Using your Spanish in Cuba

Cuba is a fantastic mix people and cultures from Spanish and African origins, which is portrayed all over Cuba’s towns of Matanzas, La Habana and Santiago de Cuba, among others, with their colourful European style architecture and sizzling Afro-style music and flavour. It’s definitely worth a visit! Here I’m going to highlight one of Cuba’s many fascinating religions, known as Santería, which embraces Cuban history and has had a considerable impact on the local Cuban way of life.

Santería is a Cuban-born religion that came about through assimilation of cultures when the Yoruba community of Nigeria were brought as slaves to Cuba and forced into Catholicism and European ways of life by the Spanish. To this day Santería is practiced widely throughout the world. Throughout your visit to Cuba you’ll be hard pressed to miss a cabildo, which are centres of worship under Catholic saints’ names. They were originally set up by the Spanish authorities as places where they could control the religious practices of the African communities, in an attempt to catholicise them. Santería religious ceremonies contain crucial preparation rituals in which music and dance play a particularly important role, due to its power to communicate with the spirits, known as Orishas. Each Cabildo has an Orisha to its name, which was linked back to an African deity in the indigenous Yoruba religion, but was masked by a Catholic saint’s name and other iconography in order to fool the Spanish authorities. Nowadays, Santería’s festivals, ceremonies, places of worship and attire are found all over Cuba and it is widely celebrated, along with many other Afro-Cuban religions and cultural festivals and events.

As with any destination, if you can speak a bit of the local language you’ll get a hindsight of the place and its history, culture and people that will be otherwise inaccessible to you. While you may be lucky enough to find some Cubans in tourist centres who do speak English, you’ll be unable to communicate with the majority of Cuba’s population, and thus unable to understand and experience the ins and outs of the local way of life, which is one of the most fascinating parts of travelling. So, it’s never too late – if you are planning a trip to a Spanish speaking country, visit our website and book a free assessment lesson with us to get Spanish rolling off your tongue before you know it!

Evie Oswald, Language Co-ordinator

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