Saint Lazarus

The cult of Saint Lazarus is one of the most popular traditions in the Island. This worship emerged of the catholic and Yoruba religions and it is related to a poor leprous man, a friend of Jesus, revived in a biblical parable. Lazarus is compared to Babalú Aye, an orisha Yoruba, who was invoked to heal health problems.

On December 17th many believers travel from every part of the country to visit the Sanctuary of Saint Lazarus, in a place named El Rincón, 25 kilometres south Havana. It is a small catholic hermitage placed next to a hospital for persons suffering from leprosy. Visitors take their offers to that place and worship for the miracles received, mainly in terms of health, or just to pray for the familys welfare.

The holy books refer explicitly to different saints named after Lazarus. There is a Saint Lazarus, a bishop in the Bible, a friend of Jesus who lived in Betania and was Mary and Marthas brother. The latter was brought back to life by Jesus. June 21st, is the day of Saint Lazarus the leprous.

According to the Bible, Jesus retold the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. “Once upon a time, there was a rich man dressing in purple fine linens and dinning everyday. One day he found in his door a poor ragged man named Lazarus, who was pleased eating from the left over of the rich man. Dogs came to him to lick his wounds.

This saint is the patron of the hospital and of the military order in Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem. The Cuban Saint Lazarus is a mixture of these two saints, plus the qualities and powers of the Yoruba God Babalú-Aye, healer God.

The Sanctuary of Saint Lazarus is opened everyday from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. the day 17th of every month it closes at 9:00pm.

Posted in Religions | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Miraculous Woman

The Cemetery of Colón, in Havana looks rather like a garden than a burial ground; it is an obligatory place of visit for those who really want to know the capital of the largest of the Antilles.

Its baroque architecture, its roads shielded by leafy flamboyant and palm trees, under the shinning blue sky, paradoxically becomes the most certain negative to death. Its 56 hectares make the Cemetery of Colón the largest of America. Beautiful and romantic love stories, myth and legends adorn this burial ground where mourning and grief mix with hope and love.

The most popular grave and obviously the most visited one, is that of Amelia Goyri de la Hoz, an upper class lady known at present as “La Milagrosa” (The Miraculous Woman).

Doña Amelia passed away in 1903 with 23 years old, and lived a life as a novel. After many inconvenience she had to wait for his father death to marry the man she really loved. But her happiness was ephemeral, because she expired a year later during the process of delivery.

The lady was buried with the dead child placed on her feet. The legend tells when the grave was opened some time afterwards the child was on his mothers arms. Her desperate husband, José Vicente Adot, could not stand so much pain and went out of his mind. He went to the cemetery every afternoon and tapped the gravestone with the bronze knocker screaming: Wake up Amelia! Wake up Amelia!

He made this ritual for 17 years until he died. All this story of suffering made the romantic lady a worshipped imaged.

At present the image competes in terms of relevance with the saints and virgins of the Catholic and Yoruba religions.

On the other hand, the La Milagrosa receives more flowers and prayers than any other holy images, while the authorities of the Cuban church observe astonished in silent. Hundreds of people go to La Milagrosa to ask for their children or love affairs. Since ancient times the ceremonial includes tapping with the knockers as the insane husband did.

The visitors leave walking backwards to avoid turning their backs to the white statue of Amelia.

Posted in Other Traditions | Leave a comment

Perico Donkey

This donkey is neither the one that accompanied Sancho in the adventures of Don Quixote; nor Platero, a character born from Juan Ramón Jiménez imagination. It is about Perico a popular donkey in Santa Clara City, in the central part of Cuba.

Even a sculpture was dedicated to the animal. In the intersection of three important streets of the city, capital of Villa Clara, erects a metallic structure to remember the nice animal. These avenues have lost their names because they all go or return to the area known as Perico Donkey.

The animal lived during the first half of the 20th century in that locality placed 300 kilometres east Havana. Those who knew him tell that in the beginning he pulled the ice cream wagon. One day his owner bought a truck and let him free. Then he began to print his own story, walking around the city to become a friend of children and to demand his slice of bread at the entrance of every door.

That was the beginning of Pericos legend. It is said he was once in jail for grazing in the Central Park. This demand did not have a course due to the fact that the animal was the pet of Santa Clara. Many people remember how the animal used to drink abundant beer, his popularity in the carnivals parade with the “Pilongos”, or when at the time some students opposed to the government hanged political posters in the back of the docile quadruped.

When the famous donkey passed away on February 26th, 1947, children and adults took flowers to his grave. A senator of the Republic said the final words in the funeral and the news of the deceased was published in The New York Times. Thats why after more than a century, the image of Perico is present in the life of the inhabitants of Santa Clara who preserve everyday his legend in the sculpture placed in the intersection of some busy streets.

Posted in Cultural Traditions | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Dominos

Walking around any of the Cuban neighborhoods youd certainly find a noisy group of a contagious joy, placed around a table with four rustic chairs or simple boxes, and people playing the Cubans preferred game: the dominos.

The dominos have acquired essential characteristics of the Cuban identity, as the phrases, the gestures, the tone of the voice and the sayings. The earliest reference of this game came from China, where it probably was created, 1120 years B.C.. It is said that in the western world the Italians were the first to play it, in the Venetian and Neapolitan courts.

The way it arrived to Cuba is not well defined yet. It could have been through the Asians or the Spaniards, who have learned it from the Italians who have incorporated it from the Chinese. Perhaps, it came through the Americans, who learned it from the British, the latter are responsible for the apogee of the dominos in Latin America, particularly in the Caribbean and Cuba.

The dominos
have generated a whole typical terminology. For instance the classic “me pegué”, victorious voice of the player who puts his final domino pieces on the table at the end of the game.

Other popular phrases are: “me quedo ahí”, ( when a neutral play is made placing a double domino piece on the table), “agacharse” (unforgivable egoism of you partner when he/she decides not “to kill” a piece that you could not follow), “dar agua” (operation made by the losers, consisting in turning the domino pieces down and removed them on the table to began the next play)… Either for men or women, elders or youth, the dominos are more than a simple table game.

Posted in Popular Traditions | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Charangas de Bejucal

At the end of every year takes place the oldest of Havanas traditional feasts, Las Charangas de Bejucal. The congas go around the locality divided in two parties including the inhabitants of the place. The town is divided into two, the red and the blue parties which establish a fraternal competition from December 3rd to January 1st. People get organized on the streets to represent their parties and create thousands of surprises to better their counter part.

The origin of the Charangas of Bejucal are back in 1840, and are related with the Christmas Day (known as Misa de Gallo). That day the black and white neighbors attended the church with rattles, seashells and bagpipes, and the free black persons or slaves participated outside with guiros, containers with shells and drums beats. It gradually became a laic feast.

The large coach is essential part of the feast and they represent either one or another of the parties. At the beginning they were taken in peoples shoulders, as in the religious processions. They were illuminated with candles. Afterwards they were pull by oxen and illuminated with carbide.

The parties also have changed their names to The Scorpion and the Rooster, and later on to The Silver Ceiba and the Golden Thorn. The large coaches were modified in the 20th century. Iron chassis were adapted with wheels. They maintained the surprise (stages elevate from inside the vehicle up to 23 meters high) The Charangas also have typical characters of popular creation which give beauty and color to the activity.

They identify the inhabitants of the town. The most admired are La Macorina, a man dressed as a woman, Trapitos, the Boyera and the Yerbero which are easily reproduced by children. The Charangas, the Carnival in Santiago de Cuba and the Parrandas of Remedio, are three of the feasts with the most profound roots in the Cuban culture.

Posted in Cultural Traditions | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Macorina, the first woman driving in Cuba

Her scarf blowing with the salty breeze coming from the Malecón while she was driving her spectacular red car through the Prado Promenade and the inhabitants of Havana stared at her; it was the early 20th century. She was the first woman driving a vehicle in Cuba.

She was originally from Guanajay a town in the southern part of Havana and assumed prostitution as a way of living. Her wide brown eyes, her face scattered with moles and a daring short hair, remained in peoples minds. Her name was María Calvo Nodarse.

When she walked across the streets and the furtive glance of men followed her, provoking the scandalizing whisper of the ladies at that time. A night, when she was walking by the Louvre Street she got the nicknamed that made her famous: a young drunk man trying to compared her with the well known actress the Fornarina cried out: “there goes the duplicate of the Macorina!”.

The pedestrians assumed the mistake of the drunken man with joy and since then María lost her name. Many years afterwards the bis of a danzon made her immortal: “Ponme la mano aquí/ Macorina pon,/ Pon Macorina, pon.(Put your hand here Macorina. But the chance continued influencing Macorinas story. An accident made her well-known as an ultramodern and audacious woman. It is said that a worthy politician at that time hit her with his car provoking a minor permanent lameness.

In retribution to the damage the men gave her an expensive car as a gift. She was 25 years old when she assumed the challenge to obtain a drivers licence, something restricted to mens world in that moment. She not only obtained the license, but also became a passionate driver.

Many of her lovers were important politicians and businessmen, so she got other new and more expensive cars, four houses, jewels, furs and travels to Paris. But, the economic crisis of the 30s ended all the opulence and extinguished the Macorina.

She had to sell al her properties, including the nine cars. Some people say they saw her giving jars to the church of Guanajay; some others remember her as the host of a dating house in Principe Street. She installed in a modest pension in Centro Habana at the end. She changed her daring garments by serious black skirt and white blouses.

That purified woman, in appearance was not Macorina anymore. Nowadays, only the lyrics of that spicy song remains, and not everybody dares to sing it out loud.

Posted in Popular Traditions | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Babalochas and Iyalochas: Center of the santería

They are the fathers (babá in Yoruba language) and mothers (iyá) of the saint (ocha). They are the center of the Cuban santeria.

After several years of the initiation, and after obtaining the “licence” and the ache (gift), from the orishas, the consecrated can support other person who have to go on the saint ceremony, either voluntarily or by the indication of the oracles.

The consecrated will guide and advice them on their practices and cults as well as in their private and social life. Many years of relation with people and their problems, provide them of a great wisdom to solve their godsons and consultants diverse situations. Despite their strict austerity, they win a high prestige among believers. The babalocha or the iyalocha are the ones in charge of founding out the saint that should crown the head of the future devotee.

This consultation to the oracle is made through a ritual known as “bajar el caracol”. This is a rigorous research because the head of the new initiated member should only have the corresponding saint as father or eledda (guardian spirit), otherwise it will bring serious difficulties at the moment of the initiation ceremony and in the religious and personal life of the devotee.

Once they become godparents of the saint ceremony, the babalocha or the iyalocha prepares in his/her house an altar where the godson will live during seven days and nights.

The god son will reborn to a new life in a ritual of initiation, where the main ceremonies are secret. During that week the godparents will receive the help of other persons with different hierarchy within the religion. For example, the Oriaté, to read the Itá and conduct the ceremony, the Yimbona or Oyugbona who guides and helps the initiated in their actions. The babalochas and iyalochas could have several hundreds of godsons, some have even a thousand, but they are not all initiated devotees.

There are aleyos ( they register to solve a problem), of collar( only receive collars), of pray (they make the ebbó, made under their heads or any other part of the body to avoid tragic consequences).

Posted in Afrocuban, Religions | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Santería or Regla de Ocha

When you listen to the term santeria, dont think about the saints of the Catholic Church, but on the believes of different ethnic groups of the Yoruba African culture that arrive to Cuba during the traffic of slaves.

The Santeria or Regla de Ocha was formed in the western provinces of the Island at the end of the 19th century, and in the 30s it extended to the eastern provinces.

In this creed the orishas (deities) and the ancestors are worshiped, their main functions are to protect their devotees and guide their lives. In order to take decisions and have certain behaviours, the believers use the interpretation of the ample conceptual paradigms gathered in myths, legends, proverbs and sentences that characterized each deity.

The relationship spirit-fetish–magic has an especial place in this religious expression. The otanes (stones) are objects symbolizing the supernatural power of the orishas worshiped.

The ceremonies are also diverse, and have several objectives: initiation, propitiatory (ebbó), divination (oracle) and funerary (itufo). They express the concepts, ideas and religious representation of the devotees, who celebrate them regularly. The babalawo is the top figure in the hierarchy. He is followed by the babalochas( godfathers in the santeria) and the iyalochas( godmothers).

They are in charge of making the ceremony of consecration and to support the devotees. The oriaté are specialized on the reading and interpretation of the oracle Diloggún (snail), which deals with the elimination of the (itá), taboos the devotee will suffer during his/her life after the initiation.

The obba is another important figure. Its function is to supervise the consecratory ritual; on the other hand, oyubbona or yimbona accompanies and guides the newly born in all his/her actions during the seven days that last the ceremony to become a saint.

The devotees are organized in independent groups, beginning on the base of the religious family (godparents-godsons), it continues in the religious house (form by several families), and it can derive in to an independent branch. Havana has well known branches as: Ainayobo, Aldewaro, Ashakún, Atun, Awapitico, Oddun Tawade, Tillako, Ochailu, Maleque the great and Maleque the small, etc. Every group has a religious leader.

Posted in Afrocuban, Religions | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Caridad del Cobre: Patroness of Cuba

According to the legend, in 1613, two brothers of native origin and a black boy of nine or ten years old, went for salt to the Nipe Bay “in the northeast coast of Cuba”, and they saw under the sea the image of the Virgin Caridad del Cobre. It is also said the image was taken to the town Real of Minas, very near Santiago de Cuba, where are the largest layers of copper outdoors in America.

The neighbors received the discovery as a good signal from heaven, and built a hermitage to act as the temple of the religious idol immediately. On the side of the mine, the miners built the sanctuary, in the same place where the church that preserves the idol found under the water is placed today. That was the beginning of Cubans devotion for this image.

The Virgin Caridad del Cobre is also worshiped in Afro-Cuban syncretic cults as Ochún, the goddess of love and money, the patroness of the fresh waters. Her feast is on September 8th; even from the previous day offers of all kinds are made to her. The festivity is also related to Yemayá, the goddess of the sea. Her celebration takes place on September 7th.

During the wars of independence, since 1868, the Cuban troops expressed great devotion to the Virgin Caridad del Cobre and committed themselves to her protection. The veterans of the War of Independence requested the Pope Benedicto XV to proclaim the Virgin Caridad del Cobre as Patroness of Cuba. Some years later the Pope Pio XI authorized the canonical coronation of the sacred image. The morning of December 20, 1936 was celebrated the coronation by the bishop of Santiago de Cuba, Monsignor Valentin Zubizarreta.

The Sanctuary of Cobre offers a mass every morning. It was built in 1927, it has an silver altar and other ornamental objects of eat values. Under the Closet of the Virgin is the Chapel of the Miracles, a small room where the believers place diverse offers: golden jewels and gemstones, aid walks and other valuable objects. Around 500 people visit the place everyday.

The peregrines take with them tiny stone from the mine where the pieces of copper shine. They preserve them at home in a glass of water, in the pockets or purses, as a protection against the evil or as a way to see the light of the personal or familiar future.

The Pope Paul VI sent in December 30,th , 1977 as his delegate the Cardinal Bernardín Gantín, holder of the papal bull to proclaim Minor Basilica the former National Sanctuary. During his visit to Cuba in 1998 the Pope Juan Pablo II crowned and blessed the Virgin Caridad del Cobre.

Posted in Cultural Traditions | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Abakuá Secret Society

In Cuba, those persons belonging to the secret masculine society Abakuá are known as abakúa or ñañigo.

This kind of society is unique in the American continent. This association was founded in the first decades of the 19th century, a hostile moment for the slaves and the black persons. The form they found to avoid the repression and the harassment was a mutualistic religious group.

The first society composed by white persons was founded in the early 19th century and it was named Akanarán Efó Muñón Ekobio Mucarán. The founder was Andrés Facundo de los Dolores Petit, well known by his contribution to the Regla de Palo, and the elaboration of the conceptual body and ritual of the Kimbisa variant.

The antecedents of the abakuá or ñañiguismo are in the secret society that existed in Nigeria, Calabar. Its organization and content have the roots in the African legend that tells the story of the violation of a secret by a woman: the princess Sikan. She found the sacred fish Tanze and reproduced the roar in the sacred drum Eku.

The ñañiguismo can not be separated of the African believes about the existence of ancestor (spirits), thats why in all the ceremonies they are called to guaranty the development of the ritual according to rigorous liturgical norms. Its symbolic representation is the ireme or diablito.

All the activities of the cult are made in the temples. In all the rituals are used lines and graphics known as Ekeniyo which are an ideological –graphical system of signs to immobilize and attach the representation of global events. These symbols are painted with yellow and with yeast and they are divided in three categories: the Gandos, the Signs or Anaforuanas and the Seals.

The ñañigismo has several hierarchies. The Indisime is the applicant to enter into a potencia, the Obonekué is an already initiated man. The Plaza is a everlasting hierarchy with a relevant position in the juego. This person is in charge to preserve and to make follow the norms and ritual and social principles. The Iyamba, Mokongo, Ekueñón, Nkrikamo and Nasako have the title of Plaza. Only men are admitted in the secret society Abakua.

If you ask among its members about the concept of Man they will reply: ” It is not about those who are not homosexual but, those who reflect the purest dignity of the human beings, laboriousness, fraternity, joy, rebelliousness against injustice, and follower of the moral codes established by the ancestors, the pioneers of the Abakua; it is the good father, the good son, the good brother, the good friend.

Posted in Afrocuban, Religions | Tagged | Leave a comment