rice, and pork meat. One example of traditional Cuban cuisine, is the congrí, also known as moros y cristianos, "Moors and Christians", rice with black beans. Very much consumed are fried bananas, boiled cassava, sweet potatoes, rice and beans, salads of quimbombó (okra in many parts of Africa), tomatoes, lettuce, as well as eggs, chicken, beef, pork, goat and sheep meat in different forms. The fufú, made out of boiled bananas smashed as a thick paste, with a sauce of pints of fried garlic in oil, and fried pieces of pork meat is very popular in Cuba. And for drinking Cubans prefer beer, Cuban rum and wine.
Cuba's policy on religion has completely changed since 1959 and it is recognized as a right of everyone to practice. In the 1970s, the relationship between the government and religious institutions (especially the Roman Catholic Church) began to improve. By 1976, the state granted Cuban citizens religious freedom. About 60% of Cubans today are Catholic. At the same time, since the colonial times, African religions were transmitted from generation to generation throughout Cuba, Haiti, other islands of the Caribbean and Brazil under the name of Santería. These religions, which had a similar but not identical structure, were known as Lucumi or Regla de Ocha if they derived from the Yoruba, Palo Monte from Central Africa, Vodú from Haiti, and so on.
The term Santería was first introduced to account for the way African spirits were joined to Catholic saints, especially by people who were both baptized and initiated, and so were genuinely members of both groups. By the 20th century, elements of Santería music had appeared in popular and folk forms. Santería, which is a blend of Catholicism and traditional Yoruba religions. When African slaves first arrived in Cuba during the 16th century, they were taught a few simple prayers and were baptized by the Spanish. The slaves combined this limited form of Catholicism with their traditional religions to create Santería, which survives to this day.
Lusaka, 25th May 2021.
Javier Viamontes Correa
Ambassador of Cuba