The Dreadlocks Attract Pepas

Dariela Aquique

Rastas y turistas en el café.

In the street lingo of Santiago de Cuba, male tourists have been dubbed “pepes” and their female counterpart “pepas.”

Sitting in the busy Plaza Dolores, or in what might poorly be described as a boulevard, or sipping a not-so-aromatic cup of coffee at the Isabelica café, I look with indulgence at the “rastas.”  With their theatrical manners, their bright colored way of dress, with their behavior — in my grandiloquent opinion — they stop at nothing to go unnoticed.

Without fear of seeming ignorant, I admit that for a long time I believed they were no more than some kind of socio-cultural group.  Later I heard the phrase “religious sect,” and this forced me to look for more authoritative information.

This was how what could be called a personnel investigative study into a certain social group began.  I looked for reliable sources of information regarding the “original Rastafarian movement,” while my detective-like desire would be aided in the method of observation.

Adriano, a Santiago de Cuba Rastafarian

I discovered that from early in the morning “the rastas” would occupy the best places in the park or the coffee shop, impatient in their hunt for the first tourist to enter.  For the time dedicated to this business, it’s easy to deduce that none of them have real jobs (in these cases self-employed worker evades the recent laws levying taxes on personal income).

Upon the arrival of foreigners, one of these guys immediately approaches a European woman and with a shameful accent asked her what country she was from.  Evidently not understanding a single word, she smiled, which he interpreted as an unequivocal sign of flirtation.

They go around involved in a number of hustles: one peddles cigars, another with a system of signs will bless your coffee and there’s even one who will pose for a photo near the sculpture “The Black Woman and the Pylon.”

Rasta event in El Cobre, Santiago de Cuba

The dreadlocks and the reggae music blasting at unimaginable decibels levels, fused with popular jargon, will make for the unique tropical version of Rastafarianism of some jineteros (street hustlers), though this has nothing to do with the true postulates of the authentic movement. I should make it clear that there does exist real rastas in Santiago.

To be convinced, I approached one of them and tried to find out why he wore dreadlocks?

“Is it part of a ritual?” I asked.

…to which he responded, “No, mommy, dreadlocks attract pepas.”