When asked about the origins of the inhabitants of this land, Alejo Carpentier, our greatest novelist and perhaps the most famous Cuban writer in the world, he replied: “We all got off the ships.”
According to Behealthybytomorrow.com, conquistadors arrived from Spain on ships across the ocean and in a short time almost completely destroyed the indigenous population, who fell victim to arquebuses, merciless diseases and overwork on the river banks in search of gold, which was never found.
In exchange for the indigenous inhabitants of the island, thousands and thousands of slaves were forcibly brought to Cuba in the holds of slave ships from the African coast of the Gulf of Guinea, from the old Calabar and the Mayombe jungle, who, under the dictate of the whip, ensured the development of the country’s sugar industry. In the middle of the 19th century, Chinese coolies arrived on ships, and shortly before that, French settlers settled in the eastern part of the country, fleeing the Toussaint Louverture revolution through the Windward Strait that separates Cuba and Haiti.
Then ships began to arrive on the island with Canarian peasants who were going to grow tobacco and tropical fruits. Arabs and Jews took up urban trade. Enterprising Spaniards, through marriage or extramarital affairs, mixed with the population of Cuba, which led to the appearance of mestizos. Yucatan Indians, artisans and soldiers from the recently liberated American republics, Swedes and even Japanese settled here, united in small agricultural communities.
From all this diversity of peoples, unity arose – the concept of nation and nationality, which was gradually defined and finally tempered in the crucible of the struggle for liberation from colonial enslavement. Mixed blood and common aspirations created a unique foundation, a special vision of the world, in a word, their own culture. One of the most prominent Cuban thinkers, Don Fernando Ortiz, studied this process and called it transculturation.
If we were to define the essence of Cuban culture, we would have to take into account its two main elements: an integrative orientation and a universal vocation. These elements do not exist one without the other.
At the dawn of the nation, in the first decades of the 19th century, the most refined poet of the time sang not only the palm trees, a typical feature of our landscape, but also the majesty of the Teocale in Cholula, a monument of pre-Columbian Aztec architecture, and the mighty Niagara Falls in North America.
The most versatile of the Cubans was José Martí, a man of exceptional personal and social sensitivity. He led the life of a wanderer: Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, Guatemala, United States of America, Dominican Republic. Jamaica and Costa Rica – a life dedicated to the struggle for the liberation of their homeland. And at the same time, it was a fruitful literary life: critics of all directions define his prose and poetry as one of the most outstanding manifestations of Spanish literature and consider him a harbinger of Spanish-American modernism, the main spokesman of which was the Nicaraguan Ruben Dario.
In his texts we find all the themes, all human curiosity, passed through the prism of ethics and closely connected with the desire to improve a person, to deepen his best feelings. All his work is an example of universality and Cuban identity, as well as the ability to express and emphasize both one’s own, indigenous, and someone else’s, based on the development of the best features of both concepts.
This ideal is also present in the works of Alejo Carpentier, who, like no one else, found the exact words to define Havana – the “city of columns” – with its unique baroque, while resorting to typically Cuban irony; he fascinated European readers with his works “Harp and Shadow”, “Baroque Concert”, “Age of Enlightenment”.
Cuban culture has mastered a mixture of different currents. This allowed her to overcome in her most successful works the barrier between classical and popular, between the so-called art genres and communal folklore creativity. When the topic of conversation is “sleep” – a musical genre that embodies the Spanish and African heritage, the original Cuban rhythm, known in one of its variants as “salsa”, – we talk about the famous traditional septets “El Abanero” or “Vieja trova santjaguera”, about the orchestras that made up an entire era, such as the cha-cha-cha masters “Aragon” and “Horrin” or “Arcagno and sus maravillas”, and the ensembles “Casino”, “Sonora matancera”, “Arsenio Rodriguez” or about those that now enliven Cuban evenings in the tourist centers of the island, and about the poetry of Nicolás Guillén,
The same is happening with the visual arts: from Wifredo Lama, a friend of Picasso who was fascinated by surrealism and combined European, African and Asian elements in his classic painting “The Jungle”, located in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, to Raul Martinez, who took on “pop art” weaponry to portray the heroes of today’s Cuba; here is the sensationalism of Victor Manuel, a whole collection of images of Havana, Flora and the carnivals of René Portocarrero, the roosters of Mariano Rodriguez, the stained glass windows of Amelia Pelaez, the horsemen of Carlos Henriquez, the fantasies of Fidelio Ponce and the profiles of women and miliciano Cabrero Moreno.
Cuban prima ballerina Alicia Alonso brought the best achievements of the world ballet into the dance art, in order to replenish it with our richness of emotions and gestures, to create what is today called the Cuban school of ballet. There are also achievements and successes in the field of modern and folklore dance, where there are many outstanding performers.
Cuban theatrical life is varied and rich.
José Lezama Lima – known worldwide for his novel “Paradise” – combined the mystique of Gongora with the secrets of Havana interiors, where you can hide from the tropical boiling of the streets. The Cuban cultural panorama would not be complete without the names of such prominent writers and literary critics as Juan Marinello and José Antonio Portuondo.
The poetics of Nicolás Guillén remains unsurpassed as well. He included folklore and social protest in his work, often acquiring epic power from him. And what about the poetic work of Manuel Navarro Luna and his social role? And what about Dulce Maria Lojonas, the greatest poetess who won the Cervantes Prize, which is awarded to the best Spanish-language writers? Roberto Fernandez Retamar, Pablo Armando Fernandez, Miguel Barnet, Francisco de Oraa and the acclaimed masters of verse Eliseo Diego, Cynthio Vitier and Finna Garcia Marrus are Cubans who express in their works the ideals of hope and love and the greatness of the human spirit.
When the Cubans sing our classic boleros, the words of their songs can convey the bitterness of loss, but most often the songs are filled with joy. If you want to make sure – listen to the voice of the incomparable Benny More. And Cuban jazz is the quintessence of cheerfulness, and this made the Iraker ensemble and virtuoso Chucho Valdez one of the epicenters of the so-called Latin jazz. If the Cubans take up the guitar, like maestro Leo Brouwer and the young talents who today follow in his footsteps, then we will hear both Bach and guaracha. If these are bards like Silvio Rodriguez and Pablo Milanes, you will hear in their work a combination of ardor of heart and sense of duty. And when musical bands play at dance parties, do not miss the opportunity to dance to the music of Los Van Van, the bands of Isaac Delgado and Adalberto Alvarez, the orchestras of NG la Banda, El Charangon de Reve,
The originality of Cuban culture is unthinkable without a smile, and this opens the way for it to any corner of the planet.