Like in all of Cuba, the people of La Rancheria, in the eastern mountains, are suffering from many privations. But in the Cuba of today, in this particular season, this Native clan, along with many other guajiro settlements, are among the more fortunate ones.
Manufactured items, including medicines and tools, are scarce in these mountains but in the cities, it is food that is seriously scarce, with inflation compounding the problem. There is a lurking state of hunger and constant anxiety about food, particularly among the majority of everyday people limited by the regular Cuban economy, living in the large urban areas, on monthly pensions or salaries that barely cover a week’s expenses, translating to actual value of 15 to 30 U.S. dollars.
At la Rancheria and other agricultural settlements of the Gran Familia, the elders, particularly through the cacique, old Panchito, persisted in convincing many in their new generations to stay on the land, and to maintain those traditional and practical skills that have allowed Indigenous peoples to survive, even in the hardest times.
The old cacique, who turned 88 on June 4th, has led a forty-year campaign for his people to be recognized, as a kinship group, the Gran Familia India de Cuba. He has sustained and firmly established his “Macuyo” (tobacco) Ceremony, which he has taken across the island to ceremonies and to many formal meetings. This transcending effort by Panchito, and now the new generation leaders, continues. Many families have rewoven into the larger tribal kinship. (“A tejer la gran familia,” said Panchito in 1995, “to reweave the grand family.”) The reality of a consistent Indigenous, Taino Indian, history is now well established in Cuba. Most importantly, the largest communities are reinvigorated to find each other in both celebratory and practical ways.
We saw some results at a symposium on Eastern Cuba Indigeneity, sponsored by the Casa de Iberoamerica, in Holguin. A full-day of panel presentations by the new generation of Gran Familia leadership won the audience, and garnered widespread and very positive coverage in Cuban media.
A visit to the mountain settlements in late May provided opportunity to review the range of coordination in agriculture and other projects among communities that is spearheading their project now. Forming into a mutual-help collective, called the Sun and Moon Brigade, a working group of younger leaders is now conducting self-sufficiency, community-building missions. The group has led projects in three communities, with three to four-day sojourns to help each other as farmer-relatives, to plant and harvest, to rebuild and teach each other.
At the Fray Benito community, near Holguin, the group rebuilt a casabe-producing complex that has been in the family for generations. Local elder Regino Rojas officiated the very successful and appreciated effort. The useful and durable casaba tort, product of the yuca or manioc, is presently more in demand. We visited Fray Benito for a celebration of the elder knowledge of this ancient Taino culinary complex.
In the planting and harvesting, most recently the various bean crops have been ripening. The working groups travel by foot or horseback, to spend several days assisting each other in this type of useful work. This tradition of multi-family work parties, originally known as “guateque,” (which refers more now to the accompanying joyous feast) was diminishing but is now growing again. Larger, more productive fields are made possible within a tradition of reciprocity.
While many Cubans understandably bemoan the current situation, it is good to see the Gran Familia India moving forward with its projects. Plenty Canada and the Caribbean Indigeneity Project are thankful to generous funders who enhance this work and make good things possible.
— Jose Barreiro