The nation councils in Cuba

The nation councils in Cuba

Heritage & Traditions

Gabriela Santiesteban

The preservation and transmission of the culture, religion, traditions and customs Africans brought as slaves to the so-called New World during colonization, so important in shaping Cuban identity, had a fundamental pillar in the nation councils.

Composed of men and women, slaves or freedmen, such institutions were established throughout the country, mainly in Havana and Matanzas, in the west, and in Santiago de Cuba, in the east, places with the highest concentration of slave labor.

These associations have their origins in the brotherhoods that black slaves and their descendants created in Seville, Spain, from the 14th century, and in Cuba they were established from the 16th century. The nation councils grouped Africans of the same ethnic group, who were registered under the invocation of a Catholic saint, among the most frequent, Virgen de Regla, Santa Bárbara and La Caridad del Cobre, syncretized, respectively, in the African deities Yemayá , Changó and Ochún.

The institutions acquired or rented a house where they met for religious or other celebrations and served as the headquarters for the council, which also performed relief functions for its members. 

The associations were organized in the likeness of the prevailing society, with king and queen, officers, foremen, mayordomos, vassals ... and, scholars point out, dignitaries enjoyed great prestige among the members and in general in the black population, and even among the whites from popular neighborhoods.

These institutions are credited with the origin of carnivals in the country. On January 6, Three Kings Day, the colonial authorities allowed them to parade through the streets of the main cities. The life of the councils of the nation was not rosy.

According to historians, official tolerance towards these institutions was a form of control, which later led to the prohibition and the subsequent demand for their conversion into societies with various purposes, such as instruction and recreation, cultural, sports ...