Santería (Habana 49)

Culture is permeable.

Take a set of values and beliefs and transplant them into a new setting and watch how they change and evolve in unpredictable ways. Disney learnt this when they launched Euro Disney Resort in 1992.  In my experience the employees in Florida have always been positive and proactive.  Trying to recreate this in France didn’t achieve the same results.  In business terms the culture of an organisation is “the way we do things round here”.  Surly and non-committal seemed to be the outcome in Paris, and for this and variety of other reasons the operation struggled and was rebranded ten years later in an attempt to erase bad memories.

Cuba’s history features a cultural transplant that evolved too.

The import of slaves into the Caribbean meant that a variety of tribal and religious traditions were uprooted and deposited in these new lands, where Christianity, (and in Cuba’s case Roman Catholicism) was expected to supplant those traditions.

In some cases it did.  In other cases unusual blends, known as syncretic religions originated, of which Haiti’s Voodoo is probably best known.

With the majority of slaves originating from West Africa (for ease of supply onto ships heading for the New World) many Yoruba myths and beliefs made the journey.  In Cuba these developed into Santería.Havana-6

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Salvador

In Habana Centro, a small alley provides an incredible insight into this religion.

A single artist, Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, has taken Santería as the inspiration for a colourful transformation of murals and sculptures that has become the centre of Afro-Cuban culture in Havana.  Here small children enounter The Little Prince, not in book form, but in murals painted in bathtubs.  Rumba dancers congregate on here on Sundays.  There is a small stall selling Santería herbal remedies, and a bar serving a peculiar cocktail that I declined to sample.  Have you seen Live and Let Die?

My guide around Callejon de Hamel, which is what the alley is called, enthusiastically told how in Santería yellow was good for sexual energy.  Of course, given his outfit he would say that.  He also introduced me to this device – The Cuban Internet!

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