Culture, Globe, Migrants, Multiculture, On Stage, Our People, United Kingdom, Visual Arts

Dancing in memory of the immigrants

On the Caribbean island of Cuba there is a unique group, which builds on tradition, and for 90 years has kept alive the heritage of members of the diaspora and the culture of their ancestors.

 

 Mayra Pardillo Gómez

 

Its repertoire includes dances from Lanzarote, Tenerife and La Palma, the islands that produced most of the Spanish immigrants who arrived in the largest of the Antilles, seeking economic improvement.
The group Danza Isleña Portadora de Pozas is recognised as representing the cultural heritage of the Canary Islands in America, a designation which highlights the deep roots of Spanish culture in the area of Pozas, located in Cabaiguán, Sancti Spiritus, whose provincial capital is 350km to the east of Havana.

As the only group in the country that continues an almost extinct tradition —even in its place of origin, the Canary Islands— it preserves the features and the melodies learned from the men and women who settled in the area.

La Danza Isleña Portadora de Pozas began its work of preserving the traditional dances of the Canary Islands in 1929, thanks to the repertoire brought to this Caribbean land, and to Cabaiguán in particular —considered the Canarian capital— by Don José Garcés, a native of Los Realejos.

First steps

Garcés took the first steps, by creating an ensemble of musicians to perform at the Santa Lucía festivities, following the tobacco harvest in the fertile lands of Cabaiguán.

The name of the dance group comes from a small neighbourhood to the south of Cabaiguán, which, like the whole area, served as an entry point for emigrants from the seven islands; and all the more so from 1902, when the central railway and its thunderous locomotives reached the area.

In the beginning, the group comprised two guitars, a mandolin, a timbre, a tambourine and a clarinet, though this varied depending on the occasion, and traditional Cuban instruments were added to the mix.

Later on, when Juan (Chimijo) Hernández, born in Mazo, emigrated to Cuba, he incorporated a dance troupe and added floral arches.

Between 1950 and 1980 its members only performed at family gatherings, but in 1982 when the Municipal Cultural Centre was opened, instructor Felicia Estepa —director of the group— along with others, initiated its revival.

The repertoire has been strengthened, and now includes valses, malagueñas, polkas, folías and pasodobles, amongst other melodies, and typical costumes and colourful woven belts have been added to the dances.

This group has participated in the Jornadas Cucalambeanas (national festivals of rural folklore); exchanges with groups from Venezuela and the Canary Islands; and as guests at the Festivales Huellas de España (Footprints of Spain Festival).

It is building up a treasure chest of prizes, such as the Memoria Viva, awarded in 2000, and the Cultura Comunitaria in 2001.

Canarian immigrants arrived with their suitcases packed full of customs, preferences and traditions; they also retained their taste for wines, potatoes, mojos (sauces), stews and gofio (toasted maize meal).

Dances, symbolism and colours

According to the sources consulted, the costumes used are the same as those worn by rural inhabitants of Tenerife in the 18th and 19th centuries. Garcés made just one modification, swapping the long sleeves of the jackets worn by both men and women for short sleeves, to alleviate the heat.

In 1957, the Canaries were dispersed throughout Cabaiguán, with streets carrying the names of the seven Spanish islands: Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro.

The islanders spread throughout the countryside and settlements of Sancti Spíritus, such as Taguasco, Zaza del Medio, La Rana, Guayos, Pedro Barba, Neiva, Pozas, Motas, El Guajén, Fomento or Cabaiguán, according to the book Isleños en Cuba (Islanders in Cuba) by Manuel Hernández.

The emigrants firstly became the driving force behind the development of tobacco, and subsequently the sugar industry.

According to scholars, today most of the descendants of the original islanders live in the country’s central region, mainly in Cabaiguán, Taguasco and Zaza del Medio, in Sancti Spíritus province.

(Translated by Rebecca Ndhlovu Email: rebeccandhlovu@hotmail.co.uk) – Photos: Pixabay

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