Mambi (pl mambises) is the term given to a soldier who fought for Cuba during the wars of independence against Spain, and is thought to originate from the name of a black Spanish officer (Eutimio Mambi) who deserted to join the rebels in the Dominican Republic. As some of the Spaniards who had fought the ‘men of Mambi’ were redeployed to fight in Cuba they noted a similar style of fighting and so used the same epithet, thinking it would be taken as an insult by the Cubans.
As often happens it had the reverse effect, and the Cuban Independence forces took up the name with pride. The name was later applied to a semi-automatic weapon manufactured in Cuba and used by the Cuban military during the Angolan Civil War of the 80’s.
None of which would I have known were it not for a railway carriage.
Deposited in a side street of Habana Vieja, is a long green railway carriage of the type seen in American Westerns, notably Once Upon a Time in the West.
“What was it doing here?” I pondered, until a brief examination revealed an information board featuring the plush accommodation inside as well as some detailed history. In Spanish.
Still the placard was enough to whet my appetite to discover more. This is El Coche Mambi Museum. Yes. A Museum.
It does have a history through – imported from the states at the beginning of the 20th Century this was the Presidential Carriage, its luxurious interior doubtless preserved as a reminder to the Cubans of the excesses of a pre-Communist era.
Or maybe they just like trains.