What is Culture?
Initially, it will be wise to have an etymological analysis of the word ‘culture’. This word comes from cult , the past participle stem of colere whose main meanings are – cultivate, honor, worship and elaborate. This might lead us to think of the elaboration of something, - a creation of something, to be honored or worshipped by individuals.
Some of the earliest definitions of culture were provided by Edward B Taylor in 1871, who defined culture as ‘the complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as member of society.
Hofstede (1991) stated that culture is ‘the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another…. Culture in this sense includes systems of values, and values are among the building blocks of culture’; quite similar to what Trompenaars (1993) stated as ‘a shared system of meanings. It dictates what we pay attention to, how we act, what we value’ (His definition is closer to the Marxist theory as he involves the production of materials as part of culture).
For some of them, culture is seen as an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg is visible but its larger part is hidden underwater.
Behaviors and artifacts are generally observed. This includes the way people greet each other: hand-shaking or bowing?, using first or last names?, kissing each other once, twice or three times?, the physical distance when talking; touching people when talking; etc
Culture is, from the Marxist point of view closely linked to the human beings’ transformation of social practice, being the source and existing independently of our ideas. Culture cannot exist without human beings who find their origin and source of life in culture. It is the result of human values, both material and spiritual, together with the activities carried by men.
The culture of mankind is unique as a manifestation of a country or region, rooted in the history and traditions and ways to transform the society where that human being lives. It is the distinctive way of every society and group of people to express their differences and diversity. Mexican philosopher Zea (1989) stated ‘All men are equal because they are different. Being different makes them all equal.
Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1954) who had researched on definitions of Culture found 164 definitions. In 1950 they stated that ‘culture consisted of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts ; the essential core consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values ; culture systems may on the other hand be considered as products of action on the other as conditioning elements for further action’
Brown (2000) defines culture as ‘a way of life. It is the context within which we exist, think, feel and relate to others. It is the “glue” that binds a group of people together’
On Cuban culture, our culture
The following excerpt is the way the author of this booklet briefly summarizes his view on Cuba.
Cuba’s official flower is ‘Mariposa’, known in the English language as Butterfly Jasmine. It is a garden flower, which represents purity, rebelliousness and independence. The National bird is the Tocororo, known in English as the Cuban Trogon, and its plumage matches the colors of the flag: red, white and blue. Its National tree is the Royal palm, always present in the countryside and able to resist and survive hurricanes and stand erect with no bending to any one.
The Cuban society is rather informal regarding everyday life manners. Eye contact and body contact are usual. Loud talks and laughs are heard everywhere. Gestures and non-verbal language are always accompanying the oral language. It is a society where short-sleeve shirts and guayaberas – Cuban national shirt costume- are still present in ministries, offices and important formal celebrations. A society, which has turned into cheek kissing among people of different sexes and frequent hand-shaking among men.Cubans are friendly, caring, and fond of music – in which the drum sounds and rhythm exert some magic influence on them - and always joking. Cuba is not a multicultural country but a multiracial country with a single and unique culture where ‘phatic communion’ goes beyond the mere expected exchange of words.
Cubans' is a land of jokes about the daily life happenings in good or bad times, yet always laughing, wanting to empathize as much as possible with our interlocutors even if it is the first time the encounter takes place, where everyone at home, at work, at school or even in rather large halls or gatherings is expected to say ‘buenos dias’ ‘hasta luego’ or ‘adios’ to all, no matter if he or she doesn't know anyone in the room.
Cuba was first populated by a mixture of races and peoples that began with the Spanish colonization bringing the Roman Catholic religion, and later populated with the African people brought as slaves to replace the exterminated early inhabitants. These African slaves with their Yoruba rites combined with the Christian religion to create a syncretism known as Afro-Cuban religion; Then, the French colonizers who ran away from Haiti – the first independent country in the Americas, established themselves in the Eastern part of the island; After that, the Chinese were brought as ‘coolies’ to work as indentured servants to build the railroad; Some time later the West Indians (a wrong name for the English-speaking Caribbean people) came to work in the construction of the naval base during Cuba’s neo-colonial status after the US-Spanish Cuban War in which Terry Roosevelt participated with his Rough Riders troops in the American intervention when the war was almost over and the mambises were about to win. The land had been invaded by the British in 1762 and some of these had also remained in Havana, a land also populated by Jews, Polish, and Lebanese running away from the disasters of World War I in Europe.
Although certainly less publicized, this was truly a melting pot. It was what is known in Cuba as ‘Ajiaco’ - a famous Cuban recipe which is a broth containing all sorts of root vegetables: cassava, yam, sweet potatoes, tanya, etc–known as provision in the Caribbean, and different kinds of meat –anything available- but preferably pork, chicken, beef, lamb, etc. This Ajiaco which together with ‘tamales’ – a corn based meal, the ‘tostones’ - a dish consisting of very crispy portions of crushed unripe plantain, and ‘congri’ – a mixture of rice and black beans, are among the main Cuban popular meals.
Cuba is also a small nation with a large heritage of music , dance and Carnival. The producer of spectacular and world known musical rhythms such as cha-cha-cha, mambo, rumba, son or those Latin rhythms marketed under the name of salsa as the result of the great mixing. Carnivals quite similar to the Mardi Grass in New Orleans in USA, not so glamorous as the ones in Rio, Brazil or in Trinidad-Tobago but full of joy as in any other carnival in the small islands in the Caribbean. Yes, because Cuba is part of the Caribbean, and it is part of Latin America too, a small rebellious developing nation which fought for its full independence for more than 100 years and decided more than 48 years ago to begin a different system bringing along a different type of democratic value, - the participatory democracy vs the representative democracy, a country heavily harassed and criticized by some Western governments but hugely welcomed, cheered and praised by many, many others which are the great majority of poor people and honest nations of the world.
This is Cuba, unique and beautiful.