A Colorful Reunion among Cubans and Africans in Sierra Leone

Vicente Morin Aguado

Alfredo Duquense, Emma Christopher and Sergio Leyva

HAVANA TIMES — This past November 2nd, on an invitation from photographer Sergio Leyva Seiglie, I attended an interesting exhibition titled Reencuentro (“Reunion”) which gathered photographs by this artist and sculptures by Alfredo Duquesne.

From their respective and unique points of view, the two artists captured a moving episode in the history of relations between Cuba and Sierra Leone, described by one of my colleagues in a previous Havana Times article.

The photographs and sculptures were put on display at Havana’s Casa de Africa, located on the corner of Obrapia and Mercaderes streets, which also afforded visitors a space where they could meet and converse with the artists, as well as share ideas with the director of a soon to be released documentary on the trip to Sierra Leone, the University of Sidney historian Emma Christopher.

It is impolite to ask a woman her age. It was interesting to learn, however, that, if she been born in Sierra Leone, the Australian researcher would probably not be among the living today, for, according to the statistics, this is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a life expectancy at birth of only 36 years.

Another reason for this short life expectancy can be caught sight of in some of Duquesne’s wooden sculptures: the consequences of a civil war that ravaged this African country for ten years, causing thousands of deaths and resulting in the mutilation of many, particularly as a result of the use of landmines (armaments which have been banned, internationally).

Despite so many calamities, history would finally treat us to this joy-filled encounter between members of the Ganga Longoba, a family of Yoruba practitioners whose oral traditions, reflected in the songs, dances and other rituals of the religion, survived at both shores of the Atlantic, standing the test of time, distance, the whims of politics and racism.

The origins of the Diago family, today living in the town of Perico, Matanzas (where a sugar refinery called the Santa Elena once operated) can be found in the slave trade, that is to say, the forceful relocation of African slaves to the Caribbean. In Cuba, slave owners would give their last names to their slaves.

After living among the people of Sierra Leone, Christopher traveled to Cuba to meet the folk music ensemble Ganga Longoba, who work to preserve the “black” dimension of our culture that they have tried to conceal from us since colonial times and which the pioneering efforts of researchers and artists like Fernando Ortiz, Alejandro Garcia Caturla and Nicolas Guillen (among others) have in part rescued.

The reunion in Sierra Leone was made possible by the consolidation of the complex religious universe of Yoruba brought about by poet and religious practitioner Romulo Latachañer’s La Santeria, which in turn draws from Don Fernando’s Los Negros Brujos (“The Black Sorcerers”).

Today, Sierra Leone appears to be moving definitively towards peace, putting behind the ethnic conflicts of the previous decade.

I hope the country’s abundant natural resources, particularly its precious stones and diamonds, will bring about the longed-for prosperity of this country that was systematically plundered by the Western powers that ravaged Africa for centuries, part of a continent that suffered the scourge of Capital like no other, a continent that, in the wise words of Karl Marx, came into the world completely covered in blood and filth.

I asked Emma Christopher for a written comment, and this is what she wrote: Sierra Leone is a beautiful, wonderful country with fantastic people. It is calm and totally safe. Anybody with Sierra Leonean heritage should be extremely proud to be from such a great place.

The one bright side to the nefarious slave trade is the African culture that has always defined us as a people. I hope its marvelous kaleidoscope will continue to turn and spread color around us.

Vicente Morín Aguado: [email protected]

One thought on “A Colorful Reunion among Cubans and Africans in Sierra Leone

  • This article was very interesting and I followed the links and read the whole series. I just returned from working in Sierra Leone and would like to point out two factual errors about the Sierra Leone war that are in this article. First, mutilations did not happen from landmines but from amputations (mostly of hands and arms) by two of the factions in the war. Second, the war was not an ethnic war but was an invasion of rebels (supported by Ghadaffi and Liberia) who were attempting to overthrow the corrupt one-party state. Check Wikipedia for these facts. Congratulations on making the trip to Sierra Leone and researching your heritage. The people there really are friendly and hospitable.

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