Dmitri Prieto

Havana Umbrellas

Right now Cuban farmers are saying there aren’t going to be mangos this year because the rains came early and destroyed the fragile flowers of the mango trees.

Most people scramble through the streets of Havana without thinking a lot about the summer months, when fruit ripens on the island, because they have to deal with the problems of today.

Comments have even been made on television about the lack of food in markets.  People come and go in these outdoor marketplaces —during their working hours or on the weekends— searching among the daily shortages for the source of their daily subsistence.  This too is part of what is called being “in the struggle,” as I described in a previous post.

Since it’s been raining frequently, people walk around with their umbrellas, which can be needed from one moment to the next.  As all Cubans know, there can be sun and a clear sky the whole morning on the island, and then —unpredictably— it turns gray and in less than three minutes a torrential cloudburst is pouring down.  Therefore it’s necessary to be prepared and well equipped.

As people circulate around Havana with their umbrellas, I’m surprised to find they almost always hold them perpendicular to their bodies, meaning parallel to the ground. This is to say umbrellas are carried beside people (women and men) like an odd phallic accessory that uniquely reconstructs the space that a person’s body occupies. Each umbrella is carried with the handle pointing forward and the tip behind – like the long katana sword of a samurai.

I’ve wondered about this peculiar practice of Cubans carrying umbrellas as if they were Japanese swords. It’s not at all like the English manner of holding an umbrella vertically, beside one’s body similar to a cane; rather, the Cuban fashion allows it to serve as an impediment against other people, almost a territorial warning: “Don’t come any closer.” …Part of the dynamics of our daily annoyances.  The Japanese samurais were famous for their ritual courtesy, the same as the British dandies.

Japan, Great Britain and Cuba are just islands in oceans of salt water, where rain is fresh water that sometimes refreshes us from the sky, more or less frequently depending on the geography and weather.  But in each case one has to be prepared to enter into the street.


Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

One thought on “Samurais a la Cubana

  • Dreadful habit, wielding an umbrella like a weapon, defining your space by the sweep of the tip behind you, potentially piercing the thighs of anyone too close, but it does happen in the UK frequently, and, boy, do we have crowds. (The UK is only a little longer than Cuba but maybe twice as wide and we have over 6 times as many inhabitants…) So sorry about the damaged mango harvest, and the shortages, but, Dmitri, does the rain make up a bit for the drought? I haven’t got a handle on how bad that is.

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