Afro-Cubans (Afro-Cubanos) are Cubans who are mostly of Sub-Saharan African ancestry. The term Afro-Cubans includes the historical or cultural elements in Cuba thought to emanate from this community as well as the combining of African and other cultural elements found in Cuban society such as race, religion, music, language, the arts, and class culture.
Beautiful and Music-loving Afro-Cubans. Courtesy http://blog.moodifoodi.com/
Unlike other Latin American countries where African descendants can be found in particular region with the state, Afro-Cubans on the other hand can be found in every corner of Cuba. However, Eastern Cuba has a higher concentration of blacks than other parts of the island, and Havana has the largest population of blacks of any city in Cuba. Recently, many African immigrants have been coming to Cuba, especially from Angola. Also, immigrants from Jamaica and Haiti have been settling in Cuba, most of whom settle in the eastern part of the island, due to its proximity to their home country, further contributing to the already high percentage of blacks on that side of the island.
Afro-Cuban dancers perfom in Havana during the Wemilere festival, a traditional event recognizing African roots. AFP/Getty Images
It must be emphasized that until the last decades of the 18th Century, Cuba was a relatively underdeveloped island with an economy based mainly on cattle raising and tobacco farms. The intensive cultivation of sugar that began at the turn of the nineteenth century transformed Cuba into a plantation society, and the demand for African slaves, who had been introduced into Cuba from Spain at the beginning of the 16th century, increased dramatically. Afro-Cubans are descendants of diverse African ethnic groups shipped to Cuba to cultivate the sugarcane plantation thereby enriching the European capitalists.
The enslaved Africans were from ports of Elmina, Pepper Coast, Dahomey, bight of Biafra, and Central and East African ports. The ethnic groups that formed the core parts of the enslaved Africans were particularly Yoruba (or Lucumi), Igbo and Kongo (Bantu people), but also Arará (Ewe, Fon, Aja, Mina), Carabalí (Efik, Ibibio, Ekoi, Annang), Mandingo, Fula (Fulani/Fulbe), Makua, Mina (Akans, and other Gold Coast slaves) and others.
The shipment of Africans into slavery in Cuba, especially transportation of slaves from the West African coast exploded, and it is estimated that almost 400,000 Africans were brought to Cuba during the years 1835-1864. (That's roughly 1150 per month for 29 years!) As early as 1532, the blacks formed 62.5 percent of the population. In 1841, African slaves made up over 40% of the total population.
Beautiful Afro-Cuban wome in their traditional dress
Apart from enslaved Africans that came directly from the continent of Africa, there was a large number of Haitians and Jamaicans that were imported to Cuba. "Toward the end of 1912, Gómez authorized the United Fruit Company to bring in 1,400 Haitians. Under Menocal, from 1913-21, 81,000 Haitians and 75,000 Jamaicans were admitted." In addition it is estimated that from 1913 to 1927 40,000 negroes a year were smuggled in. Since then and owing to the prolonged economic crisis, few have been brought in even illegally. The companies which have brought in black people during the period of the Republic, were supposed to send them back at the end of their yearly contract, but this was evaded. As El Pais wrote: "The Haitian immigration comes for the zafra, but soon is diverted toward the towns and never goes back to the plantations of his own country, the result being that the following year it is necessary to introduce another contingent."
The late flourishing of the Cuban sugar industry and the persistence of the slave trade into the 1860s are two important reasons for the remarkable density and variety of African cultural elements in Cuba. Fernando Ortiz Counted the presence of over one hundred different African ethnic groups in 19th century Cuba, and estimated that by the end of that century fourteen distinct "nations" had preserved their identity in the mutual aid associations and social clubs known as cabildos, societies of free and enslaved blacks from the same African "nation," which later included their Cuban-born descendants.
Afro-Cuban woman with her cigar
The population estimates of Afro-Cubans in Cuba is a very controversial issue culminating in number of figures aimed at lowering the number of Afro-Cubans so as to ensure the Cuban state`s continuous subjugation and discrimination of the blacks. Recent (2002) population census estimates range from 11.06 million to 11.17 million. At least 50% of the population is classified as mulatto (mixed African and European descent), although the cultural privilege assigned to whiteness probably causes many mulattos to minimize their African heritage. 37% percent of the population claims to be exclusively white, and 11% is classified as "negro." The remaining 1% is Chinese, the result of the importation of 132,000 Chinese indentured laborers between 1853 and 1872 to replace the loss of labor caused by the impending end of African slavery.
Actress Gina Torres of Suit TV series is Afro-Cuban descent
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Afro-Cubans in houston, Texas
Palo involves a specialized cult of the dead with emphasis on magic practices such as pacts with the dead, typically made in a graveyard along with the creation of a nganga. This nganga is placed in a special iron cauldron filled with ritual objects of nature (bones and sticks) and imbued with magical powers. All of these practices and attributes of sorcery with the dead (trabajos con muertos) involve the idea of evil witchcraft and make Palo experts or leaders very much feared and regarded as dangerous. In Miami, as in Cuba, they have made the headlines by stealing corpses for use in their ngangas. The Africans themselves were implicated by this negative image as they capitalized, to their advantage, on the fear of their sorcery by the whites in power. All these magic rites have earned Palo the epithet of “the dark side of Santería,” the term encompassing in this instance not only the Regla de Ocha but also the Congo-based cults. The various forms of Palo Monte practices feature deities taken both from the syncretism of Catholic saints and the Yoruba orichas.
Afro-Cuban Religion: Santeria Temple (Cabildo de los Congos Reales de San Antonio)
Afro-Cuban Creole Choir of Cuba. The descendants of Haitian immigrants that settled in Cuba until the late fifties, The Creole Choir of Cuba is a ten-piece ensemble of voices and percussion who sing the music of their ancestors in a highly personal manner. Singing in Creole (Haiti’s second language), their lyrics speak about their history and heritage. Some songs were written centuries ago, while others, like “Tande,” were composed to talk about the cruel years of the Duvalier regime. Their rhythms are very Cuban, though. Upon hearing them at first, you feel that you are listening to a very roots-based sound of Afro-Cuban music. But when the lyrics begin, you notice that it is not Spanish. The music is often syncopated, with different layers performed by the women and men in the group, and the melodies are followed by dance moves that might include audience members who are pulled in by the group as they walk around the audience. (Ernest Barteldes)
Songing bird Christina Milian is of Afro-Cuban ancestry
Actress Rosario Dawson is of Afro-Cuban ancestry
Actor Laz Alonzo is of Afro-Cuban ancestry
Santeria Dancers at Casa de Africa