Haiti in Cuba
Haiti has a strong presence in Cuba, dating back to the late 1790's after the Haitian revolution, when many French moved to Cuba and took their kidnapped Africans with them. From this wave we get the Tumba Francesa and the Haitian roots music in Cuba. Haitian tradition contains a strong strain of Dahomey and Congo, both of which are present in western Cuba as well. Haitian Rada is Cuban Arara, the Dahomey tradition.
During the early part of the 1900's, many Haitians were brought in to cut sugar cane. In 1921 and again in 1937, when the market for sugar fell, they were simply kicked out and sent home, such was the logic of the neocolonial republic.
More recently, Cuba is perhaps the only country to have welcomed so many Haitians fleeing the persecution of the Haitian elites and their savage regimes. There are reportedly over 300,000 recent arrivals in Cuba. And Creole, which is still spoken by descendants of the earlier waves, is Cuba's second language, with a Creole radio station in Havana. There are a number of Haitian roots groups playing in Cuba, including Ban Rrarra and Desandann.
Cuba y Haití: Aún más próximas Portal Cultural Principe, 03-04-2004
XXIV Caribbean Festival, Feast of Fire, Santiago de Cuba, 7/04. Dedicated to Haiti
See Cuba in Haiti for reports on Cuban medical professionals and others in Haiti.
La Caridad de Ramón
Embajador de Haití reconoce solidaridad de Cuba 2/5/2014 Cubadebate
Film: "Reembarque" to Illustrate a Haitian Tragedy 10/5/2013 Repeating Islands: "Cuban filmmaker Gloria Rolando is preparing a documentary—Reembarque [Reshipment]—about the deportations of Haitians in Cuba. Rolando (known for her films Oggún, un eterno presente; El Alacrán; Los hijos de Baraguá; Los ojos del arcoiris; Nosotros, el jazz; 1912: voces para un silencio) just began post production of the documentary, dedicated to a little-known chapter in the history of Haitian migration to Cuba."
'Reembarque': tragedia haitiana 10/3/2013 Diario de Cuba: Vease todo el comentario sobre una entrevista de Gloria Rolando - con un racismo bien fuerte en ese organo de la plantocracia que siempre quiere promover una critica anti-racista.
111-year-old Haitian admires rooting of his culture in Minas 4/17/2013 Adelante: "With a beautiful white guayabera (traditional Cuban shirt), the elder was present along with Tomás, his tenth son, at the activities that privileged the musical, dance, food and drinks demonstrations from his original nation. This man with enviable health who still tastes the ¨aguardiente¨ (Cuban highly alcoholic beverage), came up to the obelisk of the little town of Cortadera - ten kilometers from Minas - to produce homage to the Haitians massacred there in 1933, for rural guards and of the ancient central Senate."
Will Haitian President Michel Martelly's visit become another missed opportunity? 12/1/2012 AfroCubaWeb: "Cuba on the other hand, cannot in good conscience or with moral convictions hold on to millions of acres of fallow, untilled land, knowing its use can improve the lives of tens of thousands of Haitians, stabilize Cuba food security and restore the viability of our sugar, coffee and cocoa industry, presently on life support. Cuba can erase its debt of gratitude with Haiti and other Caribbean islands, by implementing an orderly migrant workers law, by which tens of thousands of families could enter and work in the country under clear cut regulations, which forbids all unsocial behavior. Prioritizing the purchase of products and produce from our neighboring islands through the development of coastline shipping lines and an increase in human interactions is a past due imperative."
The Fertile Crescent: Haiti, Cuba and Louisiana 11/25/2012 Afropop Worldwide
ANTÉNOR FIRMIN: UN HAITIANO EXTRAORDINARIO 6/25/2012 UNEAC: "La comisión de racialidad Clotilde Agüero en la sede del comité provincial de la UNEAC propuso un interesante acercamiento a la vida y obra del destacado sociólogo y periodista haitiano Anténor Firmin…"
Vodú Chic: Haitian Religion and the Folkloric Imaginary in Socialist Cuba 6/1/2012 New West Indian Guide: "Today however, the continuation of Haitian customs is no longer linked with isolation, but exactly the opposite: performance troupes, heritage festivals, art exhibitions, the circulation of religious specialists, collaborations with research centers and academia, endorsement by music promoters, and the tourism industry. In socialist Cuba, “folklore” is a valuable resource. Although some Cubans of Haitian descent hide their affiliation, others proudly claim their heritage and this inclination is growing. Policy makers and culture brokers both within the socialist state and internationally have begun to notice, valorize, and promote the arts and traditions of this ethnic subgroup."
From Haiti to Cuba and Back: Haitians’ Experiences of Migration, Labor, and Return, 1900-1940 4/4/2012 University of Pittsburgh: "I show the ways that Haitian men and women navigated the harsh working and living conditions in both Haiti and Cuba by creating and maintaining kinship, commercial, religious, and social networks in sugar plantations, coffee farms, and urban spaces. These links cut across national lines and decisively shaped the conditions under which they moved, labored, and lived in both countries. Reconstructing Haitians’ interactions with other workers outside the gazes of company and state illustrates how those institutions functioned on the ground, questions the extent to which national-level racial ideologies determined local social relationships, and demonstrates how workers’ actions shaped the implementation of migration and trade policies."
An Unorthodox Look at Haiti & Cuba (Part Two) 7/10/2011 Havana Times: "However there are reports by independent bloggers who were there that the people are self-organized, as happened in the U.S. when Katrina hit. They set up camps and spontaneous rescue brigades. And above all there was much caring, unlike the stereotype that the mass media created to impose regimes of law and order, as happened later, but not because of the people but because of the way aid is delivered by the U.S. troops, for example. This teaches us a lot about how racism and authoritarianism use the same logic of contempt toward outside protagonists. That is the argument of authoritarianism: there are barbarian people who must be dealt with by force and strength because if not, they won’t fit in the mold. Sexism works exactly the same. That was what was shown in a wonderful and terrible way after earthquakes in Haiti."
The Caribbean Diaspora from the African Diaspora. The Cuban Chapter 5/30/2011 Cuba Now: by Graciela Chailloux - "The 1929 world crisis represented the end of a frenetic sugar growth in the Island that lost its support in the international market. Unemployment took over the national life, as for Cubans as for foreigners, so the resource at hand was the massive deportation of Haitians and English-speaking West Indians, and the promulgation in 1934 of a law that guaranteed employment in every company to 50% of the Cubans."
The Creole Choir of Cuba – UK tour – January/ February 2011 1/4/2011 Timba Geek: "Prepare to be blown away by The Creole Choir of Cuba – the passionate melodies, wild harmonies and richly textured arrangements of ten inspiring vocalists. This is something new from Cuba, the most original vocal sound to come out of the country in a long while. Desandann, the Choir’s Cuban name, literally means ‘descendents’ and with the songs on their album ‘Tande-La’ (which translates to ‘listen’) they tell the stories of their Haitian ancestors who were brought to Cuba to work in near slave conditions in the sugar and coffee plantations."
La Casa del Caribe felicita a la Tumba Francesa Pompadour Santa Catalina de Ricci por los 105 años de su fundación. 1/2/2011 Casa del Caribe: "Una de las más genuinas expresiones de la huella franco haitiana en nuestro país es, sin asomo de duda, la Tumba Francesa. Al verles actuar resulta siempre motivador cómo una forma de expresión que nació de la necesidad de una burla de los esclavos hacia sus amos, ha devenido en forma de perpetuar algunos de los valores de nuestra cultura popular tradicional."
The Impact of Haiti on Afro-Cuban Racial Consciousness: Black Nationalism and Mobilization 12/18/2010 El mundo es Robert: "While whites invoked Haiti to provoke fear, justify harsher slave codes in Cuba and weaken nationalism, free and enslaved people of African descent used it to positively assert racial pride, unity, and defend abolition throughout the Americas. Thus, Haiti as a symbol and historical agent promoted Afro-Cuban racial consciousness and shaped black perspectives on freedom from the early 19th century to the early 20th century, culminating in the 1912 Oriente province uprising."
Caribbean Film Traveling Festival Holds Avilanian Documentary 12/16/2010 Invasor: "An Avilanian documentary, Una misma raza (the same race), will be on at the Third Caribbean Film Traveling Festival, whose itinerary will include countries of our geographical area like Jamaica, Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada, Martinique, Colombia and Venezuela. The Audio-Visual sample by Avilanian filmmaker Jorge Luis Neyra, selected for the festival last February, devotes its 20 minutes to deal with the Eva Gaspar National Afro Caribbean Festival, sponsored by the Joseíto Fernández Culture House in the Primero de Enero municipality of Ciego de Avila. Every year the event is held to revitalize and promote Haitian dance and music and its legacy to the Cuban culture. In addition, he provides a biographical approach to the figure of Eva Gaspar, the Haitian leader of of the Hatian community in the Primero de Enero, and the Nagó music and dance company, that was granted the National Community Culture Prize."
Querido Ayiti, Haití cheri 5/29/2010 Boletin Musica: pagina 92: "Ayiti cheri, voz creóle que versa en español Querido Haití, es el nombre del proyecto que, encauzado por la Casa de las Américas, persigue potenciar, divulgar y promover el patrimonio cultural de ese país desde sus estrechas relaciones con Cuba. De esta forma, artistas e intelectuales cubanos y haitianos devienen copartícipes del largo proceso de recuperación que demanda la hermana nación caribeña, víctima del terremoto ocurrido el pasado 12 de enero."
A Vodú Party for the Gods 4/10/2010 EthnoCuba: By Grete Viddal - "I went up a mountain, near Santiago, to houngan Pablo’s party for the gods. He lives in a place called Pilon del Cauto, near the river Cauto, about two or three (depending on road conditions) hours from Santiago, accessible by jeep, truck, or legs. Guests arrived, some carrying a borrowed mattress to spend the night…"
Médicos cubanos, entre los primeros que asistieron a los haitianos 1/14/2010 CubaDebate
Segundas Jornadas de Cultura de Haití en homenaje a Martha Jean-Claude, 2009 12/13/2009 AfroCubaWeb: por Manuel Rivero Glean - "Municipio Plaza de la Revolución, en la sede del Proyecto Comunitario "Rincón de los Milagros", en la calle Tulipán s/n, entre Marino y Estancia, Nuevo Vedado, C. de La Habana, entre el viernes 11 y el domingo 13 de diciembre de 2009. El Proyecto Comunitario Rincón de los Milagros, en coordinación con la Dirección Municipal de Cultura, el Consejo Popular de Plaza, la Fundación Martha Jean-Claude, la Comunidad de Haitianos de la Asociación del Caribe y los vecinos de la comunidad, le invitan a participar en esta actividad cultural, como protagonista y espectador."
IV Encuentro de la Cultura Franco-Haitiana en Barrancas 11/30/2009 Case Del Caribe: "La idea de reunir a las agrupaciones de origen haitiano en sus propias comunidades en una suerte de Festival fue apoyada desde sus inicios hace ocho años por la Casa del Caribe y Joel James, su fundador. Hoy en el IV Encuentro de lo más representativo de la cultura franco-haitiana el Director de la Casa del Caribe, Orlando Vergés considera que estas acciones deben tener más respaldo institucional y gubernamental para que se mantenga la tradición: “En realidad es un desafío que los grupos de orígen haitiano se hayan reunido en tres lugares importantes del país, en esta comunidad de Barrancas, empezó por aquí, en Violeta, Ciego de Ávila; y en Cueto para expresar su cultura. Te digo que es un desafío porque en las circunstancias actuales es difícil, aún cuando tienes todos los recursos, reunir a tanta gente. Y ellos lo hacen con tanto amor, con tanto sacrificio, contando con las autoridades locales, y lo hacen bien."
Realizarán Festival de la cultura franco-haitiana 11/17/2009 Granma: "Los elementos más autóctonos de las raíces franco-haitianas en la cultura cubana serán expuestos en el IV Festival dedicado a esta temática, del 20 al 22 próximos. El poblado de Barrancas del municipio santiaguero de Palma Soriano acogerá esta fiesta musical-danzaria, donde se mostrarán las manifestaciones vivas de la haitianidad en Cuba: el creole como forma de comunicación intrafamiliar, los instrumentos tradicionales y su presencia histórica y cultural. La práctica del Gagá, celebración litúrgica, es el pretexto para reverenciar la oralidad, los ritos mágico-religiosos, la cultura culinaria y los bailes a ritmo de tambor -merengue, congó e Ibó- que legaron al ajiaco cultural cubano los inmigrantes de la vecina isla del Caribe."
Cuba - Information related to Intangible Cultural Heritage - Proclamation 2003: "La Tumba Francesa" 7/9/2009 UNESCO: published 5/07 - "The dance, song and drumming style known as Tumba Francesa (French Drum) was brought to Cuba by Haitian slaves who were resettled in the island’s eastern regions following the unrest in Haiti during the 1790s. It embodies one of the oldest and most tangible links to the Afro-Haitian heritage of Cuba’s Oriente province and developed from an eighteenth- century fusion of music from Dahomey in West Africa and traditional French dances. After Cuba’s abolition of slavery in 1886 and the resulting migration of former slaves to urban areas in search of work, Tumba Francesa societies emerged in several cities."
Despite Cuba embargo, relief finds a way 7/6/2009 Miami Herald: "This does not concern Dr. Alberto Jones, a Cuban who arrived in Miami during the Mariel boatlift and has been involved with the convoys each year since 1999. ''I'm not afraid to go to jail,'' he said Sunday night at Ham & Eggery restaurant in North Miami Beach, where the truck is parked. Jones' activities mirror those of a growing number of Cuban Americans who question the embargo, which was imposed almost 50 years ago to apply economic pressure on the Cuban dictatorship in the hope of speeding its downfall. As Jones walked around the truck, which is set to join others in Texas later this month, he said American treatment of Cuba disgusts him. ''If you don't see the suffering, you don't feel it,'' he said. ``I saw kids starving and I changed my point of view. I do this [work] in Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic -- and Cuba. What's the difference?''"
Haiti in Cuba: Vodou, Racism & Domination 6/8/2009 Havana Times: "The Haitians brought the Vodou religion to Cuba. The great anthropologist from Santiago de Cuba, Joel James, who studied that culture, says that hundreds of Haitian workers were massacred and literally thrown into the sea during the period prior to 1959. A strong xenophobia existed against them in Cuba, as well as anti-black racism, leading to events that could be characterized as genocide or ethnocide. They were the last card in that deck, however. The revolutionary triumph of 1959 put an end to such occurrences, although a certain degree of prejudice against the Vodou religion remained. This prejudice still exists, even among some of those who practice other belief systems of African origin."
Homenaje hoy en Cuba a Martha Jean Claude 3/21/2009 PL: "El aniversario 90 del natalicio de la destacada cantante haitiana Martha Jean Claude será conmemorado hoy aquí con una evocación artística a la grandeza de quien fuera genuino exponente del folklore caribeño El programa, organizado por la fundación que lleva su nombre y la embajada de Haití en Cuba, tendrá como sede la Casa de la Amistad e incluye las actuaciones del cantante Pablo Santamaría, la Orquesta Gloria Matancera y los hermanos Santos como pareja de baile. También brindarán su arte la violinista Mabel Serrano, nieta de Martha Jean Claude y una coral infantil que interpretará en creóle canciones de la afamada cantante. El embajador de Haití en Cuba tendrá a su cargo las palabras de apertura y luego un representante de la comunidad de esa nación en la Mayor de las Antillas destacará la fraterna relación de la artista con el pueblo cubano, que le acogió como una más de sus hijas. En el homenaje hará uso de la palabra Richard Mirabal Jean Claude, hijo y presidente de la fundación y se presentará el libro Haití-Cuba, hechos más relevantes, de Diana Cantón, secretaria de la embajada haitiana."
Haitian Medical Students in Cuba 11/28/2008 MEDICC: "Haitian medical students in Cuba—number some 700—study at the Santiago de Cuba “Caribbean campus” of the Latin American Medical School where their academic record is outstanding."
USAID, key weapon in dirty war on Latin America 9/23/2008 Monthly Review: "In Haiti, the USAID is among a number of U.S. agencies that organized, directed and funded Haitian political organizations to provoke the kidnapping and grotesque eviction of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In Venezuela, the agency was scandalously active in backing and financing the sectors responsible for the coup of April 11, 2002. The uninterrupted squandering of the funds of USAID and its subsidiaries with coup-inspired operations is already in excess of $15 million, via the funding of hundreds of groups and mini-groups aligned with the U.S. embassy. In Bolivia, the USAID program is focused on the country's Balkanization and the funding of violent activities against the authority of the president. A few weeks ago, various farmers' federations and five municipalities in the Cochabamba region expelled agents from this organization after exposing their involvement in plotting a coup d'état."
Letter from Assata on her 60th Birthday Celebration 3/27/2008 HOA: "I am 60 years old and I am proud to be one of those people who stood up against the ruthless, evil, imperialist policies of the U.S. government. In my lifetime I have opposed the war against the Vietnamese people, the illegal contras – war in Nicaragua, the illegal coup in Chile, the invasion of Haiti and of Granada, and every other illegal, immoral and genocidal war the U.S. government has ever waged. I have never been a criminal and I never will be one. I am 60 years old and in spite of government repression, in spite of the media’s lies and distortions, in spite of the U.S, government’s COINTELPRO Program to criminalize and demonize political opponents, I feel proud to count myself as someone who believes in peace and believes in freedom. I am proud to have been a member of the Black Panther Party although the U.S. government continues try to distort history and continues to persecute ex-members of the Black Panther Party. Just recently, the U.S. government has indicted and arrested 8 ex-Black Panthers in a case that was dismissed 30 years ago. The case was dismissed some 30 years ago when it became obvious that the most vicious forms of extreme torture were used to extract false confessions from some of the so-called defendants."
Rosa Parks would be proud 3/11/2007 Uncommon Sense: "American civil rights icon Rosa Parks didn't take any grief from those who would repress her. And neither does the Cuban human rights activist and independent librarian Juan Bermúdez Toranzo. Journalist Roberto Santana Rodríguez, in a story posted at Payo Libre, reports that the 40-year-old Bermúdez — who runs the "Rosa Parks Independent Library" — was arrested as he left the the U.S. Interest Section in Havana on March 5." [Uncommon Sense is the blog of Marc Masferrer, nephew of El Tigre, who spent time in US Federal Penitentiary for attempting to seize Haiti as a base for anti-Castro activities.]
Actuará en Haití el trío cubano Ledema 7/28/2006 Radio Progreso: "El trío Ledema y el percusionista Alexis Velázquez, pertenecientes al catalogo artístico de la Promotora cubana Musical Ignacio Piñeiro, actuarán a partir del 1 de agosto y durante tres meses en cinco ciudades de Haití, para los médicos y maestros cubanos que brindan su colaboración en ese país caribeño. Bajo la dirección del cantante y guitarrista Erdén Hernández Pérez, la agrupación promoverá su más reciente CD ¨ Volveré a ser un caminante¨, que incluye populares piezas como La Culebra, de Obdulio Morales, Siboney, de Ernesto Lecuona, Sublime Ilusión, de Salvador Adams y la que da título al fonograma del propio Hernández. Auspiciado por la Fundación de la cantante haitiana Marta Jean Claude (1919-2001), las presentaciones de los artistas serán por primera vez en Puerto Príncipe, Montrouis, Petion ville, Petit Goave y Port de Paix. Los integrantes de Ledema anteriormente han dejado su huella musical en países del continente africano, europeo y América Latina. Ledema, fundado en 1982, es un apocope de Leonardo, Erden y María, y está reconocido como un grupo vocal e instrumental que fomenta su profesión con un cuidadoso trabajo de voces en las que sobresalen el fuerte temperamento y voz de su solista femenina María Luisa Rabago."
Caribbean Festival of Fire Underway in Cuba 7/3/2006 A C N: "The event --attended by representatives from Mexico, Brazil, Jamaica, Venezuela, Argentina, Haiti, Hungary and Dominican Republic-- consists of activities dedicated to the peoples of the Caribbean States Community (CARICOM)."
Cuba laments death of Haitian intellectual 10/12/2004 CNN
A Plea For Help - Caribbean American Children Foundation 7/24/2004 AfroCubaWeb: "But, the severe financial crisis that Cuba is enduring, have had a negative impact on the spartan living conditions of these students, who urgently needs all of our moral and material support and encouragement. In order for us to clearly understand the importance of this project, suffice to say that if those Haitian students that are presently enrolled would successfully graduate, that would mean a 25% increase in Haiti's present physician pool."
Barrancas: huella franco-haitiana en el Caribe 7/8/2004 Jiribilla: "Mantener viva nuestras raíces, no ha sido, ni es nada fácil. Tampoco, transmitir a las nuevas generaciones el mensaje de esta cultura. Eso solo ha sido posible con un poco de amor, fe y unidad entre todos. Con estas tres cosas mezcladas hemos asegurado nuestro relevo". Entrevista con Teresa Martínez, miembro del grupo Barrancas."
Artists from 23 countries at Fire Festival 7/6/2004 Cuba Now: "Around 500 representatives from 23 countries, including Canada and the United States, will participate in the 24th Fire Festival, to take place in Santiago de Cuba, July 3 through 9. The program includes a traditional colloquium, The Caribbean that Binds Us, this time focused on the Haitian Revolution and its repercussion in the country and abroad, as well as workshops to deal with topics related to Franco-Haitian culture. Moreover, a bust of Haitian independence hero Toussaint Louverture will be inaugurated."
Wemilere Festival 2004 in November 5/5/2004 Cubarte Newsletter: "Dedicated to the bicentennial of the independence of Haiti, Alejo Carpentier and late artist Martha Jean-Claude, the Wemilere Festival will take place again in the municipality of Guanabacoa, proving that the conservation of the most authentic values of any culture also preserves the genesis of its identity. The Wemilere International Festival of African Roots will take place November 21-24, 2004 at the legendary Villa de la Asunción de Guanabacoa."
200 Years of U.S. Imperialism Haiti Under Siege 5/1/2004 International Socialist Review: "IN THE U.S., Haiti is portrayed as a world apart: the "poorest country in the western hemisphere"–a place of inexplicable violence and instability, horrible poverty, and scant resources. Seldom are we reminded that this was the first nation after the U.S. to achieve independence, and was the first Black republic–that this is a country with a history not only of repression and violence but also of heroism, resistance, immense human and cultural vitality. Far from being "a world apart," Haiti has from its inception been all too firmly locked into a world system that has exploited, battered, and abused its natural and human resources."
Autor: Ileana Gonzáles.
Fecha de Publicación: 03-04-2004
Portal Cultural Principe, Cuba
HOY quedan pocos haitianos residiendo en Cuba, pero sus descendientes –de varias generaciones- NO han dejado aletargadas sus costumbres, sus ritos religiosos, sus bailes y cantos, su forma de cocinar, todo eso, en fin, que conforma la identidad de un pueblo.
La presencia haitiana en Cuba es particularmente fuerte en Camagüey, donde los emigrantes aportaron su mano de obra a las faenas agrícolas, sobre todo el corte de caña, desde las primeras décadas de este siglo.
Incluso uno de los municipios de esa provincia se llama Haití, y allí existe una estatua del prócer independentista Jean Jacques Dessalines.
La herencia cultural haitiana también se advierte en comunidades de Esmeralda y Sierra de Cubitas.
Kama-Haití: una primera experiencia
Cuando el presidente de Haití, René Preval, visitó la provincia de Camagüey, se sintió sumamente impresionado al constatar cómo sus compatriotas y descendientes mantenían allí, muy vivas, las raíces culturales de su pueblo.
Sugirió entonces la organización de un encuentro que facilitara el intercambio entre representantes de las artes y las letras de los dos países caribeños.
Aquella iniciativa ya tomó cuerpo y, del nueve al catorce de este mes, se desarrollará el evento cultural que ha sido denominado Kama-Haití, y como parte del cual habrá un hermanamiento entre Camagüey y Okay, la región de donde salió un mayor número de haitianos para asentarse en Cuba y, de algún modo, incorporar otro componente a la cultura nacional.
El Ballet Folclórico de Camagüey, el grupo Desandán y el conjunto artístico "Maraguán" serán algunos de los exponentes por la parte cubana que intervendrán en la gala inaugural del encuentro cultural Kama-Haití, el diez de abril en el teatro Principal de Camagüey.
Emilia Díaz Chávez, vicepresidenta de la Unión Nacional de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC) en esa provincia y organizadora del evento, informó que se espera la visita de artistas e intelectuales haitianos, para ofrecer espectáculos e impartir conferencias sobre la cultura del hermano pueblo.
"Esta será la primera experiencia, y aspiramos a que este tipo de intercambio cultural con Haití, recién nacido, llegue a caracterizar a Camagüey", y tenga en un futuro un alcance regional", precisa la también directora del grupo folclórico "Dessandán".
by Susana Hurlich, Havana, 21 May 1998
Today, there are over 40 groups around the country that promote Creole culture, such as the fabulous choral group, "Desandann", which sings traditional Creole songs with a delicacy, harmony and passion that is gripping. Based in Camaguey and recently returned from a tour in New York, "Desandann" members are all descendants of Haitians.
An annual carnival, begun by Haitians and immigrants from Barbados who arrived in Cuba during the nineteenth century, still takes place. Cuba also participates in international festivals dedicated to Haitian culture - in July '94, such a festival was held in Santiago de Cuba.
HISTORY OF CREOLE IN CUBA
The richness of Creole as a language comes from three continents: Africa, America and Europe. It is a mixture of Spanish, French and English. Although its history has been little studied, some think it initially developed as a commercial language between Europeans and the indigenous peoples and slaves brought from the Antilles and the Indian Ocean.
Creole language and culture first entered Cuba with the arrival of Haitian immigrants at the start of the nineteenth century. 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. They came mainly to the east, and especially Guantanamo, where the French later introduced sugar cultivation, constructed sugar refineries and developed coffee plantations. By 1804, some 30,000 French were living in Baracoa and Maisi, the furthest eastern municipalities of the province.
Later, Haitians continued to come to Cuba to work as brazeros (hand workers, from the Spanish word brazo, meaning "arm") in the fields cutting cane. Their living and working conditions were not much better than slavery. Although they planned to return to Haiti, most stayed on in Cuba.
For years, many Haitians and their descendants in Cuba did not identify themselves as such or speak Creole. In the eastern part of the island, many Haitians suffered discrimination. But since1959, this discrimination has stopped.
After Spanish, Creole is the second most-spoken language in Cuba. Over 400,000 Cubans either speak it fluently, understand it but speak with difficulty, or have at least some familiarity with the language. It is mainly in those communities where Haitians and their descendant live that Creole is most spoken. In addition to the eastern provinces, there are also communities in Ciego de Avila and Camaguey provinces where the population still maintains Creole, their mother tongue. Classes in Creole are offered in Guantanamo, Matanzas and the City of Havana. There is a Creole-language radio program.
PROMOTING CREOLE CULTURE IN CUBA
In February '91, the Association of Haitian Residents and Descendants was formed as a non-governmental socio-cultural organization in Cuba. Its objectives are to unite the Cuban-Haitian community and to recover their traditions, customs and culture. Formed initially as a national organization, provincial affiliate quickly appeared in Camaguey, Santiago de Cuba, Ciego de Avila and Guantanamo, as well as municipal associations in various locations.
In April '98, Bannzil Kreyol Kiba was officially founded as a cultural institution under the sponsorship of the Caribbean Association of Cuba. Plans are already underway to establish provincial affiliates in Cienfuegos - which has an active Creole theatre group - and Guantanamo. Members include Cubans, Haitians and students in Cuba from Creole-speaking countries. They pay a monthly fee of five pesos.
"The aim of Bannzil Kreyol Kiba is to rediscover and preserve Creole culture in Cuba," explains Hilario Batista Feliz, president of Bannzil. "We want to study and promote Creole culture and language as part of Cuba's national cultural patrimony."
This year's program of activities for Bannzil is ambitious. It includes seminars, courses, competitions, monthly "Creole Afternoons" full of cultural and educational activities, and much more. At the municipal level, many of these activities are done in collaboration with "Poder Popular" (local government structures) and Cultural Centres. The "Kiba Kreyol" musical group, consisting of twelve singers and drummers, has already been formed as part of Bannzil.
Other plans include organizing the "Kiba Kreyol 98" International Festival later this year, creating affiliated groups of Bannzil in other provinces, celebrating "International Day of Creole"(1) around the country, and assisting all groups interested in Creole.
In April of this year, the first Creole library in Cuba was inaugurated. Located in the library of the oldest trades school in the country, the"Fernando Aguado y Rico" Polytechnic Centre in Central Havana, it will provide a home to some of the substantial literature written in Creole.
The library "is an example of the struggle of a people to maintain its language and culture," says Alberto Mendez, deputy director of the National Commission of UNESCO in Cuba, who spoke at the inauguration.
In eastern Cuba, the Association of "Tumba Francesa" (tumba is drum) is another example of the vitality of Creole culture. Located in La Loma de Chivo (Goat Hillock), a part of Guantanamo City with a concentrated presence of Haitian descendants as well as descendants from English-speaking Caribbean islands, Tumba Francesa is a vibrant hub of cultural traditions for residents of the area. Here one finds the rumba - that spontaneous, sensual and playful dance that has its roots in Afro-Cuban culture - as well as traditional Haitian dances.
Dalia Timitoc is one of the many "faces" of the resurgence and vibrancy of Creole culture in Cuba. A singer and song writer, she is the daughter of a Haitian father and Jamaican-descended mother.
"My father was a sugar cane cutter in a sugar central in Monte Verde de Yateras (Guantanamo province)," says Dalia. "In my songs, I am searching for and celebrating roots."
"I'm fanatic about the Caribbean," continues Dalia, "and I sing a bit in Creole."
In addition to singing old Haitian songs, Dalia also sings about nature, women as the saviours of the earth, indigenous Indian peoples, etc. When she sings, she accompanies herself on a special drum which she calls Oluboku ("drum of peace"). Abouta meter long, it hangs around her neck by a strap and tapers down to a point, much like a cone, encircled with several rings of small bells.
"I've had this drum for eighteen years, explains Dalia, "and I'm not sure if it has African or Haitian roots. I'm investigating this."
Growing up in Holguin, Dalia began singing at twelve years of age. She has written books, been in movies, holds a monthly song gathering in her home including a children's choir, and is conducting a research project called "Que no Muera las Raizes" (So that the Roots Don't Die) which involves a compilation of short songs going back to African and Spanish origins.
So that the roots don't die - whether African, Caribbean, European or a rich mixture of
all. And at the end of the day, the blend is distinctly Cuban.
(1) Today, eight million people speak Creole worldwide. Because of the importance of this language, in 1979 the 28th of October was declared "International Day of Creole". It is celebrated in all Creole-speaking countries with festivals, workshops, competitions, seminars and cultural activities.
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