The ‘Pearl of the Antilles’, Cuba pulsates to the rhythms of its Latin and African origins. The land of the rumba and the salsa, this Caribbean jewel has been partying for centuries; since black slaves began holding dances to commemorate the festivals of Corpus Christi and Epiphany. Indeed, Carnival can justifiably be considered one of the island’s oldest traditions.
Until the late 1990s, Carnival was always held earlier in the year to coincide with its religious roots, a time when the Spanish overlords allowed their slaves a few days off to reproduce the songs and dances of their African homeland. For the past few years though the festival has moved to the summer months, when the streets of Havana and Santiago de Cuba explode in a riot of colour and comparsas (performing groups). The largest and most traditional of the carnival celebrations take place in Santiago, whilst in Havana there is music, dancing, outrageous costumes and fireworks, with parades running the length of the Malécon, Havana’s broad waterfront.
As well as the faroleros dancers and the hypnotic blend of traditional and contemporary music, the parades also include allegorical floats and the imposing presence of the Muñecones, huge satirical caricatures of well-known politicians and other famous people. Many of the groups that take part in the festival are drawn from the neighbourhoods of the Cuban capital and much community pride goes into their performances. Each year one day is also set aside specifically for children, with clowns and magicians joining the thronging masses.
For anyone who has never experienced Carnival before, it is a dazzling kaleidoscope of Cuban rhythm, dance and colour and every year spectators are invited to join in with the fun. For those looking to immerse themselves fully into Cuban culture, this visual treat is also a great time to experience a rich range of Cuban cuisine, with roasted pig (puerco asado), tamales and chicharritas on offer…all washed down with some cold Cuban beer or some of the island’s famous rum.
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