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.