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Afro Cuban Culture

Including mixed-ethnicities, it is estimated that more than 50% of Cubans have black ancestry.

It is therefore not surprising that black culture is a vital part of Cuba's culture.The first group of enslaved Africans, mainly from West Africa, arrived on the island between the 16th to 19th century. Several traditions among the Afro-Cuban community today are rooted in Yoruba culture from Nigeria and Bantu traditions from Angola and Congo. From the 19th century, immigrants from Jamaica and Haiti influenced the black culture as well.


Elements of the Yoruba culture can also be found in the religion of Santería, which is up until today widely practiced among Afro-Cubans. Due to its magical components, Santería is often misinterpreted as witchcraft and criminal, which might be led back to times where Santería as religion was forbidden. During the centuries of enslavement, Africans were not allowed to practice their own religion.

In order to preserve their traditions, the African communities hid their beliefs through “Cabildos” (cultural societies), through which worshipers described their traditional head guardians, named Orishas (derived from the Yoruba word Òrìsà) through catholic saints. From hundreds of Orishas in the Yoruba culture only 12 remain in the religion of Santería.


The African influence in Cuba’s culture can be seen in its diversity in dancing styles. While African and Spanish culture are mixed, some styles derive from different African groups, including Gagá,Criumba Congo and Rumba.

Other styles, such as Cha-Cha-Cha or Mambo developed in Cuba and gained global popularity. Today,their influence can be found in genres from ballroom to hip hop.


During the pre-lenten period, slave-owners would allow slaves to openly practice their traditions through dance and music. This has been identified as the roots of today’s Carnival, which is organized by “Comparsas”, competing in dance, costumes and performances to celebrate culture and pride of the community.

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