Culture of Cuba

Culture of Cuba
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Life in Cuba
Human Rights

The culture of Cuba is a complex mixture of different, often contrasting, factors and influences. Cuba is a meeting point of European, African and continental North American[1] cultures; little of the original Amerindian culture survives. Since 1959, the Cuban Revolution has also greatly affected Cuban culture, down to the most basic aspects of daily life. Much of Cuban culture, especially Cuban music, is instantly recognized throughout the world.



The music of Cuba, including the 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 Indian traditions.

Fernando Ortíz, the first great Cuban folklorist, described Cuba's musical innovations they really like music

as arising from the interplay ('transculturation') between African slaves settled on large sugar plantation 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 [2] The great instrumental contribution of the Spanish was their guitar, but even more important was the tradition of European musical notation and techniques of musical composition.

The African Flo Rida beliefs and practices certainly influenced Cuba's music. Polyrhythmic percussion 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, and to a particular social setting. It is not simply entertainment added to life, it is life.[3] The result of the meeting of European and African cultures is that most Cuban popular music is creolized. This creolization of Cuban life has been happening for a long time, and by the 20th century, elements of African belief, music and dance were well integrated into popular and folk forms.

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. At the same time, African religions were transmitted from generation to generation throughout Cuba, Haiti, other islands and Brazil. 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 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.[4]

One of the main 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 cha-cha-cha, the punto, and many variations on these themes.[5] 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 Afrobeat, and Spanish nuevo flamenco. Within modern Cuba, there are also popular musicians working in the rock and reggaeton idioms.

Cuban hip-hop is one of the latest genres of music to be embraced not only by the country's youth but also, more reluctantly, by the government. Initially, hip-hop was shunned by the authorities, because of its affiliation to America and capitalism. As more Cuban youth put their own energy and style into the music, Cuban hip-hop eventually became more acceptable. "The Cuban government now sees rap music – long considered the music of American imperialism – as a road map to the hearts and minds of the young generation"[6][7] is one opinion.


Fidel Castro's belief in socialism and the benefits of sports (he loves and has played baseball) has resulted in Cuba's relative international success for a population of 11 million 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 (soccer) is not a major game in Cuba but is gaining popularity. Baseball is the most commonly played game. 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. Cuban peloteros rank highly internationally and some have migrated to Major League Baseball in the United States. The national team finished second in the first World Baseball Classic against the Japanese national team. Boxing is also rather popular.They also enjoy basketball,Track and Field.

Every year, Cuba holds the School Sports Games, a competition and is like the best for school students. The best athletes from age 11 to 16 are invited to be tested for the Schools for Sports Initiation (Spanish acronym: EIDE). EIDE students attend regular classes, receive advanced coaching and take part in higher level competitions. The top graduates from this school enter one of several Schools of Higher Athletic Performance (Spanish acronym: ESPA).


A ration book called a libret is supposed to guarantee a range of products from shops, however, there are still massive shortages and even rations are not guaranteed to be delivered timely or at all. See Rationing in Cuba for an explanation on this system.

At a casa particular in Viñales, a pig is prepared for a feast. Beef and poultry are scarce. October 2002

The Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 ended grain imports from that country, which were used to feed cattle and chickens. Since 1991 beef, chicken, milk and eggs became scarce.

A lack of fuel for agricultural machinery meant that crops had to be harvested manually (by people), drastically decreasing Cuba's food production capabilities. These problems have improved a little in recent years, but shortages are still common. To supplement their rations, Cubans resort to non-rationed food stores (where prices are nevertheless several times those of the libreta), or to the black market.

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. Most popular foods are black beans, stews, and meats. [2]

One example of traditional Cuban cuisine, or criollo as it is called, is moros y cristianos, "Moors and Christians", rice with black beans. Criollo uses many different seasonings, with some of the most common being onion and garlic tobacco. Cassava, rice, beans, eggs, tomatoes, lettuce, chicken, beef and pork are all common ingredients.

Coffee is of high quality and grown mainly for export, the common coffee drunk in Cuba is imported from Africa.


Our Lady of Charity, Patroness of Cuba
Christmas decorations on a house in Cuba

Cuba's policy on religion has changed much since 1959, when religious Cubans were persecuted and could be denied jobs or an education by the government.

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, with some restrictions, and in 1992, the constitution was amended to allow total religious freedom. About 25% of Cubans today are Catholic. Some Catholic traditions were lost, but the church has imported the Mexican Christmas plays (pastorelas) trying to reconnect Cubans to Christianity.

Another large religion in Cuba is Santería. Santería 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 baptised by the Spanish. The slaves combined this limited form of Catholicism with their traditional religions to create Santería, which survives to this day. During colonial times and into the early Republic, many Cubans suffered from intense ethnocentrism and confused Afro-Cuban religion with black magic and witchcraft. This caused them to associate practitioners of Santería and other Afro-Cuban cults with criminals and the underworld, and to discriminate against practitioners without understanding the nature of their religion. Because most practitioners of Santería in those years were of African heritage, racist attitudes emerged around the religion, and many whites in Cuba considered it to be subversive and threatening. Those who practiced Santería often resorted to secrecy as a way to avoid persecution. Fernando Ortiz, Lydia Cabrera, and Rómulo Lachatañeré are considered the founders of Afro-Cuban studies in Cuba and were the first to give scholarly attention to Santería as an important religion in Cuba.[8]

Language and manners

As a former colony of Spain, Spanish is spoken in Cuba. After the Cuban Revolution, the term "compañero/compañera", meaning comrade, came to gradually replace the traditional "señor/señora" as the universal polite title of address for strangers. A significant number of Afro-Cubans as well as mulatto Cubans speak Haitian Creole. Haitian Creole is the second most spoken language as well as a recognized one in Cuba with approximately 300,000 speakers. That is about 4% of the population. Haiti was a French colony, and the final years of the 1791–1804 Haitian Revolution brought a wave of French settlers fleeing with their Haitian slaves to Cuba.

Many words from Cuban Amerindian languages have entered common usage in both Spanish and English, such as the Taíno words canoa, tobacco and huracán. Some of the place names are Indian, such as Guanabacoa, and Guanajay.

When speaking to the elderly, or to strangers, Cubans speak more formally as a sign of respect. They shake hands upon greeting someone and farewelling them. Men often exchange friendly hugs (abrazos) and it is also common for both men and women to greet friends and family with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Informalities like addressing a stranger with 'mi corazón' (my heart), 'mi vida' (my life), or 'cariño' (dear) are common.


Children may be required to take part in social activities outside of the home, such as working in the fields during holidays.

Some Cubans own the homes they live in, whilst others pay rent. Citizens are permitted to swap apartments if they find another willing person. (known as permuta)


The Castro government claims to have improved women's rights since the revolution, and today, most women work outside of the home. They are assisted by things such as childcare facilities, which are common in Cuba. In 1974, the Family Code was passed, giving men and women equal rights and responsibilities for housework, childrearing and education. However, despite government policy, and as with much of Latin America, machismo is common, and stereotypes of women continue to exist.

In the Special Period of Cuba, the time after the Soviet Union collapsed and was no longer able to support Cuba financially, leading the small communist nation to seek more tourism. As tourism increased, there followed an increase in prostitution.[9]

Women and dance

A dance style recently emerged, which involved fast and suggestive shaking of the women's lower torso section, simulating sexual activity.[10] With this type of dance, the woman's body is seen as more "solo", with moves such as the despelote (all-over-the-place) and tembleque (shake-shudder) and the subasta de la cintura (waist auction). This idea has offended other women, who see this kind of "el perro" sex, or "doggy style", as degrading, forcing them to live up to expectations of pleasing their male partners [11]

Fairley says people in Cuba used to dance by facing their partners, and that nowadays it is often a "back to front" dance. She states that the way women dances with reggaeton can be compared with sex position and pornography, and claims that Cuba has "open and healthy attitudes toward sexuality".[11]


Cuban literature began to develop its own style in the early 19th century. The major works published in Cuba during that time dealt with issues of colonialism, slavery and the mixing of races in a creole society. Notable writers of this genre include Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, and Cirilo Villaverde, whose novel Cecilia Valdés was a landmark. Following the abolition of slavery in 1886, the focus of Cuban literature shifted to themes of independence and freedom as exemplified by José Martí, who led the modernista movement in Latin American literature. The poet Nicolás Guillén's famous Motivos del son focused on the interplay between races. Others like Dulce María Loynaz, José Lezama Lima and Alejo Carpentier dealt with more personal or universal issues. And a few more, such as Reinaldo Arenas and Guillermo Cabrera Infante, earned international recognition[citation needed] in the postrevolutionary era.

Testimonial literature

Cuba is the birthplace of the literary genre that is called testimonial literature. In 1970 Cuba's literary forum Casa de las Américas recognized testimonial literature as an official literary genre. Miguel Barnet's literary texts were foundational in launching this new genre. Specifically Barnet's 1966 Biografía de un Cimarrón (Biography of a Runaway Slave), where he recorded the oral history of former slave Esteban Montejo, is used to place testimonial literature on the literary platform of Casa de las Américas.[12]

Since Casa de las Américas is a government agency responsible for promoting cultural development, the revolutionary government supports this literary addition and finds it aligned with the spirit of the revolution. In this way, testimonial literature serves the revolutionary ideology in providing a voice for the people, specifically a group of people who were underrepresented and formerly oppressed prior to the Cuban Revolution. For the purpose it serves, this literary genre then gets accredited beyond Cuba and becomes a representative genre in other revolutionary countries, where empowering the majority of its people is important.

According to the author of testimonial texts, a testimony is significant because it uses a direct source: A person's account of current aspects in Latin American reality. Testimonial literature is then defined within the boundaries of autobiographical accounts, documentary narratives, eyewitness reports, and oral histories that are later transcribed into a literary format.[13]

Years after the 1950s and 1960s, a time of political and social unrest in Cuba, testimonial literature acknowledged personal accounts of historical figures such as that of Ernesto Che Guevara and other rebel leaders. Testimonial literature also acknowledged the diaries and letters of ordinary people, such as Olga Alonso, Daura Olema, Mercedes Santos, Mirta Muñiz, and Sandra Gonzalez, women that participated in the literacy campaign and other voluntary programs after the triumph of the Revolution.[14]

In 1997 Daisy Rubiera Castillo's testimonial biography of her mother, Maria de los Reyes Castillo Bueno, Reyita: The Life of a Black Cuban Woman in the Twentieth Century, was a finalist in Casa de las Américas' literary competition. Described as the first Cuban testimonial narrative that used gender as an analytical tool, it constitutes the closest perspective with direct knowledge of the experience we have of Black Cuban women's lives since the period of slavery.[15]

Another example of testimonial literature is Juan Francisco Manzano's (1797–1853) Autobiography of a Slave, which is the only known autobiography written by a slave in Cuba. Though self written many years prior to the identification of testimonial literature, Manzano's personal account of his life as a house slave is worthy of mention, as it fits perfectly into the criteria of this genre, providing a voice for the voiceless.[16]

See also


  • Dulfano, Isabel., and Maier, Linda. S. Woman as Witness Essays on Testimonial Literature by Latin American Women. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2004. Print.
  • Luis, William. "La mujer negra en Cuba: Entrevista a Daisy Rubiera Castillo, autora de Reyita…" Caribe: Revista de Cultura y Literatura Summer, 3.1(2000): 62-68. Print.
  • Kumaraswami, Parvathi. Pensamos que somos historia porque sabemos que somos historia: Context, Self and Self-construction in Women's Testimonial Writing from Revolutionary Cuba. Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 2006, vol. 83, no 06.
  • Maldonado-Class, Joaquin. El intellectual y el sujeto testimonial en la literature latinoamericana. Madrid: Editorial Pliegos, 2008. Print.
  • Rivero, Eliana S., and C. Alita Kelley, and Alec Kelley. "Testimonial Literature and Conversations As Literary Discourse: Cuba and Nicaragua." Latin American Perspectives, 18.3, Voices of the Voiceless in Testimonial Literature, (1991) 69-79. Print.
  • Rubiera-Castillo, Daisy. Reyita: The Life of a Black Cuban Woman in the Twentieth Century. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000. Print.
  • Manzano, Juan Francisco. "Autobiography of a Slave." The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Ed. Chomsky, Carr, and Smorkaloff. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. 49-57. Print.


The old cars, which were imported from the U.S. before the revolution, are kept mobile as long as possible. Most of these cars do not have the old American motors as spare parts for these are hard to get.

The color of the plate indicates who the owner is: blue plates are owned by the government, and terracotta plates are rented to tourists. Black plates are for diplomats and green is owned by the army. Yellow plates are for vehicles that are privately owned, orange plates are for international companies that have invested in Cuba.


  1. ^ see Cuba/US 1 and Cuba/US 2
  2. ^ Ortiz, Fernando 1952. Los instrumentos de la musica Afrocubana. 5 volumes, La Habana.
  3. ^ Ortiz, Fernando 1950. La Afrocania de la musica folklorica de Cuba. La Habana, revised ed 1965.
  4. ^ Sublette, Ned 2004. Cuba and its music: from the first drums to the mambo. Chicago. p171; p258.
  5. ^ Sublette, Ned 2004. Cuba and its music: from the first drums to the mambo. Chicago.
  6. ^ Wunderlich, Annelise. 2006. Cuban Hip-hop: making space for new voices of dissent. In The vinyl ain’t final: hip hop and the globalization of black popular culture, eds. Dipannita Basu and Sidney J. Lemelle. London; Ann Arbor, Michigan: Pluto Press. p168
  7. ^ Baker, Geoffrey. 2005. ¡Hip hop, Revolución! Nationalizing Rap in Cuba. Ethnomusicology 49, 3: 368-402
  8. ^ Castellanos, Jorge. "Introduction", Afro-Cuban Myths, Rómulo Lachatañeré. Princeton: Marcus Wiener Publishers, 2005: vii.
  9. ^ Facio, Elisa. Jineterismo during the Special Period. Global Development Studies, 1, 3-4 Winter 1998-Spring 1999. [1]
  10. ^ “Perreo: Body Language and Movement.” Reggaeton in Cuba
  11. ^ a b Fairley, Jan. 2008. "How to Make Love With Your Clothes On: Dancing Regeton, Gender and Sexuality in Cuba." Reading Reggaeton. (forthcoming, Duke University Press).
  12. ^ Maldonado-Class, Joaquin. El intellectual y el sujeto testimonial en la literature latinoamericana. Madrid: Editorial Pliegos, 2008. 179.
  13. ^ Maldonado-Class, J. El intellectual, 190.
  14. ^ Kumaraswami, Parvathi. Pensamos que somos historia porque sabemos que somos historia: Context, Self and Self-construction in Women's Testimonial Writing from Revolutionary Cuba. Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 2006, 83.6. 524-537.
  15. ^ Luis, William. "La mujer negra en Cuba: Entrevista a Daisy Rubiera Castillo, autora de Reyita…" Caribe: Revista de Cultura y Literatura Summer, 3.1. 2000: 62.
  16. ^ Manzano, J. "Autobiography of a Slave." The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Ed. Chomsky, Carr, and Smorkaloff. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. 49

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