Opening Statement



Sunday, 7 December 2014

Christmas in Cuba 5: Sinners + Saints!

Complete Story @ Here!



December 25th 1996


Matilde beckons me over to a little side altar, “Ahhh, Mati it's the Virgin Mary!”


“Que?!? No! She’s la Senora de la Caridad del Cobre.”

As we kneel, I gazed perplexed at the Cuban statue, the crown, the blue veil, the flowing white gown. The baby Jesus in her arms; the cross, the halo. A darker face, but we are in the Caribbean; “Querida, it’s Mary!”

“La Virgin de la Caridad!” She rolls her eyes, looks at me quite shocked, “Don’t you know?”

“Okay. Okay.” I lean forward, to pick up the little prayer card she’s dropped, as she closes her eyes in prayer, “Is this Lazarus?”



“Aiye! Davido, it is Eleggua!”, sadly she wags her head, raising her brow. 

“No. I'm sure it's Lazarus!”

“Eleggua!”

“Matilde, this is Lazarus, from the Bible.”

“You must be loco! It is Eleggua. E-l-e-g-g-u-a! The guardian of all pathways, the keeper of the gate!”



Ho boy! Of course! Like many Cubans, sometimes both black and white, Mati practices the Yoruban faith. Dating back to the days of the Spanish conquistadors. The slaves being converted by the cross and the sword secretly worshipped their Afrocuban deities; the Orishas, under the guise of the Catholica saints. A spirit for everything, each with a Biblical name. Lazarus? Or Eleggua. Mary? Or La Virgin de Caridad. Both became uniquely Cuban saints.



Tonight is the last night of the ancient bembe fiestas. Outside in the alley beside the church from a courtyard not far away, I hear the mad frenzied beat of the drums. Tolerated -there but not, echoing among the back alleys and rooftops -lost but not lost, an Afrocuban spirit drifting across the years. The drums, as always, beating out an ageless tattoo.

I watch Mati, recalling how in colonial times the rich Spanish women would’ve dressed up  in their finest Catalonian dresses, the men in tails. Flocked to the church. Afterwards mingling briefly outside with their African servants and slaves. Acting Christian. Being nice, but for a brief moment on Christmas eve. Mass at the cathedral: a bourgeois decadence. The Vatican's authoritative stamp of approval for a class system based upon wealth and race, no longer tolerated after the revolution. Now Mati prays in silence, in her favourite cotton dress, openly, proudly, her first visit ever to a cathedral on Christmas eve. Nothing more need be said -in her own way she too knows oppression. In Cuba -a tie that binds. Behind us the congregation chants the Kyrie Eleison;

“Senor, ten piedad -Lord have mercy.

Cristo ten piedad  -Christ have mercy.

Senor ten piedad -Cristo ten piedad.”

Quietly, I repeat the words to myself. Wondering, whom among us are really sinners? And whom are saints?

To Be Continued ......




SERIES: Part 1 @  Here! Part 2 @ Here!  Part 3 @ Here! Part 4 @ Here! Part 5 @ Here! Part 6 @ Here! Part 7 @ Here! Part 8 Here! Part 9 @ Here! Part 10 @ Here! Part 11 @ Here! Part 12 @ Here! Post Script @ Here!

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