Cuba's lesson

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« As you are the smallest
of my children, you will be the biggest
on both the earth and in the sky. Nothing will
reach me if it is not through you. You will
thus always be the first served. »
The supreme god Olofi to the child-god Eleggua,
according to the oral tradition of the santer’a.

Do tourists notice the multicoloured bracelets and necklaces that many men and women wear in Havana ? Simple accessories ? This jewelry in fact signifies their wearer’s level of initiation in the santería (or Regla de Ocha) cult, a religion inherited from African animism and which is practiced today by a large part of the Cuban population.
The long initiation into the santería involves a profound work on the self based on the allegorical tales of the life of the orichas divinities, which has been passed down orally over the centuries. They make up a teaching which places love and respect of the family and of others at the centre of the initiate’s code of conduct. These incantatory practices convey the rhythms, dances and songs of the black slaves, and have blended Spanish and African cultural elements, which explains many Cubans’ feeling of identification with, and belonging to, the santería. Knowing where you come from helps to know where you are going. Syncretism, religion, philosophy, or a way of life, the santería contributes to giving a profoundly changing society a sense of cohesion.
It also calls it into question, along with the other cult or cultural practices, as the different articles in this dossier demonstrate. But not as a separate entity. This dual movement is undoubtedly the lesson Cuba’s cultural blending has to give : if the African cultures exist as they do everywhere where they are in the minority, but are present as a force of resistance and subversion of the dominant system, it is through fusion and not separation. In other words, it is not withdrawing into fixed identities which keeps a society moving, but rather its aptitude to blend.
A fine lesson which, in spite of the pain of repression, relegates the recent condemnation of the « gang of four » dissidents to long prison sentences to the anecdotes of History. For, as Pedro Perez-Sarduy magnificently put it in 1963 in his famous poem Liturgia after that fateful Sunday when four school-girls were killed in a bomb attack in Birmingham, Alabama : Pero un día/ El crecer del canto provocará una procesión/ De sombras/ Imantadas al continente/ Buscando donde guarecer el sabor de un árbol/ Donde dejar los eslabones de un pedazo de piel/ Donde sangrar en paz (But one day/ the raising of the song will provoke a procession/ Of shadows/ Magnetized to the continent/ Seeking where to shelter the flavour of a tree/ Where to bequeath the mesh of a piece of skin/Where to bleed in peace.)

///Article N° : 5344


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