When hearing the word “Cuban”, most people immediately imagine the beautifully maintained old cars still used today; or, perhaps, envision a plate of delicious black beans and rice followed by an expensive Cuban cigar. However, Cuba is a complex culture that is much more than the stereotypes of cars, food, and cigars.
The largest of the Caribbean islands, Cuba was home to the Tainos, a branch of the Arawaks, until October 1492 when Christopher Columbus sighted the island. By 1514, Cuba was under Spanish rule and by 1542, less than 5000 Tainos (out of original 100,ooo ) remained on the island. Enslaved by the Spanish to work the large cattle plantations, the Tainos were quite literally worked to death and eventually replaced by Africans imported as replacements. Interestingly, in Cuba the imported Africans retained their tribal groupings – a fact that undoubtedly contributes to the fact that many aspects of African culture have endured and become integrated into Cuban culture.
Magical Realism and Alejo Carpentier
Although “magical realism” has become associated with Latin American writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, it was actually a Caribbean writer who was one of the earliest and most influential practitioners of this style -Alejo Carpentier! Born in Switzerland of a French father and Russian mother, Carpentier grew up in Cuba and claimed throughout his life that he had been born in Havana and was Cuban. A trained musicologist, in the 1920s Carpentier was among the founders of the Afro-Cuban movement that sought to incorporate African forms into avant-garde art, particularly music, dance, and the theatre (Britannica Online). To read more about Carpentier and his influence on magical realism click here.