When Squash Reigns Supreme

Dmitri Prieto

Giant squash plant.

HAVANA TIMES — When the markets in my neighborhood are running short on calabazas (squash) — those long and heavy Cuban calabazas that are reddish-yellow on the inside — I can’t help but remember an old conga song (or was it rumba?) sung by the Afro-Havanans of the late nineteenth century.

It went: “Because of the borokeo / the borokeo / the calabaza is a genera…”

The story behind this is as follows:

In 1898, Cuba was going through decisive moments of its third and final war of independence. Re-concentration (a measure exacted by the genocidal Spanish military government that grouped together the rural Cuban population into militarized camps near major cities) brought a halt to production in the Cuban countryside.

The military actions and logistics of the two contending armies also stifled agricultural productivity.

Notwithstanding, calabazas were still there. They would grow in any trench and provide sustenance to the first discoverer of its fruits.

Later, to make matters worse, the US declared war on Spain. This resulted in an impenetrable blockade being set up around the island by the powerful Yankee navy and consequently the disappearance of imported food.

This was when the blacks in Havana came up with the conga song (or was it rumba?): “Because of the borokeo (blockade) / the calabaza is a genera…” (that’s to say “General”, an upscale delicacy, like a V.I.P. of food).

This is the centenary tribute to the calabaza, which I recalled when looking up on the May Day dais. Today we have another “borokeo,” but the calabaza — although it can grows everywhere — remains a “General” because of the lack of anything that can take its place.



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.

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One thought on “When Squash Reigns Supreme

  • On behalf of squash worldwide, I resent your implications.

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