Plaza, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. 2018.
Cuba is the Caribbean’s largest island-nation. The two largest cities, La Havana and Santiago de Cuba – both powerful sites for the collective preservation of Afro-descendant traditions – are over 500 miles (867 kilometers) apart. Cuba’s most Western point (Guanahacabibes) is 165 miles (267 km) from the Yucatán; its most eastern point is 67 miles (109 km) from Haiti. Santiago de Cuba, in the eastern province of Oriente, is known for its cathedral to the Virgen de la Caridad, and for its strong history of maronnage, and revolutionary resistance. Its most recognized traditional healing traditions are deeply shaped by the history of Congo and Yoruba slavery under Spanish colonial rule, the incorporation of indigenous herbalist and sacred practices, and treaties established between those communities, the Church, and Kardecian mediumship circles in the early twentieth century. The Yoruba communities maintained their ancestral healing knowledge through the systematization of a complex ceremonial tradition known as regla de osha; the Congo traditions were kept under the rubric of palo monte or regla conga. In Eastern Cuba, Haitian vodoun and Jamaican obeah brought by plantation workers under U.S. occupation in the early twentieth century also left a mark in Cuba’s array of Afro-Indigenous healing modalities. We interviewed elders in Santiago de Cuba.