A Cultural Understanding of Cuba


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A Cultural Understanding of Cuba

  1. 1. 1 CubaA Cultural Understanding
  2. 2. 2 ContentsPage 1 Cover PagePage 2 ContentsPage 3 IntroductionPages 4-5 Chapter1: Cultural DifferencesPages 6-11 Chapter 2: Traditions and Customs of CubaPage 12 Chapter 3: The LanguagePage 13 Bibliography
  3. 3. 3 Introduction The Republic of Cuba (República de Cuba) is an island situated South-West ofthe USA in the Caribbean. As the most populous nation in the Caribbean with over 11million people living there, it offers a large tourist industry with its luxurious beaches andvibrant, Hispanic culture. Despite the existence of this expensive, deluxe side to Cuba suchas five star hotels in suburb cities such as Varadero, there is a great deal of poverty withinCuba especially within its capital, the city of Havana. Although it is believed that Cuba wasgiven its name by the Native American, Taíno language (where fertile land is abundant) theofficial language of Cuba is Spanish. In this project I aim to identify and explain cultural traditions of Communist Cuba andhow these differ to those of the UK, a capitalist country. I will talk about the things thatmake Cuba the country it is and the things that we recognise as the trademarks of theSpanish-speaking country.
  4. 4. 4 Chapter 1 Cultural Differences between the UK and CubaCulture: the ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular people orsociety.1 The most obvious difference between the United Kingdom and the island of Cuba isthe nature of the politics: Cuba is a strictly Communist country. This political factor is one ofthe main reasons why Cuban culture is the way that it is and why many believe that Cubanslive in a state of oppression under Fidel and Raul Castro’s Government. As a result of theCommunist regime until recently, Cuban citizens were not allowed to leave the country(despite the new and more relaxed laws it still takes many years for Cubans to obtain a visafrom the Government) - this lead to many dissatisfied people who decided to escape byboat to Florida (many of which were met by the Cuban navy leading to disastrousconsequences.) For example, when I went to Cuba in 2006 my family and I went ‘deep sea’fishing however we were hardly out of shallow water when the boat had to stop; thefishermen explained that if we went out any further the navy would suspect we were tryingto escape to Florida. This is a huge cultural difference between the Cuba and the UKbecause UK citizens have the right to leave the country whenever they wish and settle inanother- Cubans have much less freedom than we do. Cultural differences that arise from this sense of entrapment and exclusivity fromforeign nations are rife and I will go on to discuss famous examples of Cuban culture thatdiffer from the UK’s in the following chapters. A map showing the proximity of Cuba to the US State of Florida. In 2000, there were 1,097,594 Cubans in the USA.1 The Oxford Dictionary
  5. 5. 5Poverty Cuba’s economy is, in short, completely controlled by the Government with hardlyany private enterprises and resources are handing out to citizens in the form of rations (theUK has not seen rations since the Second World War showing how Cuba is economicallybackward in comparison.) The average wage for a factory worker in Cuba is 400 pesos andthe average wage for a doctor is about 700 pesos (the equivalent of 17-30 US dollars permonth) showing how wage differentials are very far from those of the UK- it is easy to seetherefore how this low income will have an effect of the culture and quality of life of Cubancitizens. For example, when I was in Cuba I was told by a worker at my hotel that a waiter ina Cuban tourist resort earns more money than a Cuban doctor due to the generous tipsfrom holiday-makers: the employment aspect of culture is entirely the opposite to that ofthe UK. Despite Cuba’s apparently vibrant culture (of which more later) it is important toremember that outside of the lavish Cuban resorts and tourist attractions, there is a worldof hunger and poverty (in 1991 Cuba lost subsidies meaning they were left to fend forthemselves- this lead to malnutrition.) When I visited the capital city, Havana, it wasshocking to see in excess of 10 people living in a one-room house and the streetsoverflowing with sewage- it was miles away from the world of salsa dancing and vibrancythat I was expecting and even further away from my hometown. A typical housing estate in Havana.
  6. 6. 6 Chapter 2 The Traditions and Customs of Cuba As I have already mentioned, the fact that Cuba is a Communist country has a hugeeffect on the customs, traditions and the overall culture of the nation and leads to the hugedifferences in culture between Cuba and the UK and other capitalist, more economicallydeveloped countries. There are many iconic cultural aspects of Cuba including the rum,sugar and cigar industries, powerful political figures such as Che Guevara, famous buildingssuch as the Cathedral of Saint Christopher, typical Cuban food and entertainment andimportant historical events such as the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Consideringthe fact that the UK’s climate makes its most prominent industries very different toCuba’s,the huge difference in political views between the countries, the tastes, preferencesand economic capability of citizens and lastly because of the relations with other nations thetwo countries have had throughout history, it is easy to see how the two cultures are largelycontrasting.Cuban industry In Cuba, industry accounts for 35% of the country’s GDP (gross domestic product)and it is probable that tourism to the Caribbean island accounts for a lot of the rest. Themost prominent industries within Cuba are: Sugar Cigars Rum Cuba has the ideal climatic conditions to produce both sugar and tobacco and it has been said that sugarcane has been ‘Cuba’s blessing.’ Having been introduced to the island by Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus), in the 19th century, it was the industry that assisted the abolition of slavery and the emergence of a new middle class. Another of the main cultural differences between Cuba and the UK is that Cuba is still largely an agricultural country whilst the UK’s industry/economy is dominated by the service sector which takes up 75% of its GDP. Children on a Cuban sugar plantation
  7. 7. 7 There are two main regions in Cuba that produce the 40 different brands of cigarthat are available: Pinar del Rio and Sancti Spiritus. It has been said that Cuban cigars are thebest in the world and ‘thick’ Cuban cigars are said to have the ability to burn slower andproduce a milder taste, however there are only a few places you are able to purchaselegitimate Cuban cigars on the island: airport duty free shops, hotel resort shops or‘Tiendos’ in Cuba, showing a cultural difference to the UK in that if a product is legal withinthe UK, the market is regulated so that it is available in almost every region. Cheap cigarscan be sold for around $50 and the most expensive usually sell for between $400-$500- wecan clearly see, therefore, that in Cuba, cigars are seen as a luxury good. Thus, there is anobvious cultural difference as in the UK we would not particularly value a cigar as aluxurious item i.e. both populations have different ideas as to what constitutes as a luxuryor a commodity. Cuban ‘Montecristo’ cigars are said to be the most famous and best- loved brand of cigar in the world. One of the most iconic Cuban experts is the rum with which the alcoholic drink‘Cuba Libre’ (Coca Cola and rum) is made. Cuba has often been called ‘The Isle of Rum’ dueto its incredibly fertile soil and its ‘Maestro Roneros’ which translate as ‘Master Rum-Makers.’ Bacardi and Havana Club Rum are perhaps the most famous and most-consumedrums around the world. Although the UK is not accustomed to exporting many alcoholicproducts (with the exceptions of Beefeater Gin, Newcastle Brown Ale etc) showing a culturaldifference, there is a cultural similarity in that Cubans, like UK citizens, obviously enjoy thesocial aspects of alcohol and appreciate it in the same way.
  8. 8. 8 Havana Club Rums Bacardi RumFood Cuban food is a fusion of Spanish, African and Caribbean cuisine. Usually it doesnot incorporate the spices that one might initially associate with Caribbean food, but relieson the flavourings of onion and garlic in its rice dishes for example. Because of the povertythat is rife on the island, citizens usually live off the simplest foodstuffs such as: rice, beans,bananas and very occasionally, potatoes. Often meat, especially chicken, pork and beef, isused in Cuban dishes despite the fact that livestock are government-owned. The day I wenton a tour of the capital city, Havana, I went to a typical Cuban restaurant; they served friedchicken, rice, beans and fried banana slices- it was surprisingly delicious. Cuban cuisine isquite obviously different to the variety of cuisines that exist within the UK (there are Indian,French, Chinese, Spanish and Mexican influences in particular) in many different ways,demonstrating further cultural differences.Music and Dance Cuban music was influenced by the African slaves that once provided Cuban labourand the European immigrants (mostly Spanish) who also brought their own style of music tothe land. With creolized lyrics and heavy emphasis on drumming, Cuban music is a mixtureof Hispanic flamenco, salsa and jazz music. Thus, as you can imagine it is very easy to danceto: an iconic feature of Cuba are the dancers who dress in vibrant, exotic and colourfuloutfits:
  9. 9. 9 Typical Cuban dancers performing the Salsa.Music in the UK is hugely contrasting with the multitude of genres and styles itencompasses. For example, if we looked at current, popular artists like Adele and The Script,it is easy to notice the huge differences between the pace and style of the music. Thispresents a cultural difference in the form of people’s tastes, preferences and appreciation oftypes of music. The fact that Cuban music is derived from the slavery tradition is hugelydifferent to the origins of British music showing that perhaps Cuban culture relies moreheavily on tradition.Famous Buildings There are not many iconic buildings on the island of Cuba but perhaps the mostrecognisable would be The Cathedral of Saint Christopher of Havana: Catedral de SanCristóbal de La Havana, situated in the main square of the capital city. This 18th century, Baroque masterpiece was once home to some of the explorer,Christopher Columbus’, remains between 1796 and 1898. However, owing to the pride ofhis home nation, Spain, they demanded that all of his remains should be housed in theSeville Cathedral in Spain. The beautiful architecture, the wonderful paintings within and the
  10. 10. 10history of the cathedral mean that it is still an immensely popular tourist attraction whenpeople visit Havana. Because the UK is home to some wonderful cathedrals and religious buildings, wecan see a cultural similarity between Cuba and the UK in that both cultures appreciate andrevere beautiful architecture and the history of many buildings and that the two nations areproud of their own heritage and traditions.Famous People of CubaChe Guevara Although Guevara was originally from Argentina, his involvement in overthrowing the US-backed, Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, has led him to being a national hero. He played an active role in the succeeding Government, being actively involved in the Bay of Pigs Invasion (1961) and The Cuban Missile Crisis (1962.) Having been named by the American magazine ‘Time’ one of 100 most influential men of the 20th century, he has become a worldwide political icon (you can often see his face on t- shirts in many different countries.)Fidel Castro Castro is a Cuban Communist Revolutionary who was the President of Cuba until recently in 2006 his ill-health meant his power was succeeded by his younger brother, Raúl Castro. Castro was the leader of the movements mentioned above and led them alongside with Guevara (his close friend) and his brother. Castro’s political viewpoints have caused him to become a named inspiration to iconic leaders and figures such as Nelson Mandela.
  11. 11. 11 Despite the fact that Cuba is dissimilar to the UK in that it does not produce manycelebrities who are famous for things such as art, singing and sport nor does it produce anyreality TV stars (there are no equivalents to people such as Kim Kardashian in Cuba forexample) the two cultures are similar in that they have fabricated popularity for importantpolitical figures who have made a difference in society e.g. in the UK we are renowned forproducers leaders such as Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair etc.
  12. 12. 12 Chapter 3 The Language The official language of Cuba is Spanish. The language was perhaps brought to theisland of Cuba by European immigrants following the journey of Christopher Columbus andhis tales of the island and during the expansion of the Spanish empire in the 15 th century.Now, there are 407 million people around the world who speak Spanish making it thesecond-most spoken language by native speakers, following Chinese Mandarin. It is themost widely understood language in the Western Hemisphere and recently has become thesecond-most studied language and second-most used language in internationalcommunication, after English. The English and Spanish languages are said to be ‘cousins’ for they have a sharedancestor: ‘Indo-European.’ In addition, they are further related by the fact that a lot ofmodern English words are derived from the French language and this language and theSpanish language are said to be ‘sisters.’Example of Similarities 1. Spanish words that end in ‘ción’ often end in ‘tion’ in English: nación- nation, stación- station, publicación- publication. 2. Many Spanish words substitute the ‘ph’ in English words for an ‘f’: foto- photo. 3. The ‘ly’ of English adverbs are replaced with ‘-mente’ in Spanish: profusamente- profusely, prudentemente- prudently. 4. Often the ‘ist’ at the end of English occupations are replaced by an ‘ista’ ending in Spanish: dentista-dentist, artista- artist. 5. Spanish adjectives which end with ‘oso’ are similar to English adjectives which end with ‘ous’: nervioso- nervous, famoso- famous. There are many other examples of word derivations and similarities between the languages, these are but a few.
  13. 13. 13 BibliographyGoogle Imageshistoryofcuba.comwww.kwintessential.co.uknationalencyclopedia.comThe Bay of Pigs: Background Informationtherumelier.comspanish.about.comWikipedia2000 American Census