Most modern countries are a melting pot of different cultures, all coming together to form a national identity. While this is still the case in Cuba, the country’s often turbulent history has lent a hand to make the island nation undeniably unique. You could spend the rest of your life in the country and still keep learning things about the culture of Cuba. Since you probably don’t have that much time to spend there (although there are worse places to spend a lifetime), it’s time to look at some of the things that make Cuban culture just so interesting.

The Indigenous People

The indigenous population of Cuba (and indeed, of many islands in the region) are known as Taino. Some 30 years after the Spanish settled Cuba, it’s estimated that the Taino population had decreased by anywhere between 80% and 90%. This was due to unfamiliar diseases to which the Taino had no immunity. While Cuba had (and still has) abundant natural resources, there was greatly increased competition for food. There are very few Taino left in Cuba, but a number of their descendents can be found in and around the city of Baracoa, in the east of the island. They survived here since the region is difficult to access from the rest of the island. The indigenous culture of Cuba is not widely known, and yet is still fascinating.

The Party Life

The boundaries between cafes, restaurants, bars and nightclubs can be blurred in Cuba. You might be enjoying a leisurely dinner only to have an awesome salsa band pick up their instruments and start jamming, with much of the restaurant turning into a dancefloor. The same thing happens in nightclubs… you might be used to a DJ playing electro or pop or whatever the club tends to offer. This still happens in Cuban nightclubs, but much later in the evening, with the first few hours dedicated to a salsa band… and boy, does everyone hit the dancefloor!

The Religious Culture of Cuba

When a communist or even a socialist government takes power, the people of the country are often discouraged from religious worship (who needs God when the state gives you all you need?). This was very much the case after the Cuban revolution when those who were openly religious could be legally marginalised. This began to change in 1976, where certain religious freedoms were allowed, and total religious freedom was granted in 1992. Cuba has many astoundingly beautiful churches, and yet they were not used for their intended purpose for many years. The religious culture of Cuba has flourished in recent years, although only a small percentage of the population worship on a regular basis.

Culinary Culture

Traditional Cuban fare is heavily influenced by Spanish, Caribbean, and even African cultures. Cuba was once home to thousands of African slaves who were used to work the fields. A typical Cuban plate will feature rather a lot of meat, usually with rice. It’s not as boring as it sounds, since the meat will have been delicately spiced and seasoned and cooked to perfection. Vegetables are rarely the key component of a main dish, and vegetarians might be somewhat disappointed in certain restaurants. Vegans might end up being very hungry! Restaurant food used to be of very poor quality, since because they were licenced by the state, competition was not an issue. Now that restaurants have been deregulated, the food scene has changed very quickly and you can find sensational food… even if you’re vegetarian.

Cuban Literature

Ernest Hemingway will be forever associated with Cuba, and his home on the outskirts of Havana is now a museum (which is well worth a visit). Cuba also has a number of native literary heroes, and it’s kind of beautiful that one of the greatest heroes in the culture of Cuba is a poet. José Martí (1853 – 1895) was a poet and philosopher who might not be so widely known outside of Cuba, but is a veritable legend in his homeland. His writing was critical of the Spanish control of Cuba, and roused people in the lead-up to the Cuban War of Independence (1895 – 1898). He actually died in the opening battles of the war, and there is now an impressive war memorial in his memory, located in Central Havana.

Culture on Four Wheels

While the US imposed trade embargo against Cuba is soon to be a thing of the past, those classic US cars will remain on Cuban roads for quite a while. Even though new cars will be brought onto the island, it’s not as though many people will be able to afford them. Those 1950’s beauties will continue to be lovingly maintained and give the streets a vibrancy not seen in any other country. Foreign collectors will be disappointed if they were planning to ship any of these old cars to a private collection. Strict Cuban export laws make it virtually impossible to remove cars from the island.

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One Comment

  1. Groovy Planet

    This description makes good reading. It´s teasing. I should go to Cuba for a Mojito … 😉

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