" ... Race relations in Cuba were/is a strange mix. The Spanish brutally crushed slave revolts and executed noted free blacks for helping insurrections. When Cubans began a revolt against Spain in 1868, free blacks and slaves strongly supported the revolt. Spain anti-revolutionary strategy was often contradictory but effective: they granted freedom to slaves who remained Loyalists and scared white Cubans that black revolutionary generals like General Antonio Maceo was plotting to drive all whites out of Cuba ... "
How did it all start?
Until the last decades of the 18th Century, Cuba was a relatively underdeveloped island with an economy based mainly on cattle raising and tobacco farms. The intensive cultivation of sugar that began at the turn of the nineteenth century transformed Cuba into a plantation society, and the demand for African slaves, who had been introduced into Cuba from Spain at the beginning of the 16th century, increased dramatically.
The slave trade with the West African coast exploded, and it is estimated that almost 400,000 Africans were brought to Cuba during the years 1835-1864. (That's roughly 1150 per month for 29 years!) As early as 1532, the blacks formed 62.5 percent of the population. In 1841, African slaves made up over 40% of the total population.
Fernando Ortiz, Los negros esdovas, gives the following percentages (a few points off here and there) from official sources
Toward the end of 1912, Gómez authorized the United Fruit Company to bring in 1,400 Haitians. Under Menocal, from 1913-21, 81,000 Haitians and 75,000 Jamaicans were admitted.
Thereafter, the legal entries were:
In addition it is estimated that from 1913 to 1927 40,000 negroes a year were smuggled in. Since then and owing to the prolonged economic crisis, few have been brought in even illegally.
The companies which have brought in black people during the period of the Republic, were supposed to send them back at the end of their yearly contract, but this was evaded. As El Pais wrote: "The Haitian immigration comes for the zafra, but soon is diverted toward the towns and never goes back to the plantations of his own country, the result being that the following year it is necessary to introduce another contingent."
The late flourishing of the Cuban sugar industry and the persistence of the slave trade into the 1860s are two important reasons for the remarkable density and variety of African cultural elements in Cuba. Fernando Ortiz Counted the presence of over one hundred different African ethnic groups in 19th century Cuba, and estimated that by the end of that century fourteen distinct "nations" had preserved their identity in the mutual aid associations and social clubs known as cabildos, societies of free and enslaved blacks from the same African "nation," which later included their Cuban-born descendants. Soon after Emancipation in 1886, cabildos were required to adopt the name of a Catholic patron saint, to register with local church authorities and when dissolved, to transfer their property to the Catholic Church.
Paradoxically, it was within the church sponsored cabildos that Afro-Cuban religions and identities coalesced. Even after they were officially disbanded at the end of the 19th century, many were kept up on an informal basis, and were known popularly by their old African names. Some survive to this day. The cabildos not only preserved specific African practices, their members also creatively reunited and resynthesized many regional African traditions, some, as in the case of the Yoruba, long separated by migration and war.
While the formally organized cabildos were a primarily urban phenomenon, individual and collective African practices also continued to flourish at the sugar estates, known as ingenios or centrales. These were more like small, self-contained industrial townships than "plantations." About 80% of the newly-arrived (Africans) known as bozales, were sent to them, and many centrales became centers of specific African "nations."
Forged in the cabildos and amidst the grueling labor at the sugar mills, four major Afro-Cuban divisions (Lucumí, Arará, Abakuá, Kongo) are represented in Cuba.
White and black, without regard to pigmentation, suffered and struggled side by side during the independence wars. Black General Maceo and black General Moncada, noblemen both, had more than loyal white officers; and no man was more honored than the ex-slave Juan Gualberto Gomez, one of Cuba's finest patriots and most brilliant journalists. "The war began in Oriente" wrote Man de Ia Cruz, "because there the negro is loved, not feared." And the independence assemblage at Guaimaro voted immediate emancipation. The blacks struggled far more persistently for national independence than did the whites.
With national freedom, the whites, though grateful to the black, were in a superior economic and intellectual condition and controlled most of the wealth. The black people, but recently lifted from slavery, less educated, was kept in subordinate position. Although the average white Creole hotly disclaims any such thing as color prejudices. A little conversation with the white Cuban soon reveals the real barrier that exists.
In 1849 the Cuban Economic Society used the phrase, "150 negroes produce 400 tons of sugar." And as Márquez Sterling adds nearly a century later, "The slave served as the machine. Machines later freed the slaves, but did not free the blacks; and this most miserable slavery which weighs down the spirit of the country, from which both blacks and whites suffer, spreads through the land, carpeted with sugar-cane, ignorance, superstition and poverty."
Although here and there a bit generalised ... but to give an idea ...
Fernando Ortiz: "On the eastern part of the island, are found the Lucumis, from the slave coast along the Calabar River, a people with well-formed features, noses thin, not sunk as in other groups, a serious, proud clan, less joyous than the ingrained melancholia leads to an exaggerated number of suicides; but they are quick and sensitive. They believe faithfully in brujo, black magic, and can do wondrous things either for good or ill, with toe-nails, pieces of clothing. vindictive pins and other implements. Occasionally a hill-billy still tattoos vertical slits down cheek and arm."
Cuba's transformation into a sugar-growing island is intimately linked via the slave trade to African history. It coincided with the collapse of the Oyo empire of Nigeria after decades of internal strife among the Yoruba and warfare with their Fulani neighbors to the north and Dahomeans to the west. Many Yoruba were taken to Cuba very late in the slave trade, especially during the years 1820-1840, when they formed a majority of (Africans) sent across the Atlantic from the ports of the Bight of Benin. The included several Yoruba-speaking subgroups, including the Ketu, Ijesha, Egbado, Oyo, Nago and others.
In Cuba, Yoruba speakers became known by the collective term Lucumí, after a Yoruba phrase, oloku mi, meaning my friend. As a result of slavery, the lineages and kin groups that had supported worship of the various orisha were disrupted. A new religion called santería arose, which grouped together many orisha, each of which became identified with a Catholic saint on whose day festivals would be held. From the ethnically-based cabildos of colonial Cuba, santería became organized into individual "houses," known as casas de ocha. It has since spread far beyond its original ethnic base, both within and outside of Cuba.
Entry into santiería is through a long process of initiation, during which an orisha is seated in the head of an iyawó, or initiate. As in other African-based religions in the Americas, music plays a critical role in bringing the orisha to dance in the heads of the initiates, and in creating and sustaining the ritual setting. The most sacred instruments among the Lucumí are the trio of batá drums, which when consecrated are called fundamento and are said to hold an indwelling deity called Añá. Batá are played at initiation ceremonies, in the presentations of initiates to the drums, at funerals, in ceremonies honoring the ancestors and in others that call for sacralized drums. Other Lucumí styles include ensembles of beaded gourds, known as abwe or chekeré, which are played, for example, in ceremonies celebrating ritual "birthdays;" and sets of bembé drums, usually cylindrical in shape, which may show non-Yoruba influences and are usually found in rural areas.
In the 1950s there was an increased infusion of Lucumí ritual styles and subject matter into the Cuban popular music mainstream. One important event was the release of an LP called Santero, which featured batá drummers from the Havana area and such popular singers as Mercedes Valdes, Celia Cruz and others, all singing in Lucumí. Celia Cruz and Gina Martin also recorded songs in conjunto format that were homages to different orisha.
More recently, the Cuban group Mezcla, featuring the great akpon (Lucumí song leader) Lázaro Ros, has been recording a new ritual-popular music, some in the style of French Caribbean zouk, some influenced by jazz and rock.
Batá are a set of three double-headed, hourglass-shaped drums. The largest iyá (mother), (E-Yah), is the master drum. The iyá calls the rhythms in, calls changes and conversations. Next in size, the itótele (means: follows completely), (E-Toe-Teh-Lay), follows the direction of the iyá answering the conversation calls and rhythm changes. The smallest drum okónkolo (O-Kon-Ko-Lo), sometimes referred to as Omele (O-May-Lay (strong child)), for the most part plays ostinato patterns, also changing rhythms from the calls of the iyá.
The Iyesá are a Lucumí "nation" still recognized as having a distinct musical style. Iyesá drums are played with sticks, usually in groups of three, with a fourth drum added for certain toques. Their combined rhythmic patterns are more unified than the three-way conversation among the batá drums. Agogó, or dance gongs, of different pitches that play interlocking patterns accompany these drums.
The last surviving Iyesá cabildo in Cuba is San Juan Batista, which was founded in 1854 in the City of Matanzas.
Ortiz stated: "The Carabali, also from the Calabar River, is below medium height and cuivrée, i.e., less black, in complexion. He is industrious, faithful, economical and independent. Originally worshipers of the shark, they were the originators in Cuba of the religious system of ñañigo, an offshoot of voodooism, involving in Africa, perhaps, human sacrifice, but changed in the New World to goat or cock sacrifice. Their ancient song, dance and sacrifice have been pre served in secret benefit associations, logias, the inner rites of which could be successfully screened from prying whites and the authorities."
And: "These logias spread to all the black groups in Cuba. Rival organizations developed; gradually they became maffias, produced feuds, slave revolts and other difficulties. On the lower social fringes whites, coming in contact with ñañigo, formed their own logias, taking over the black rites. These Carabalí lodges played their part in the independence movement and have had frequent political importance."
Also Ortiz's words: "Up until the present Machado government, the ñañigo devotees performed part of their ceremonies in public; they dressed up in odd costumes, with flowers, fiber collars, royal headdresses and, carrying enormous lanterns, danced and sang through the streets. These harmless and joyous demonstrations are now forbidden as indecent by white officials, dwarfed by the black people greater vitality and honest joy; even the lodges, though still existing, are illegal."
Ortiz's words are of course oudated you have to see them in his time frame, we see things differently today ...
In the first place it was part of a process of making the Africans hate each other, so they wouldn't rise up against slavery and kill the whites.... the "divide and rule" tactic. Secondly this kind of anthropology is now VERY out of date and seen as so stereotypical it verges on racism... it is no more possible to look at a black Cuban and say "they are a Carabali or a Kongo or Lucumi" than it is to look at a black African and say "they are definitely Mozambican" ... all racial groups have people who are 'typical' of their group, but ALSO has people who don't. These kinds of description are not only stereotypes - sometimes insulting - they are also tied in with a very long and shameful history of using physical anthropology (describing the way people look) as the basis for discriminating against them. (Think of the Darwin-era scientists like Francis Galton, who spent his life measuring black people's noses to "prove" they were closer to apes than humans ... or the Nazis photographing the "typical" wonderful Aryan or the "typical" Jewish nose or the "typical" degenerate Pole or Slav. This sort of description is not
always WRONG ... after all, it is safe to say, for instance, that afro-cubans are normally darker-skinned than "euro-cubans" ... but it is VERY TAINTED with bad associations of highly racist, pseudo-science.
In Cuba, peoples from southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon were known as Carabalí or Bríkamo, and they included the Ejagham, Efik, Ibibio, and others.
The Ngbe society became known as Abakuá, after the word Abakpa, a term by which the Ejagham of Calabar were designated. It took root in the Havana area and in Matanzas, where it became a considerable force in local politics. In eastern Cuba, two Carabalí cabildos still exist in the city of Santiago de Cuba, and play an important role in that city's carnival. The Abakuá leopard-masker, the íreme, has practically come to symbolize Afro-Cuban folklore.
Fernando Ortiz: "The most intelligent, but not the most interesting, of the black people are the Mandingás, in northern Cuba, originally from between the tenth and twentieth latitudes in Africa. One wing, especially the Fulas, had considerable cultural interchange with the neighboring Arabs; the music of both shows mutual borrowings. The Mandingás are a tall, muscular folk, amiable and faithful; but if ill-treated, they prove fierce and rebellious. The Yalofes, a war-like division, caused so much trouble, their further importation as slaves was forbidden. Like the Lucumis, the faces of the Mandingás are not so typically negroid, nose less flat, lips less prominent; the facial angle, even by western European standards, can be considered quite handsome."
How is it possible to know the Mandingàs where the most intelligent? And again Ortiz is generalising a group of human beings. To accept slavery for me is brave and morally strong. The words: "even by European standards" is very insulting and shows Ortiz felt himself superior and above the black people.
Congos & Haitians
Fernando Ortiz: "The Congos and Haitians are the blackest. The Haitian immigrant is atrociously backward. The Congo is the best built of all the black people, despite his clumsy facial features—sturdy, lusciously shaped bodies quite too elegant for clothes. Both sexes display phenomenal grace in walking and in all their movements. The Congo has great perseverance, courage and dignity, but is refractory to education. Sleepy and lazy, he shrugs off insults easily, and though often quickly treacherous, is never rancorous."
Ortiz writes that Haitians are backwards, you can ask yourself by whom's standards and if it could be possible a white society with slaves was backwards. Second doubtfull saying from Ortiz in this alinea is if the Congo really was refractory to education. One can ask himself it might be possible that Congo people under slavery didn't want their white masters' education. Besides is it not a bit weird to say a slave was sleepy and lazy ... did Ortiz meant the Congo-black wasn't quick enough to obey whites ...
Of all the collective terms used to specify Afro-Cuban origins, "Congo" encompasses the greatest diversity of peoples brought to Cuba during the years of slavery. The names of the myriad Cuban Congo cabildos reflect the geography of the slave trade or else include African ethnic designations. Sometimes they bore the names of slaving ports (Loango, Benguela and Cabinda, the last also very important for Brazil), and sometimes they specified clan origins, such as the Nsobo (Bazombo) and Mayombe (Yombe),who also gave their name to a Cuban-Congo religion.
Members of one surviving Congo cabildo, San Antonio de los Congos Reales in the old colonial city of Trinidad, are still performing such archaic pantomime dances as the Danza de la Culebra (Serpent Dance), which was well known in colonial Havana as Matar la Culebra (Killing the Snake), and was performed by Kongo comparsas on January 6, the Day of the Kings. Many forms of contemporary Cuban music, including many of the rumba and carnival styles, are full of Kongo references and influences and display continuity with older Kongo forms.
The most common form of secular Kongo music during the 19th century incorporated the use of Yuka drums. Played in groups of three, they were made by hollowing out tree trunk sections of various sizes and nailing on cowhide heads. The largest and master drum is called the caja (Kah-Hah), which in typical Kongo fashion is held between the legs of the drummer. Another musician plays a pair of sticks against the body of the caja, often on a piece of tin that has been nailed to the base of the drum. This stick is called the guagua or cajita, which may also be played on a separate instrument. The middle drum is called the mula (Mu-Lah), and the smallest is the cachimbo (Kah-Cheem-Bo). A guataca is played as a time-keeper, and the caja player often wears a pair of wrist rattles.Yuka dancing featured the vacunao, a pelvic movement also found in Kongo-derived dance styles elsewhere in the Americas.
During the years of slavery, sugar estate owners would often sponsor Sunday festivals, called conguerías, and invite slaves from neighboring centrales to participate. Besides yuka drumming, which can still be found in some parts of rural Cuba, they featured song contests between competing soloists, called gallos, as well as makuta dances and maní, a now obsolete combat dance roughly similar to Brazilian capoeira.
After the Haitian revolution, many refugees, including French planters and their slave, fled across the narrow Windward Passage to eastern Cuba, where they established coffee plantations in the highlands around Santiago de Cuba. In that city and in Guantánamo, some of their former slaves and their descendants, who had clung to their Afro-Haitian culture, established their own cabildo-like associations, known as tumba francesa, or "French drum." There they played Haitian-style drums and performed dances with names such as masón and yubá (juba), similar to those found in Haiti today, and sang in Creole.
The rumba is a set of rhythms and their associated dances, with three main divisions: the yambú, the guaguancó, and the columbia. According to some Kongo Elders, the modern rumba grew out of older rhythms that had been played on the yuka drums, with which there are some stylistic carry-overs: the rumba stick part is also called guagua; the wrist rattles worn by yuka drummers also appear in some forms of rumba; and the rumba song leader and chorus are called gallo and vasallo, respectively. The main stylistic difference is that the lead rumba drum is always the high-pitched quinto, the two deeper-toned support drums having taken over the ostinato patterns. The passage of the master drum from lowest to highest pitch may be considered an influence of European music on rumba drumming.
The three varieties differ in instrumentation, vocal style and choreography, but are all mimetic to some degree. The yambú is performed in slow tempo and is often thought of as an old people's dance. The dancer's gestures may mimic old age and/or the difficulty of daily tasks. And in yambú, you don't perform the pelvic movement.
The guaguancó is the modern, urban form of rumba. Its opening section, usually wordless vocal flourish reminiscent of southern Spanish singing, is called la diana, the Spanish word for reveille. After an elaboration of the text, called decimar, a chorus enters with a repeated refrain in the section called the capetillo, and here the dance element "breaks out": a couple, dancing apart, simulates the man's pursuit of his female partner, and her attempts to turn away and cover herself. The vacunao symbolizes his sexual conquest.
The columbia began in the rural areas of Matanzas, and is a male solo dance that features many acrobatic and mimetic movements. This may be the most complex form of rumba. In it, the dancer imitates ball players, bicyclists, cane-cutters, and a variety of other figures. He may also reproduce steps of the Abakuá íreme.
The Batá-rumba was developed in a big band setting by Los Irakere, who added batá drums to their rhythm section. The new genre, called son-batá or batá-rock, entered the Cuban musical mainstream in the 1970s. Cuba has often demonstrated the gift of developing new genres by combining or crossing pre-existing ones.
The mozambique, for example, one of the major new rhythms to emerge in post-revolutionary Cuba, is the result of crossing mambo with conga. Batá-rumba creates a new kind of rhythmic complexity by "crossing" rumba and batá drums, and by combining Congo-based and Lucumí approaches to percussion and pulsation patterns.
In Santiago de Cuba, cabildos and neighborhood groups took to the streets in June and July in Masked celebrations known as fiestas de mamarrachos, which extended from St. John's Day (June 24) to St. Ann's Day (July 26). In Havana, the cabildos held public celebrations on the Dia de los Reyes, or Epiphany (January 6), thus creating that city's first Black carnival. In both cities, these Catholic holidays were opportunities for the public display of African dress, dance and musical instruments.
Carnival has of course expanded from these beginnings, adding such elements as floats, allegorical dances, figures from contemporary popular culture, and dance bands. Yet there is a constant re-historicizing of the event, with reminders of its African roots. In the Havana carnival, for example, one can still see carved guardian figures similar to those that appeared in old cabildo processions described by Fernando Ortiz.
In another sort of historical reminder, carnival in Cuba now coincides with July 26, St. Ann's Day. It was on that date in 1953 that Fidel Castro and his troops attacked the Moncada barracks in Santiago while the city was absorbed in celebration. Cuban carnival now commemorates that event nationally.
The people known in Cuba as the Arará came from Dahomey, what is today the Benin Republic. They included Fon, Popo and Ewe groups, as well as some conquered peoples to their north. Arará cabildos were founded in Cuba as far back as the 17th century, and their names reflect regional and ethnic differences - hence the denominations Arará Dajomé, Arará Sabalú and Arará Magino. The second is a reference to Savalu, a town in northern Dahomey that was conquered by the Fon. It was inhabited by the Mahi people, recalled in the cabildo name "Magino." Many members of the Mahi priesthood were sent into slavery in the Americas, and they had an especially strong impact on Haiti vodun.
The name Arará is derived from the Dahomean city of Allada, and is related to the term Rada found in Haiti and to Arrada on the tiny island of Carriacou in the Grenadines. In both cases the name refers to Dahomean styles of drumming. Other outposts of Dahomean culture in the Americas include houses in the Brazilian cities of Sáo Luis do Maranháo, Salvador, Recife and Porto Alegre.
In Cuba the Arará were always a minority overshadowed by the Lucumí, and their distinctive cultural identity is now in danger of disappearing. Arará centers are still to be found in Ciudad de Matanzas, Jovellanos, Máximo Gomez and el Perico, all in Matanzas.
One characteristic of Arará music is the use of hand clapping and body percussion.
Minas and Gangás
Fernando Ortiz: "The Minas and Gangás are lighter in color. The Mina is small, with a low brow, deep-set flat nose, prominent jaw and pronounced lips. He is delicate, impressionable, rather cowardly. The Gangás, from the Calabar slave coast, though usually considered very inferior, are most interesting. They are a long-headed, large-breasted Teople with vigorous physiques. Among them are still found traces of the old Majá, or snake-worship cult."
The history of slavery and racism against blacks is so long and so ugly - and it has always relied to much on seeing & describing black people only in terms of their bodies, not their minds - as machines for working rather than as people with feelings, families, memories, skills, intelligence and so on - that it is a very sensitive point which you must realise when reading Ortiz's views.