|Street musicians play in Havana, Cuba.|
The unique and vibrant culture of Cuba is influenced heavily by Latin American, European, African, and indigenous American cultures. The country's culture has also been influenced by its storied history, from its days as a Spanish colony to the Fidel Castro-led Cuban revolution of the 1950s which opened the country up to be heavily influenced by the Soviet Union. Below is a brief outline of the many customs, traditions, and cultural practices that shape the way of Cuban life.
Social Beliefs And Customs
The Cuban Revolution brought about a mighty change in Cuban society. Education and financial independence of women in Cuba was promoted by the Revolution which helped women to attain thriving careers in agriculture, industry, and service related occupations. By 1990, the ratio of men to women in the country’s health services was nearly equal. State-run day care centers were constructed to allow working women to raise their children. Several laws like the 1974 maternity law and the 1975 "Family Code” were passed by the Cuban government to allow women to achieve equality with men in all respects. Although traditionally, men in Cuba expect women to perform all the household chores and raise children despite their working status, the People's Power strived hard to ensure that women are not oppressed at home by their husbands and their families.
Marriages in modern Cuba are mostly by the equal consent of the bride and the groom and co-inhabitation prior to marriage is common. Divorce rates are higher in Cuba now than in the colonial times. Since sex education and availability of contraceptives as well abortion opportunities are easily available in the country, the women of Cuba enjoy great freedom to choose the course of their life. Thus, many households in the country are led by single mothers where the children are brought up by the grandmothers. The government of the nation promotes values of socialism and discourages selfishness and individualism. Like many Latin Americans, Cubans use touch as a form of showing affection and appreciation.
Religion, Festivals, And Holidays
For a considerable length of time, Cubans were not allowed to practice any religion and were persecuted for doing so. The scenario started changing in the 1970s, and eventually Cubans were granted religious freedom but with certain restrictions. In 1992, an amendment was made to the country’s constitution that allowed complete religious freedom in the country. Currently, about 60% of the Cuban population is affiliated to Catholicism. Many cubans practice Santería, a blend of African traditional religion and Christianity that was first practiced by the African slaves brought to Cuba by the Europeans to work on the plantations in the country. These people were often associated with witchcraft and magic and discriminated by the other religious groups in Cuba. Since the religion is practiced mainly by the black population of the country, racist attitudes exist around the religion. Thus, many followers of Santería resorted to a secret practice of the religion to avoid discrimination.
Christian festivals are celebrated in Cuba with great enthusiasm and enjoyment since Christianity is the dominant religion in the country. Secular holidays include January 1 and July 26, both associated with important events in the Cuban Revolution. The Communist holiday of May Day is also a holiday in the country. October 10 is also observed as a holiday as this day marks Cuba’s revolt against Spain.
Music And Dance
Music is an important part of Cuban culture. The music scene in Cuba is influenced by both Spanish and African music. Some of the popular traditional music styles of Cuba include mambo, cha-cha-cha, charanga, danzon, rumba, and a few others. The salsa evolved from a blend of these rhythms. Celia Cruz, a Cuban native, is an internationally famous salsa star and is known as the Queen of Salsa. Cruz began her career in Havana in the later half of the 1940’s. Besides the traditional dance forms, the youth of Cuba enjoy practicing rock and roll. Cuban ballet is a highly popular performing art form in the country. The Cuban National Ballet, established by Alicia Alonso, is recognized worldwide.
Literature And Arts
Cuba started to develop its own literary style in the first half of the 19th century. During this time, slavery, racial mixing, colonialism, etc., were the major focus of the country’s literature. Cirilo Villaverde who wrote the Cecilia Valdés, a landmark novel, is one of the most famous Cuban writers of this period. José Martí, who is considered to be a national Cuban hero, also produced works in the late 19th century. Later, after slavery was abolished, the country’s literature featured themes based on independence and patriotism. The country is also the birthplace of testimonial literature, a literary genre that records the oral history or accounts of real life persons to produce a literary work.
Art in Cuba is a diverse mix of elements of African, South American, European, and American origin. Among the famous Cuban artists are Federico Beltran Masses (a colorist famed for his seductive portrayals of women), Amelia Peláez (famed for mural projects), and Wifredo Lam, a painter (famed for his portrayal of modern primitivism). Alberto Korda is an internationally famed Cuban photographer whose photograph of Che Guevara is one of the most widely recognized images of the world. Street art is also highly popular in Cuba.
Cuba is well known for the handmade cigars produced in the country. These are considered to be among the world’s finest cigars and the country produces nearly 3 million of these cigars a year.
Traditional Cuban cuisine is influenced by Spanish, African, Caribbean, and to a certain extent, by Chinese cuisines. Pork is the chosen meat for a traditional feast and is usually served with rice and beans. Black beans are used to prepare several types of dishes. Rice, when cooked with black beans, is called arroz congri. Common vegetables used in Cuban cuisine include tomatoes, cassava, lettuce, etc. Chicken, beef, pork, and eggs are used to prepare the non-vegetarian dishes. Presently, however, due to the poor economic conditions prevalent in Cuba, large sections of the country’s population cannot afford lavish meals and often depend on food rations. Although Cuban coffee is world famous, most of the coffee grown here is exported while the coffee consumed by Cubans is mostly imported from that grown in Africa.
The Cuban dressing style is often described as cool and relaxed with a tradition based on authenticity and simplicity. The Guayabera is the most famous traditional clothing of Cuba that is worn by men as a classic linen or cotton shirt, usually white-colored, with or without embroideries. The shirts are worn on both formal and informal occasions including weddings. Panama hats and linen trousers complement the look of Guayabera- wearing Cuban men. The Guayabera style is now not only popular in Cuba but is also worn by the fashion-conscious men across the world. Guayabera dresses for women are also popular. Women and men in Cuba also wear western-style clothing and a pair of blue jeans is a favorite of most. Low-cut tops and short skirts and vibrant dresses make Cuban women look very pretty. Rumba dresses with extravagant frills and ruffels and traditional African head wraps are occasionally worn by Cuban women.
Cubans love sports and sports play a very significant role in the social life and identity of the country. Baseball, football, volleyball, boxing, etc., are all popular sports played in the country. Baseball is by far the most popular sport in Cuba. The government of the country promotes sports by selecting young talented sportspersons to attend special boarding schools where they are allowed to play various sports along with their usual studies. The practice is one of the reasons why the country has been a consistently good performer in international games like the Olympics. In 1992, the country earned more medals per capita in the Olympic Games than any other country. The top athletes in the country are worshiped as heroes by the Cubans.
By Oishimaya Sen Nag
•culled from www.worldatlas.com