Jorge Milanes Despaigne
HAVANA TIMES — They come here from Africa to study medicine. You can see them walking through the streets of Havana, though they pass by almost unnoticed since there’s not much difference between them and us. When they speak is when you realize their origin.
It struck me that I’d never seen them wearing necklaces, bracelets and other accessories of a religious nature, like we do with pride, even though it was thanks to black African slaves that their cultures were transported here to the Americas.
Yesterday at lunch time, a group of these African students had gathered on the corner. One of them asked me, in basic Spanish, where the “Catalejo” Cafe was located. So, after giving him the directions, I took that opportunity to ask him about the issue of religious ornamentation – or the lack of it.
He told me that they didn’t wear the same religious attire that we do because most of them are Christians and Muslims. He said they don’t practice traditional African animist belief systems and that many of them are unaware of the ethnic groups that existed over time, developing and disappearing in their respective countries.
The situation is such that today, in some parts of Africa, these ancient religious practices are looked down upon as indications of social backwardness.
After listening, I explained to him about the African-based religions here in Cuba and how these are the product of a “transculturation” process. This is the syncretization of elements based on the cultures of Europeans, indigenous peoples, and to a lesser extent on Asians (Chinese), which gave rise to diverse magical-religious belief systems – with a strong African component.
I told him how I felt dismayed to find out that these same elements weren’t found among them — as they are a part of our motherland — despite their also having been colonized by Europe, but that’s another topic.