Thanks to Dr. Dionne Mahaffey for this article in the Atlanta Black Star.


The Color and Flavor of Afro-Cuban Life: A Look at How Black Cubans Have Struggled Over the Years with Racial Identity and Culture


cubanAfro-Cubans have contributed greatly to the culture of Cuba with Havana having the highest concentration of Afro-Cubans in the country. However, there is great controversy about how many people of African descent there are in Cuba—some say 20 percent, while others say upwards of 65 percent. Many people of mixed race describe themselves as mulatto or mestizo, people of combined European and Latin/African backgrounds.

Although some don’t identify with the Afro-Cuban label, preferring to identify through nationality as Cubans more than by race, Blacks in Cuba struggle with racial issues and identity in much the same way as the rest of the world, with historical inequalities carrying over to modern times.

The first group of Afro-Cubans are the descendants of enslaved Africans brought from West Africa. In recent years, the country has also seen an increase of Black immigrants from Jamaica and Haiti, adding to the African flavor of the island. Despite the numbers, people of African descent are often excluded.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes and improvement in the way that Blacks are treated in Cuba since the Revolution,” says Aileen Badell, a retired journalist who worked for the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television for 18 years. “We still have a ways to go but there are black doctors, teachers, journalists, engineers and other professionals.”from the very lucrative tourism industry, where workers can earn better wages due to tips. They are also overlooked for managerial positions and other better paying jobs while being relegated to less desirable housing and neighborhoods.

In the 1960s, Castro issued anti-discrimination laws meant to deal with the economic disparity between Black and white Cubans, along with a massive literacy campaign. Two years later, he declared the Revolution’s victory over the “age of racism,” a claim which has since proven to be premature.

The government deals harshly with those who bring up issues of race.

“There is an unstated threat. Blacks in Cuba know that whenever you raise race in Cuba, you go to jail,” says Carlos Moore, who has written extensively on the issue.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Cuba experienced a movement known as Afrocubanismo, which brought Black culture to literature, poetry, painting and other arts. It highlighted the struggles of the Afro-Cuban people, dealing with independence from Spain, slavery and the adaptation of a Cuban identity.

Fernando Ortiz was a scholar who dedicated his life to learning about Cuban culture. Today, you can learn about him and his work at the Fernando Ortiz Foundation, which showcases much of his research documenting the unique culture of Afro-Cubans. The foundation is located in Havana and run as a not-for-profit center.Afro-Cubans have contributed greatly to the culture and arts scene in Cuba today. Many tributes to the history of Afro-Cubans can be found around Havana, as well as throughout Cuba. There are a number of attractions that show the modern Afro-Cuban movement, from jazz clubs to cultural events.

The Casa de Africa is a museum located in Old Havana which houses collections of artifacts and art. Collections are from 27 African countries, a combination of items from Fernando Ortiz and Fidel Castro. Many of the pieces are gifts sent to thank Cuba from the recipients of foreign aid programs. The Casa de Africa is an important center of study of Afro-Cuban Culture, boosted by the artifacts displayed.

Afro-Cuban religion is derived from the religious practices found in Africa and brought to Cuba by the enslaved Africans who were brought to the region. With many similarities to Voodoo, rituals can be bright and colorful, with dancing, chanting and drums. Many companies in Cuba offer a tour of Afro-Cuban religious sites and events in Havana, where participants can learn about these unique religions first hand. Many include visits to the homes of local devotees, along with an English speaking guide to interpret.

While Martin Luther King may be an American hero, his influence can be felt in Cuba, especially at the Centro Martin Luther King. The center promotes Christian social responsibility, providing a number of programs to help the less fortunate and educate the population. Health programs, education and social activism are the key focal points for the MLK Center.

The direct neighbor of the MLK Center is the Ebenezer Church, which promotes the values of equality and acceptance of all genders, races and orientations. The church is open and welcomes all to visit or to worship and can be found in Havana.

For an authentic taste of rumba, the fusion of Spanish and African musical styles, the Callejon de Hamel in Havana is an intense, colorful and crowded experience. Brilliant murals cover the walls, created by contemporary Afro-Cuban artist Salvador Gonzales Escalona. The site has become more popular with tourists over the years.

Every January 6 is Three Kings Day— the Epiphany—originally intended to celebrate the Three Wise Man who brought gifts to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Afro-Cubans have a long and complicated history with this holiday, using it as a way to celebrate their own saints with African drums and dancing. Historically, enslaved Africans would be dressed in finery and paraded through the streets of Havana, where whites would toss coins to them. The coins were saved in order to buy freedom. Today, Afro-Cubans have reclaimed this celebration, leading Cubans, regardless of race, in a bright, colorful parade.

Outside of Havana, the city of Matanzas is well known for its rich Afro-Cuban culture. Just 90 km east of Havana, Matanzas is known as both the “city of bridges” and as the Venice of Cuba, with 17 bridges crossing the many rivers that crisscross the city.

Santiago de Cuba also has a large Afro-Cuban population, and rich cultural history. It is the place to see son, the traditional dance from which salsa dancing is derived and guaguanco, dancing accompanied by drums. The city celebrates Carnival in July, with lots of congo music. It was the home of Antonio Maceo, a highly honored Cuban independence soldier who died in 1896.

While racial equality is still an ideal that many people in Cuba work towards, it is a goal that has yet to be reached. Afro-Cubans have contributed greatly to the history and culture of Cuba, from fighting in wars, to contributions in the arts and the political realm.

There are no shortage of Afro-Cuban sites to see in Cuba. Learning about the rich culture of Afro-Cubans is both easy and interesting in Cuba’s largest cities. There is something for everyone, from music and dance to museums and religious tours.

seychelles artistSeychelles Minister of Tourism Alain St. Ange says culture is the heart and soul of a counrty and that it can be the base for the country's tourism industry. So it was only fitting to have Patrick Victor, a well-known and popular Seychelles artist to perform the hit song entitled "Koste Peop Locean Indien (Unite People of the Indian Ocean):

The annual Ministerial Meeting of the Indian Ocean Islands that took place at the Westin Resort at Balaclava in Mauritius saw the ceremony of the handing over of the organization's flag by the Madagascar Minister responsible for Tourism, to Mr. Xavier Luc Duval, the Deputy Prime Minister of Mauritius, in the presence of the Tourism Minister of the Seychelles, President of Reunion, and the President of the Tourism Organization of Mayotte.

As the official ceremony unfolded, it was Patrick Victor, the well-known and popular Seychelles artist, who had the honor of playing his song entitled “Koste Pep Locean Indien" (Unite People of the Indian Ocean). Before the gathered press and dignitaries, Patrick Victor did Seychelles proud as he demonstrated how culture can remain the base for one's tourism industry. Patrick Victor is well known as a musician and artist in all the Indian Ocean islands, and his song was one of the most fitting for this solemn occasion.

Alain St.Ange, the Seychelles Minister responsible for Tourism and for Culture, told the press after the Vanilla Islands ceremony that for Seychelles it has been accepted that the islands cannot have tourism without culture. “Yes we still have a few sceptics who do not respect this world of culture, but as a whole, everyone knows that by us having placed culture at the center of our tourism development, we have place the people of Seychelles at the center of our island's development," Minister St.Ange said.

“Culture is the heart and soul of a country, and I am honored to see today, culture playing its part to cement the bonds between our islands. This is also in line with what the world bodies (UNWTO [UN World Tourism Organization]&UNESCO [UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization]) are advocating when they say using culture to consolidate tourism and using tourism to safeguard culture," the Seychelles Minister said.

Photo: Artist Patrick Victor with Seychelles Tourism Minister Alain St. Ange, Mauritius Deputy Minister Xavier Luc Duval and other Vanilla Isalnd Tourism officials. 

Pulling Into History: The Pullman Historic District neighborhood, a center of Chicago's progressive black middle and working class population in the 19th and 20th Centuries, declared a United States National Monument.
dining-carOn a visit to Chicago during Black History Month, US President Barack Obama declared this resilient community from which these men came a National Historic Monument, to be overseen and preserved by the National Parks Service. This measure will ignite commerce in the Pullman District, restore old buildings and bring tourism to such local darlings as its Hotel Florence and the Pullman Stat Historic Site Museum.
In 1879 White industrialist George Pullman bought 4,000 acres of land just South of Chicago. He spent the next ten years building a fully-functional independent "factory town" for wanderers and otherwise unskilled laborers to make a life within. The mainstay industry of the area was manufacture of Pullman "sleeper" cars for the day's freight travel and tourism. At one point, the Pullman Company with Pullman Palace Cars was the 2nd-largest employer of African-Americans in the nation.
After Pullman died and amidst the next and greater Depression, residents braving the economy formed the first African-American union: The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, based on their proud status as concierges and waiters aboard the high-class sleeping cars Amtrak created to encourage American travel and boost the economy. This set up a volatile period of race rioting when the first Depression caused his successor to raise rents and otherwise penalize poor or black residents for Pullman's company deficits. Pullman's chief business successor was Robert Todd Lincoln. He created brutal conditions (at one point, a "tip-system" of wages) to return the company to profitability after Pullman's death. pullmanporter
To be a Pullman Porter was no ordinary wait-staff position. The largely African-American male population hired to service the businessmen and their families aboard sometimes transnational voyages worked as in the equivalent of Michelin-starred restaurants, with grueling standards of decorum and strenuous guidelines to account for their healthy salaries in the nation's and company's better days- such a stable draw many men migrated their families to the Pullman area for the promise of homes and college tuition payments. Even in volatile racial climates, the Pullman Porters remained highly-respected leaders in their communities and even requested staff for more regular train travelers before the age of air travel.
Author: Kalisha Buckhanon is a writer and novelist who lives and works in Chicago. You may visit her at Kalisha.com.
Photos: Courtesy of www.Pullman-Museum.org


John Cummings spent 16 years turning an old plantation in Louisiana into a slavery memorial. This year, the Whitney Plantation opened its doors to the public for the first time in its 262 year history, as the only plantation museum in Louisiana with a focus on slavery. Through museum exhibits, memorial artwork and restored buildings and hundreds of first-person slave narratives, visitors to Whitney will gain a unique perspective on the lives of Louisiana's enslaved people.

slave memorial Whitney plantation
Credit: Whitney Plantation

slave memorial Whitney plantation
Credit: Whitney Plantation

The wall of honor.

slave memorial Whitney plantation
Credit: Whitney Plantation

Commemorating the slaves that lived and worked on the Whitney Plantation.

slave memorial Whitney plantation
Credit: Whitney Plantation

The Antioch Church.

slave memorial Whitney plantation
Credit: Whitney Plantation

Credit: Whitney Plantation

slave memorial Whitney plantation
Credit: Whitney Plantation

The Whitney Plantation, originally known as Habitation Haydel, is located less than an hour from New Orleans. Ambroise Heidel (1702-ca.1770), the founder of this plantation, emigrated from Germany to Louisiana with his mother and siblings in 1721.

slave memorial Whitney plantation
Credit: Whitney Plantation

After the Civil War (1867) the plantation was sold to Bradish Johnson of New York, who named the property after his grandson Harry Payne Whitney.

slave memorial Whitney plantation
Credit: Whitney Plantation

As a site of memory and consciousness, the Whitney Plantation Museum is meant to pay homage to all slaves on the plantation itself and to all of those who lived elsewhere in the US South.

slave memorial Whitney plantation
Credit: Whitney Plantation

Historian Dr. Ibrahima Seck spent the last 10 years compiling the history of the grounds from public records of the times and any information on the related families. According to some, the slave narratives are "like reading Hemmingway short stories."

slave memorial Whitney plantation
Credit: Whitney Plantation

Pictured here is Dr. Ibrahima Seck, author and scholar who served as Director of Research, Dr. Ibrahima's son and John Cummings on museum's opening day.

slave memorial Whitney plantation
Credit: Whitney Plantation

For more information, visit WhitneyPlantation.com.

Original source  /http://www.sunnyskyz.com/good-news/998/Man-Spends-16-Years-Turning-An-Old-Plantation-Into-A-Memorial-To-Honor-The-Once-Enslaved

Louisiana Plantation Starts a New Historic Chapter as the Nation’s First Slavery Museum
   This is a great article about the slave museum posted in the AtlantaBlackStar.com by Taylor Gordon:

It has been 150 years since the Civil War ended and yet the American government failed to fund a museum dedicated purely to the history of slavery in the nation. Where the government fell short, however, the wealthy descendant of Irish laborers has stepped up and thus marked the beginning of a rather unusual story behind the country’s first slavery museum.

img 1309The United States has erected countless museums and memorials without ever creating a space dedicated to the atrocities of slavery that remain at the very foundation of America. While federal funding was relatively easy to obtain in order to bring projects memorializing the Holocaust to fruition, the same can’t be said about multiple attempts to create a museum that would bring some attention back to America’s own dark past.

That was the unusual and unfathomable reality that drove John Cummings to spend 15 years and more than $8 million of his own money in order to make the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana more than just a historical relic. In the town of Wallace, roughly 35 miles west of New Orleans, the Whitney Plantation received a warm welcoming as it opened its doors to the public on Dec. 7, The New York Times reported.

The plantation has not only been restored, but the property has been transformed into a space that is both architecturally stunning and of vast educational importance. An exhibit on the North American slave trade has been added to the property and rests inside the new visitor’s center.

Just outside, however, history remains intact. Seven cabins that once served as homes for the enslaved Black people are still standing along a dusty path and the massive iron kettles that were once used to boil sugar cane give visitors a glimpse into the labor intensive days that enslaved people spent on the property.

Even a jail that was used in the past to punish enslaved people was restored and now stands as a symbol of the fact that slavery was about more than grueling hours on a plantation. It reminds visitors of the sheer depths of slavery that involve inhumane treatment and deplorable living conditions that physically and emotionally tormented generation after generation of enslaved Black people.

This plantation turned museum is one of the only projects dedicated solely to forcing America to confront the vile, twisted history that allowed it to become one of the most prosperous economic powers in the world. The project itself has a visual appeal that has been praised by architects, and the elements of American history and slavery that have been captured left historians in awe as they made their way through the grounds.

What was the most stunning surprise, however, came in the form of an older white gentleman who was responsible for bringing the project to life.

America's first slavery museum

John Cummings (right), the Whitney Plantation’s owner, and Ibrahima Seck, its director of research, in the Baptist church on the grounds. Credit Mark Peckmezian for The New York Times

“Like everyone else, you’re probably wondering what the rich white boy has been up to out here,” John Cummings said as he addressed the crowd that attended the museum’s opening, according toThe New York Times. It’s indeed an unusual story, but Cummings insists the explanation behind him building America’s first museum dedicated to slavery is simple.

“I suppose it is a suspicious thing, what I’ve gone and done with the joint,” he added, addressing his decision to “spend millions I have no interest in getting back” to create the museum and restore the plantation. “I’ve been asked all the questions. About white guilt this and that. About the honky trying to profit off slavery. But here’s the thing: Don’t you think the story of slavery is important?”

He paused for the crowd to answer before he continued on.

“Well, I checked into it, and I heard you weren’t telling it,” he added. “So I figured I might as well get started.” And so he did.

But there was a moment when his own plans for the property would have been squandered at the hands of corporate greed. A plastics and petrochemical company called Formosa was the previous owner of the property and had very different plans for it.

Formosa planned to build a $700 million plant for manufacturing rayon back in 1991. The plans were brought to a halt, however, when preservationists and environmentalists refused to let the project move forward.

Once rayon went out of style, Formosa lost interest in the project and put the property back up on the market. That’s when Cummings seized the opportunity to create America’s first slavery museum. While other museums in the country feature civil rights leaders and dedicate small portions of the exhibits to slavery, this will be the first property specifically tailored toward bringing America’s history of slavery to light in a way that the general public can experience.

Ever since embarking on the massive project, Cummings had surrounded himself in literature about slavery’s history so he could become even more educated on the subject matter he hoped to teach others about. He is also refusing to let accusations of “white guilt” deter him from his work.

Slavery museum in America “I started to see slavery and the hangover from slavery everywhere I looked,” he said, according toThe New York Times. “If ‘guilt’ is the best word to use, then yes, I feel guilt. I mean you start understanding that the wealth of this part of the world — wealth that has benefited me — was created by some half a million black people who just passed us by. How is it that we don’t acknowledge this?”

All throughout the property there are monuments, beautifully crafted sculptures and other features that Cummings also funded through his wealth. Many of them are visually appealing pieces with emotionally charged messages, including a sculpture of a Black angel embracing a dead infant.

Others are unconventional ways to highlight the bloody stains of slavery. Cummings says families will have the option to bypass a memorial in the works that would honor the victims of the German Coast Uprising.

It’s an event that is rarely discussed in American history, New York Times writer David Amsden explains. “In January 1811, at least 125 slaves walked off their plantations and, dressed in makeshift military garb, began marching in revolt along River Road toward New Orleans,” Amsden reported. “The area was then called the German Coast for the high number of German immigrants, like the Haydels. The slaves were suppressed by militias after two days, with about 95 killed, some during fighting and some after the show trials that followed.” 

Cummings’ monument would replicate the decapitated heads that were placed on stakes along River Road to deter other enslaved Black people from revolting.

“It’ll be optional, OK? Not for the kids,” Cummings added. As his project grew in effort and size over the years, he brought on a Senegalese scholar by the name of Ibrahima Seck in 2012 to serve as the director of the Whitney Plantation.

Seck, 54, serves as the more rational side of the balanced partnership who is frequently engulfed in research while Cummings continues to follow his instinctive nature and make massive spur-of-the-moment purchases that he believes could be connected to the history of slavery in America.

One of those purchases includes an old Baptist church in a neighboring parish that was previously owned by freed enslaved people back in 1867. Cummings paid to have the property moved across the Mississippi so he could restore it. The project cost him more than $300,000.

For those who have questioned his decision to dedicate the massive amounts of money, land and resources to a more “disturbing” part of America’s history, Cummings believes it’s the only logical approach to the situation.

“It is disturbing,” he said of the decapitated head memorial that is near completion and the other remnants of a dark past that fill the property. “But you know what else is? It happened. It happened right here on this road.”

Original Source: http://atlantablackstar.com/2015/02/27/louisiana-plantation-starts-new-historic-chapter-nations-first-slavery-museum/ 



The-last-generation-of-Tribal-marks-in-Africa-1Joana Choumali’s series “Hââbré, The Last Generation” traces the final remnants of a dying tradition. The Kô language word means “writing,” but also stands for the practice of scarification that’s common to West Africa. Followers of the custom place superficial incisions on their skin, using stones, glass or knives, amounting to permanent body decoration that communicates a myriad of cultural expressions.

Ms. K. Djeneba, shop owner, Ko tribe from Burkina Faso. “People find it pretty, but I think it’s ugly. We are not like others. In the past, when you had a smooth face, you were rejected! I used to like my scars; they were beautiful. We used to brag about them. But, now, in the city, it is definitely out of fashion. You are called names like ‘torn face’ and it hurts.”

“Scarification almost always happens in a culture where there is so much melanin in skin that it would be difficult to see a tattoo,” Vince Hemingson, a writer and filmmaker who’s studied body-modification, explained to National Geographic. From Papua New Guinea to Ethiopia, the cuts and scarring can symbolize identity in a number of ways, whether it be status within a community, passage into adulthood or a connection to a spiritual group.

Choumali, based in Abidjan, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, encountered scarification as a child in the 1980s. “I remember Mr. Ekra, the driver who took me to school. Ekra had large scars that marked his face from temple to chin,” she recalled to HuffPost. “I found these fascinating geometric shapes. Ekra was not an exception. It was common to see people of various scars proudly display their social origins.”

The last generation of Tribal marks in Africa 2Mr. Mien Guemi, painter, from Ouro Bono, Burkina Faso. “I was a kid, but I still remember the wounds on me. When you didn’t have them, your friends would laugh at you, and put you aside. During wars, Mossie and Ko tribes would recognize each other, and therefore avoid killing one another. It was a way of recognition. When you would look for work, no one would ask you where you’re coming from… It is already done, and I like them. I cannot change. No need for an ID card, I already wear my identity on my face. This is the reason why people did it: to recognize one another. But now, this is over. We can no more be recognized.”

But as she grew older, the practice gradually began to disappear. In fact, those who bore scars in honor of their clan, their family, their tribe or their village were met with judgment in the expanding urban areas. Pressure from religious and state authorities to “modernize,” coupled with the introduction of clothing in tribes, led to fewer and fewer instances of forced or voluntary scarification. Choumali wondered why an accepted and valued form of cultural identification became unacceptable and devalued. How does something become the cause of shame after being the norm?

“I remember Mr. Konabé, this tailor I knew since my teens, who wore scars. I decided to ask him what he felt… He was proud of [the scars] in his youth, [but they] became the object of ridicule, demeaning nicknames.”

The last generation of Tribal marks in Africa 3Boudo B., 45, taxi driver, Ko tribe from Burkina Faso. “It was fashionable at some point. Today, if there was a way to erase them, I would… It is not easy to hit on girls with that. Especially, the Ivorians. I think it is not very attractive.”

“Our parents did this not to get lost in life,” Mr. Konabé explained to her. “If you saw someone with the same marks on their faces, you would approach them because you knew you were related in some way. Today, those who moved to the city do not want to do it because they are teased. [Scarification] was done to me by force… I was eight years old. If there was a way to take them off, lots of people would remove their scars.”

Choumali’s studio portraits do not answer her questions, necessarily. Rather, they simply document the last generation of people who understand the cultural significance better than her. From image to image, she captures both individual graphic aesthetics and the personal narratives that go along with them. “Hââbré is the last generation that lives with scars on his face,” she added. “I make this series not to forget.”

The last generation of Tribal marks in Africa 4Mrs. Sinou, shop owner, Ko tribe from Burkina Faso. “I was born in Ghana. My aunt took me to the village, and they did the scars without my father’s consent. My father was upset. When you go out, and get into trouble, the main insult people use to hurt you is ‘scarred.’ I refuse to do it to my children. This will stay on my face only.”

Mr. Konabé, tailor, Ko tribe from Burkina Faso.

Mr. Konabé, tailor, Ko tribe from Burkina Faso.


Mr. Sinou, tailor

Mr. Sinou, tailor

Mr. Sinou, tailor, Ko tribe from Burkina Faso. “Children no longer want to have it done. In the village, it is acceptable, but here it is embarrassing. If we could remove them, we would. One is embarrassed, because so different from the others.”




Mr. Lawal E.

Mr. Lawal E.

Mr. Lawal E., hairdresser, Yoruba tribe from Nigeria. “I am proud of my traces. I like them because I am heir. The King has the same scars. I am part of the royal family in my village. It is here in town that I am ‘nobody.’ In the village, I am a noble; people bow down when they see my face! I am proud of that.”

Salbre S.

Salbre S.

Salbre S., gardener, Bissa tribe from Burkina Faso. “I am a retired man now. I was very young… I do not want this for my children. We are the last generation. You won’t find people under 40 who have scarifications.”

Pousnouaga S., 45, gardener, Bissa tribe from Burkina Faso. “One of my aunts did it to me. We paid with shea butter or guinea fowls. It does not please me, and it belongs to the past. It was like an identity card in my family. Each tribe has their scars.”


Pousnouaga S.

Pousnouaga S.

Ms. Martina Kaboré, 39, housewife, from

Ms. Martina Kaboré

Ms. Martina Kaboré

Ouemkanga, Burkina Faso. “When I was 10 years, I asked for them. I wanted to be like my brothers and sisters, and to show that I am courageous. I was very eager. I liked them. I did not feel pain, because I really wanted them. Times have changed, but it’s okay. When people see me and point at me I stand tall and I am proud. I had them done on my first son, he was 18. I would do to have them done on my second child, but my husband disagrees.”

Ms. Kouya Benin

Ms. Kouya Benin

Ms. Kouya Benin, housewife Ko tribe from Burkina Faso. “People would go in groups to get their scarifications, and I went with my friends… Now, these practices are prohibited by law in Burkina Faso.”

All images and captions courtesy of Joana Choumali.