Immerse yourself into Cuban Traditions

Cuba’s culture has proved to be powerful and resilient despite the passage of time or the new developments in technology. Even though in general cultural terms Cuba is pretty homogenous there are certain traditions that are presently practised nationwide but that originated and pertain to specific parts of the island.

  1. Cigar factory reader

In every Cuban cigar factory there is a person in charge of entertaining his co-workers while they spend their work day manufacturing the best cigar in the world. This simple and powerful tradition dates back to the second half of the 19th century and was rooted in an attempt to mitigate the long hours at first worked by slaves. After the abolishment of slavery the workers would take turns in the reading of newspapers or books and they would receive compensation for the “time lost” from their colleagues.

This prestigious and respected profession deservedly in 2012 was catalogued as Cultural Patrimony of the Cuban Nation, also with the intention of converting it into an Immaterial Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.

Later on the figure of the cigar factory reader would be officially instituted in different cigar factories for which the reader would receive a salary and be considered as a regular employee, after all, they did need a good voice and the correct attitude in order to keep the workforce entertained.

The ritual is simple, the bell rings signalling an order for silence and the event kicks off with the reading of the news in the early morning and a book afterwards, many times suggested by the listeners. The name of notorious Cuban cigar brands has been attributed to this tradition, for instance -Romeo and Juliet- came after the famous novel by Shakespeare or –Montecristo- after the novel by Alejandro Dumas.

The unanimous sounding of the chavetas (cotters) on top of the work desks reveals satisfaction, on the contrary the inconsonant noise when they hit the floor reveals displeasure on behalf of the audience.

The influence of the cigar factory reader not only stuck to Cuba but spread internationally wherever Cuban migrants went. Today we even have the possibility to access these interesting readings in the form of podcasts as a form of making our daily chores more interesting and enjoyable.

  1. The raising of the flag and the “Bayardo”

It did not come as a surprise that war veterans chose a public space of maximum centrality as the centrepiece in which to replace old colonial symbols with a genuine and virile statue dedicated to one of Cuba’s heroes in the struggle against Spain, Ignacio Agramonte.

In the now park that carries his name it’s fair to highlight the shape and beauty of this sculpturesque exemplary. In the exact spot where the city of Camagüey was founded sits this cultural icon resembling courage, gallantry, and patriotism, an emblem that exalts the identity of the people of Camagüey.

It is in religious discipline that every day before the break of dawn the “Bayardos” (young men dressed in vintage style uniforms worn by Cuban liberation fighters in colonial times) in solemn ceremony raise the Cuban flag honouring the figure of Agramonte, a man native to this region.

The fact that this space has been considered as “a space of the higher historical connotation” by UNESCO, as it lies written on a tally when in 2009 the city turned 495 years old and was awarded the Declaratory of World Heritage Site truly honours the city.

  1. Typical Cuban dishes

It is said that since the very origin of “Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe” (1514), current day Camagüey province, a good cuisine with long-lasting flavour got cemented.

Between the 16th and 19th centuries the development of local traditional cuisine received the influx of the Indian-Hispanic transculturation regarding food, techniques and terms impacting the island during the Spanish conquest and colonization. Other cultures like the African also left their culinary mark where a lot the dishes that stuck where a result of the combination of aborigine and immigrant culinary customs.

  • Matajíbaros

Whenever the slaves managed to escape the cruelty of their destinies fleeing up to the high mountains they would feed the killer dogs (called jíbaros) a combination of poisoned plantain balls in order to rid themselves from them (-mata- stems from the word kill in Spanish, therefore the name Matajíbaros for the dish).

Born in the sugar mills this delicacy known throughout Cuba is still consumed today. It is prepared with unripe and about to ripen plantain, lard, fried pork meat, garlic, pepper, salt and oil.

Other parts of the country went through the same metamorphosis which coupled with the geography, population makeup and availability of food sources brought about particular dishes.

  • Harina con Jaiba (flour and Jaiba crab)

Locals in the city of Cienfuegos say that this dish was born out of necessity and had always been associated to fishermen and humble people. It became popular in times of economic crisis as it was prepared with flour and Jaiba crab which they took directly from the bay. Nowadays it is seasoned with spices, tomato puree, pepper, garlic, onion, salt and sweet potato.

Note that the Jaiba crab possesses stupendous properties for the organism like calcium, zinc, iodine and group B vitamins and it’s perfect for diets due to its low fat and low calories. It also contains vitamin C, magnesium, potassium and selenium.