Charangas de Bejucal

BEJUCAL, LA HABANA PROVINCE December 24, 25, 26 and January 1st

One of the great traditional Cuban percussion ensembles - the Bejucal Tambores The oldest of Havana's traditional festivals takes place at the end of every year in the small Havana provincial town of Bejucal. It involves a performance from Los Tambores de Bejucal (a typical Cuban percussion band of high International prestige), and festivities formed by a traditional rivalry between two conga groups. The Ceibistas (members of the Ceiba de Plata group, characterised by the colour blue and a scorpion as their symbol) compete with the Espinistas (Members of the Espina de Oro, who wear red and have a rooster as their symbol), to see who can play the loudest drums and construct the most impressive float.

Typical food at the Charangas includes pan con lechón (pork sandwiches), popcorn, churros (strips of fried sweet dough), and cotton candy.

History and Origin of the Charangas

A festival float at the Bejucal charanges in provincial Havana, Cuba The origin of the Charangas is quite similar to that of the Parrandas de Remedios and date from 1830. They had, from the very beginning, a completely religious character and according to the tradition, they were held on December 24, on which date, slaves were freed by their slave owners and joined the free blacks and the Creoles in the cabildos (societies that kept alive African languages, traditions and beliefs).

Once the mass was over, the black Africans devoted themselves to worshipping the Orishas (African deities), playing their drums, saying prayers and dancing along the main streets in Bejucal. Their rituals had special characteristics in correspondence to the ethnic group they originated from - the Congos, Carabalíes, Ararás, Mandigas, and the Lucimíes - all of which had different spiritual traditions, and formed their own cabildos. Rivalries were formed among cabildos to show their cultural pride on Christmas Eve - thus creating the festivities.

Spaniards and Creoles living in Bejucal allowed the festivities to take place. However, with the objective of mocking them, they baptized that group of black and mixed people with the name of Musicanga (which meant disgusting and poor music) and went about forming a group they called the Malayos (which meant red roosters). Along with their name of Musicanga, the blacks adopted the blue color and a scorpion as their representative animal. On the other hand, the Malayos chose the red color and the rooster as their favorite bird. Thanks to the fusion of cultures that characterizes Cuban identity, racial and class differences were lost with time, and belonging to one or another side was simply determined by each person’s preference. So by the early 20th century, the rival groups renamed themselves: The Musicanga was called Ceiba de Plata (the Silver Silk-cotton Tree); and the Malayos, the Espina de Oro (The Golden Thorn).