Afro-Cubans are Cubans who mostly have West African ancestry. The term Afro-Cuban can also refer to historical or cultural elements in Cuba thought to emanate from this community, and the combining of native African and other cultural elements found in Cuban society such as race, religion, music, language, the arts and class culture.[2]

Total population
(35.9% of the Cuban Population)[1] (2012)
Afro-Cuban religions
Abakuá, Arará religion, Cuban Vodú, Palo, Santería
Popular religions
Predominantly Roman Catholic, minorities of Protestant
Related ethnic groups
Arará, Cape Verdean Cuban, Ganga-Longoba, Haitian Cuban, Lucumí people


According to a 2002 national census which surveyed 11.2 million Cubans, 1.1 million Cubans described themselves as Afro-Cuban or Black, while 5.8 million considered themselves to be "mulatto" or "mestizo".[3] Thus a significant proportion of those living on the island affirm some African ancestry. The matter is further complicated by the fact that a fair number of people still locate their origins in specific native African ethnic groups or regions, particularly the Yoruba (or Lucumí), Akan, Arará and Congo, but also Igbo, Carabalí, Mandingo, Kissi, Fula, Makua and others.

A study from 2014 estimated the genetic admixture of the population of Cuba to be 70% European, 22% African and 8% Native American.[4]

Although Afro-Cubans can be found throughout Cuba, Eastern Cuba has a higher concentration of Afro-Cubans than other parts of the island and Havana has the largest population of Afro-Cubans of any city in Cuba.[5] Recently, many native African immigrants have been coming to Cuba, especially from Angola. Also, immigrants from Jamaica and Haiti have been settling in Cuba, most of whom settle in the eastern part of the island, due to its proximity to their home countries, further contributing to the already high percentage of blacks on that side of the island.[5]

The percentage of Afro-Cubans on the island increased after the 1959 Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro due to mass migration from the island of the largely white Cuban professional class.[6] A small percentage of Afro-Cubans left Cuba, mostly for the United States, (particularly Florida), where they and their U.S.-born children are called Cuban Americans, Hispanic Americans and African Americans. Only a few of them resided in nearby Spanish-speaking country of Dominican Republic and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

The now-defunct Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami put the percentage of Cuba's black population at 62%.[7] The Minority Rights Group International says that "An objective assessment of the situation of Afro-Cubans remains problematic due to scant records and a paucity of systematic studies both pre- and post-revolution".[8]

Afro-Cuban descendants in Africa

African Countries such as Nigeria, the home of the Yoruba and Igbo cultures, and Equatorial Guinea experienced an influx of ex-slaves from Cuba brought there as indentured servants during the 17th century, and again during the 19th century. In Equatorial Guinea, they became part of the Emancipados; in Nigeria, they were called Amaros. Despite being free to return to Cuba when their tenure was over, they remained in these countries marrying into the local indigenous population. The former slaves were brought to Africa by the Royal Orders of September 13, 1845 (by way of voluntary arrangement) and a June 20, 1861, deportation from Cuba, due to the lack of volunteers. Similar circumstances previously occurred during the 17th century where ex-slaves from both Cuba and Brazil were offered the same opportunity.

Angola also has communities of Afro-Cubans, Amparos. They are descendants of Afro-Cuban soldiers brought to the country in 1975 as a result of the Cuban involvement in the Cold War. Fidel Castro deployed thousands of troops to the country during the Angolan Civil War. As a result of this era, there exists a small Spanish-speaking community in Angola of Afro-Cubans numbering about 100,000.


Haitian Creole and culture first entered Cuba with the arrival of Haitian immigrants at the start of the 19th century. Haiti was a French colony, and the final years of the 1791–1804 Haitian Revolution brought a wave of French settlers fleeing with their Haitian slaves to Cuba. They came mainly to the east, and especially Guantánamo, where the French later introduced sugar cultivation, constructed sugar refineries and developed coffee plantations. By 1804, some 30,000 French were living in Baracoa and Maisí, the furthest eastern municipalities of the province. Later, Haitians continued to come to Cuba to work as braceros (hand workers, from the Spanish word brazo, meaning "arm") in the fields cutting cane. Their living and working conditions were not much better than slavery. Although they planned to return to Haiti, most stayed on in Cuba. For years, many Haitians and their descendants in Cuba did not identify themselves as such or speak Creole. In the eastern part of the island, many Haitians suffered discrimination. After Spanish, Creole is the second most-spoken language in Cuba. In addition to the eastern provinces, there are also communities in Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey provinces where the population still maintains Creole, their mother tongue. Classes in Creole are offered in Guantanamo, Matanzas and the City of Havana. There is a Creole-language radio program.


Afro-Cuban religion can be broken down into three main currents: Santería, Palo Monte and Abakuá and include individuals of all origins. Santería is syncretized with Roman Catholicism.

The Abakuá religion is a secret society for men, similar to the freemason orders of Europe. It has not been syncretized with Roman Catholicism and remains close to its origins in southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon, from the Ekpe society of the Efik people of Cross River State and nearby areas.


Afro-Cuban music involves two main categories of music, religious and profane. Religious music includes the chants, rhythms and instruments used in rituals of the above-mentioned religious currents, while profane music focuses largely on rumba, guaguancó and comparsa (carnival music) as well as several lesser styles such as the tumba francesa. Virtually all Cuban music has been influenced by African rhythms. Cuban popular music, and quite a lot of the art music, has strands from both Spain and Africa, woven into a unique Cuban cloth. The son is a typical example of this. While much of the music is often performed in cut-time, artists typically use an array of time signatures like 6/8 for drumming beats. Clave, on the other hand, uses a polymetric 7/8 + 5/8 time signature [9]


Other cultural elements considered to be Afro-Cuban can be found in language (including syntax, vocabulary, and style of speech).

The Afro-Cuban religions all maintain some degree of use of African languages. Santería and Abakuá both have large parts of their liturgy in African languages (Lucumí, Igbo and Ñañigo, respectively) while Palo uses a mixture of Spanish and Kikongo, known as Habla Congo.

Racial consciousness

According to anthropologists dispatched by the European Union, racism is entrenched in Cuba.[10] Afro-Cubans are systematically excluded from positions in tourism-related jobs, where they could earn tips in hard currencies.[10] According to the EU study, Afro-Cubans are relegated to poor housing, and African Cubans are excluded from managerial positions.[10]

Enrique Patterson describes race as a "social bomb" and says that "If the Cuban government were to permit Afro-Cubans to organize and raise their problems before [authorities] ... totalitarianism would fall".[7] Esteban Morales Domínguez, a professor at the University of Havana, says that "The absence of the debate on the racial problem already threatens ... the revolution's social project".[7] Carlos Moore, who has written extensively on the issue, says that "There is an unstated threat, Afro-cubans in Cuba know that whenever you raise race in Cuba, you go to jail. Therefore the struggle in Cuba is different. There cannot be a civil rights movement. You will have instantly 10,000 black people dead. [...] The government is frightened to the extent to which it does not understand African Cubans today. You have a new generation of Afro-Cubans who are looking at politics in another way."[7] Barack Obama's victory has raised disturbing questions about the institutional racism in Cuba.[10] The Economist noted "The danger starts with his example: after all, a young, Afro-cuban, progressive politician has no chance of reaching the highest office in Cuba, although a majority of the island's people are of mostly African descent"[11]

In the years between the triumph of the revolution and the victory at Playa Girón the Cuban government was one of the world's most proactive regimes in the fight against discrimination. It achieved significant gains in racial equality through a series of egalitarian reforms early in the 1960s. Fidel Castro's first public address on racism after his rise to power was on March 23, 1959, at a labor rally in Havana, less than three months after he defeated Fulgencio Batista. He is quoted as saying: "One of the most just battles that must be fought, a battle that must be emphasized more and more, which I might call the fourth battle--the battle to end racial discrimination at work centers. I repeat: the battle to end racial discrimination at work centers. Of all the forms of racial discrimination the worst is the one that limits the colored Cuban's access to jobs. "[12] Castro pointed to the distinction between social segregation and employment, while placing great emphasis on correcting the latter. In response to the large amount of racism that existed in the job market, Castro issued anti-discrimination laws. In addition, he attempted to close the class gap between wealthy white Cubans and Afro-Cubans with a massive literacy campaign among other egalitarian reforms in the early and mid-1960s.[13] Two years after his 1959 speech at the Havana Labor Rally, Castro declared that the age of racism and discrimination was over. In a speech given at the Confederation of Cuban Workers in observance of May Day, Castro declared that the "just laws of the revolution ended unemployment, put an end to villages without hospitals and schools, enacted laws which ended discrimination, control by monopolies, humiliation, and the suffering of the people."[14] Although inspiring, many would consider the claim to be premature."[15]

Research conducted by Yesilernis Peña, Jim Sidanius and Mark Sawyer in 2003, suggests that social discrimination is still prevalent, despite the low levels of economic discrimination.[16] After considering the issue solved, the Cuban government moved beyond the issue of racism. His message marked a shift in Cuban society's perception of racism that was triggered by the change in government focus."[15] The government's announcement easily allowed the Cuban public to deny discrimination without first correcting the stereotypes that remained in the minds of those who grew up in a Cuba that was racially and economically divided. Many who argue that racism does not exist in Cuba base their claims on the idea of Latin American Exceptionalism. According to the argument of Latin American Exceptionality, a social history of intermarriage and mixing of the races is unique to Latina America. The large mestizo populations that result from high levels of interracial union common to Latin America are often linked to racial democracy. For many Cubans this translates into an argument of "racial harmony", often referred to as racial democracy. In the case of Cuba, ideas of Latin American Exceptionalism have delayed the progress of true racial harmony.[17]

Most of the Latin population of Tampa in the 1950s was working class and lived in restricted areas, ethnic enclaves in the vicinity of Tampa's hundreds of cigar factories. African Cubans were tolerated to an extent in the Latin quarter (where most neighborhoods and cigar factories were integrated). Ybor City and its counterpart, West Tampa, were areas that bordered on other restricted sections-areas for U.S. blacks or whites only. In this Latin quarter, there existed racial discrimination despite its subtleness.[18]


During the 1920s and 1930s Cuba experienced a movement geared towards Afro-Cuban culture called Afrocubanismo.[19] The movement had a large impact on Cuban literature, poetry, painting, music, and sculpture. It was the first artistic campaign in Cuba that focused on one particular theme: African culture. Specifically it highlighted the struggle for independence from Spain, African slavery, and building a purely Cuban national identity. Its goal was to incorporate African folklore and rhythm into traditional modes of art.

History of the movement

The movement evolved from an interest in the rediscovery of African heritage. It developed in two very different and parallel stages. One stage stemmed from European artists and intellectuals who were interested in African art and musical folk forms.[20] This stage paralleled the Harlem Renaissance in New York, Négritude in the French Caribbean, and coincided with stylistic European Vanguard (like Cubism and its representation of African masks). It was characterized by the participation of white intellectuals such as Cubans Alejo Carpentier, Rómulo Lachatañeré, Fortunato Vizcarrondo, Fernando Ortiz and Lydia Cabrera, Puerto Rican Luis Palés Matos and Spaniards Pablo Picasso and Roger de Lauria. The African-inspired art tended to represent Afro-Cubans with cliché images such as a black man sitting beneath a palm tree with a cigar.

Poems and essays by Afro-Cuban writers began to be published in the 1930s in newspapers, magazines and books, where they discussed their own personal heritage. Afro-Cuban and Afro-Cuban heritage artists such as Nicolás Guillén, Alberto Arredondo and Emilio Ballagas brought light to the once-marginalized African race and culture. It became a symbol of empowerment and individuality for Afro-Cubans within the established Western culture of the Americas and Europe.[21]

This empowerment became a catalyst for the second stage to be characterized by Afro-Cuban artists making art that truly reflected what it meant to be Afro-Cuban. Beginning in the 1930s this stage depicted a more serious view of black culture like African religions and the struggles associated with slavery. The main protagonist during this stage of the movement was Nicolás Guillén.[22]

Results of the movement

The lasting reputation of the Afrocubanismo movement was the establishment of a New World art form that used aesthetics from both European and African culture.[23] Although the actual movement of Afrocubanismo faded by the early 1940s, Afro-Cuban culture continues to play a vital role in the identity of Cuba. It has been the Cuban Revolution that opened up a space for extended research of African ethnic roots in Cuba.[24] The rhetoric of the Revolution incorporates black history and its contribution as an important stratum of Cuban identity. The Revolution has funded many projects that restore the work of Afro-Cubans in an effort to accommodate an African-driven identity within the new anti-racist Cuban society.[25]

Notable Afro-Cubans

Arts and entertainment

Lazaro Alonso - Actor



  • Martin Morúa Delgado

Politician,first Presidential Speaker of Cuban Senate,Senator,minister of Agriculture Labor & Trade,Lawyer,abolitionist,General Brigadier,legislature, orator.



See also


  2. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company. Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Random House, Inc. 2006.
  3. "Cuba census 2001".
  4. Beatriz Marcheco-Teruel, Esteban J. Parra, Evelyn Fuentes-Smith, Antonio Salas, Henriette N. Buttenschøn, Ditte Demontis, María Torres-Español, Lilia C. Marín-Padrón, Enrique J. Gómez-Cabezas, Vanesa Álvarez-Iglesias, Ana Mosquera-Miguel, Antonio Martínez-Fuentes, Ángel Carracedo, Anders D. Børglum, Ole Mors, "Cuba: Exploring the History of Admixture and the Genetic Basis of Pigmentation Using Autosomal and Uniparental Markers", July 24, 2014. PLOS Genetics.
  5. OECD Data Sheet
  6. "Race & Identity in Cuba".
  7. "A barrier for Cuba's black people – New attitudes on once-taboo race questions emerge with a fledgling black movement". Miami Herald. Archived from the original on 1 July 2009.
  8. "Cuba – Afro-Cubans". World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. Minority Rights Group International. 2008. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  9. King, Anthony (1961:14). Yoruba Sacred Music from Ekiti. Ibadan University Press.
  10. "'Obama Effect' Highlights Racism in Cuba". New America Media. 15 December 2008.
  11. "Fifty years of the Castro regime – Time for a (long overdue) change". The Economist. 30 December 2008.
  12. Speech at Havana Labor Rally . Transcript available on The University of Texas at Austin - Web Central
  13. Perez, Louis A. Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution, New York. 2006, p. 326.
  14. Speech given by Fidel Castro on April 8, 1961. Text provided by Havana FIEL Network.
  15. Moore, C. 1995. Afro-Cubans and the Communist Revolution. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press. Evidence collected in 2003 over proved.
  16. Pena, Y., Jim Sidanis and Mark Sawyer. 2003. Racial Democracy in the Americas: A Latin and US Comparison. University of California, Los Angeles.
  17. Mark Sawyer. Racial Politics in Post- Revolutionary Cuba.
  18. Black Cuban, Black American. Houston, Texas: Arte Publico Press, 130. Print.
  19. Arnedo-Gómez, M. "Introduction." Writing Rumba. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006: 1.
  20. "Afrocubanismo", Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century. Ed. Lenard S Klein. Continuum: Continuum Publishing Company, 2008: 20.
  21. Moore, R. "The Minorista Vanguard: Modernism and Afrocubanismo." Nationalizing Blackness: Afrocubanismo and artistic Revolution in Havana, 1920-1940. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997:200.
  22. Henken, T. "Cuban Literature-The Avant-Garde vs the Vanguard: Colonial Literature", in Cuba: A Global Studies Handbook. Santa Barbara: ABC_CLIO, 2008: 363.
  23. "Literature of the Revolutionary Era", Encyclopedia of Cuba: People, history, culture. Ed. Luis Martinez Ternandez. Wesport: Greenwood Press, 2003: 345.
  24. Rodríguez-Mangual, E. "Introduction", Lydia Cabrera and the Construction of an Afro-Cuban Cultural Identity. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004: 17.
  25. Rodríguez-Mangual, E. "Introduction", 18.


  • Duno-Gottberg, Luis, Solventando las diferencias: la ideología del mestizaje en Cuba. Madrid, Iberoamericana – Frankfurt am Main, Vervuert, 2003
  • Arnedo-Gómez, Miguel. "Introduction", Writing Rumba: The Afrocubanista Movement in Poetry. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. 2006: 1-170.
  • "Afrocubanismo", Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20thCentury. Ed. Lenard S. Klein. 2nd ed. 4thvol. Continuum: Continuum Publishing Company, 1989: 20-21.
  • García, Cristina. "Introduction", Cubanismo! New York: Vintage Books, 2002: 1-364.
  • "Literature of the Recolutionary Era", Encyclopedia of Cuba: People, history, culture. Ed. Luis Martinez Ternandez 1st Vol. Wesport: Greenwood Press, 2003: 345-346.
  • Henken, Ted. "Cuban Literature-The Avant-Garde vs the Vanguard: Colonial Literature," Cuba: A Global Studies Handbook Global Studies :Latin America & The Caribbean. Santa Barbara: ABC_CLIO, 2008: 363-385.
  • Moore, Robin D. "The Minorista vanguard: Moderism and Afrocubanismo" Nationalizing Blackness: Afrocubansimo and artistic Revolution in Havana, 1920-1940.Pittsburg: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997: 195-200.
  • Ródriguez-Mangual, Edna M. "Introduction" Lydia Cabrera and the Construction of an Afro Cuban Cultural Identity. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004: 1-167.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.