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Explore Cuba – Culture
The country's most famous literary figure is José Martí, whose life, ideas and martyr's death confirmed him as a national hero, but other Cuban literary greats include Cirilo Villaverde y de la Paz (1812-94), Alejo Carpentier (1904-80), Nicolás Guillén (1902-89) and Guillermo Cabrera Infante (1929-).
Cuba's filmmakers include Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (1928-96), whose Strawberry and Chocolate was highly lauded, and Humberto Solás, whose works also received much international acclaim. Painters Wilfredo Lam (1902-82) and Marianao Rodríguez (1912-90) are amongst the most important the country has produced, and Manuel Mendive (1944-) is regarded as Cuba's foremost living painter.
Cuban cuisine is a mix of Spanish and African techniques, using local produce. Dishes like Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christian; black beans and rice), arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and picadillo (minced beef and rice) are common, as are soups made with plantains, chick-peas or beans.
There are, however, food shortages in Cuba and eating out can mean long waits at state-run restaurants or hotel dining rooms. Cuban beer (cerveza) is excellent and the cocktails are legendary.
African slaves brought rhythms and ritual dances to Cuba, where they were blended with Spanish guitars and melodies and then appropriated and developed throughout the Americas (the USA in the 1920s jumped to rumba rhythms, and these, fused with jazzy horn sections and drums, became the big-band sound).
The conga-line dance was developed by slaves shackled together, while much of contemporary Cuban dance has important associations with Afro-Cuban Santería religion. The most popular Cuban music today is son, which developed in the hills of the Oriente before the turn of the century and incorporates guitars, tres (a small Cuban stringed instrument with three pairs of strings), double bass, bongos, claves, maracas and voice. Mambo, bolero, salsa and chachachá music also derived from this form. The most famous exponents of Cuban music were Pérez Prado and Benny Moré, but Cuban music continues to evolve and there are a great many artists still making great music.
After the revolution the arts were actively supported by the government: many theatres, museums and arts schools were founded, musicians were guaranteed a salary and a national film industry was established. The government has sought to redress the influence of North American mass culture by subsidizing Afro-Cuban cultural groups and performing ensembles.
Historically, Roman Catholicism has been the dominant religion in Cuba and it remains so, with around 40% of Cubans at least nominally Catholic and some 4% of the population Protestan. The loose institutional organization of Santería, an afro-Cuban religion, hides the fact that a majority of Cubans are affiliated with this Afro-Catholic religious fusion in one way or another, and their numbers have grown since the government ended its official atheism in 1992. True to the country's mestizo culture, Cubans grafted Catholicism onto African religions brought over by slaves, resulting in Afro-Cuban equivalent gods for the major Catholic saints - and the occasional animal sacrifice. When Pope John Paul II crowned Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre, Cuba's patroness, devotes of Santería swelled with pride, for they identify the Virgin of Cobre with their very own Ochun, goddess of love and abundance.