San Juan camagüeyano
The "San Juan camagüeyano" (carnival) is considered the oldest traditional festival in the city of Camaguey; it began to be celebrated around 1721 or 1728, although its origin is impossible to determine. Related to the religious festival of Corpus Christi, its essence is eminently profane.
First of all, it was a feast of ranchers and peasants, who came to Santa María de Puerto del Príncipe to sell their cows and gathered for La Caridad to celebrate the money they earned, currently, it takes place from San Juan to San Pedro, in an atmosphere of total cultural exhilaration expressed through the assumption of all artistic manifestations.
It is a carnival party, to which various expressive modalities have gradually been incorporated, including costumes, congas, krewes and floats.
The Reading of the Bando (the ordinance declaring the carnival’s beginning) is a tradition that dates back to 1836, the year in which it was read for the first time in order to guide the villagers about what was permissible or not in those celebrations.
In the years of the Revolution, during the 60s, the Bandos were published in the newspaper and no reference was made to their reading. It was not until 1972 that the Bando was read after the Star's coronation ceremony was finished from the City Hall Balcony, at 12 o'clock at night, from there the congas would depart to tour the neighborhoods to publicize the beginnings of the festivity. To date, the Bando reading is maintained from the same place, however, the time it is carried out has undergone changes.
On the other hand, it was not until 1999 that the newspapers began to speak of the burial of San Pedro, which consists of the parade of weeping women and followers after the burial of the saint to a certain point in the city that has varied over time. In these places the Burning of San Pedro takes place, a ceremony that drags and hypnotizes the masses. A walk full of congas begins and we proceed to the "burial of San Pedro", a tradition consisting of the burning of an allegorical doll to the saints. The act is supported by a sea of people, which, although bathed by an intense sun, expects that suddenly the sky becomes cloudy and it breaks down to rain - magically so it happens - an event that they attribute to the funeral and that according to custom it is a sign of prosperity.
According to the MSc. Reinaldo Echemendía Estrada, director of the Camagüey Folkloric Ballet, the Camagüey conga is "a genuine expression of originality, the only one of its kind in our country" ... "It represents a typical element within the traditional popular culture and Cuban and Camaguey folklore."
"Its characteristic beat on drums made of barrels with leather-covered tops, of different proportions, vibrate at the ringing of their masses, after being tempered with fire, they are accompanied by the ringing of multiple bells."
In tune with the thoughts of Echemendía Estrada, the local newspaper Adelante agrees that “all the musical instruments of a conga are percussion with a diversity of notes such as drum, bongo, bass drum, fifth and requinto, as well as cowbells and pans; very recently the bell or clan was incorporated, in which there are true artists of each instrument.
Actually, and although to the ear they all seem to have the same rhythm, each one has special characteristic touch. Also the playing of the local congas is very different from the Santiago congas, which incorporated the Chinese trumpet and those of Havana with wind instruments such as cornets”.
The Cassava Bread
Nowhere else in Cuba is there better cassava or cassava bread than in Camagüey. The sentence is far from being Camaguey chauvinism; It is something that researchers from this province demonstrated.
According to studies, at the end of the 16th century the cassava was displaced in almost all of Cuba by the wheat imported from Spain and Mexico. They only maintained their manufacture in some areas of the country, among which the town of Puerto Príncipe, today Camagüey, stood out.
The evidence proves that the cassava from the region was considered superior in quality to that from western Cuba. This production was sustained, according to historical records, by numerous farms dedicated to the planting and cultivation of bitter cassava, for the production of cassava and starch. The research served as the basis for several scholars to propose this food as Cultural Heritage of the Cuban Nation in 2013.
This cassava cake is part of the legacy of the Taino culture settled in a large part of the Cuban archipelago, it was an indissoluble part of the diet of the Liberation Army and still remains in the diet in various regions of the country, especially in this central eastern province.
A living example of taking care of tradition is the Sierra de Cubitas area, north of the city of Camagüey, specifically in the rural community of Vilató, where the tradition of making cassava bread, a traditional dish that is part of the offers from San Juan Camagüeyano.
To make the cassava, the aborigines used objects such as stone scrapers and graters to peel and grate the yucca, and burenes (ceramic dishes) to spread the dehydrated dough (catibía), which they then placed on the fire for its final cooking.
The cassava bread not only was not only part of the basic diet of the aborigines but also of the Spanish who arrived with the conquest; hence the Cuban saying: "In the absence of bread, cassava".
It is named with a voice from the insular Arauaco, made up of the root ají and the suffix ─aco with the meaning of “what appears in, or what is in”. A 19th century historian, Juan Torres Lasqueti, wrote that it was the favorite food of the Cuban Indians.
The variant of ajiaco in the then Puerto Príncipe, current Camagüey, had meats, vegetables and abundant broth, loaded with lemon juice and hot pepper, and was accompanied by cassava; never with bread.
Another Camagüeyan, Luis Álvarez Álvarez, has referred to the dish as “a true potpourri in which, in addition to the aforementioned ingredients, salty and dried beef, guinea fowl, green and half-ripe plantain, sweet potato, lemon juice and salt. Duck and quail meat was one of its regional hallmarks”.
The people used to place, on the 24th, clay pots in some areas, or they drew a circle on the ground where the neighbors of the surroundings deposited food, meats or some coins in order to celebrate collective meals, as did the ranchers.
At a certain time, all those who contributed to it, take the soup, accompanying the meal with cane brandy and fruit wine.
Its dates back to colonial times, and especially to the current San Juan festivities, which still begin today on June 24 with the tasty collective cauldron in most of the blocks, which the neighbors enrich with contributions from their own homes.
The true Camagüey ajiaco must have jerky, green and half-ripe plantains, taro, young corn, pumpkin, sweet potato, yam, yucca, Creole sauce, water, lemon and salt.
As from the beginning the jerky and the cassava were linked to this countryside food, and it was in Camagüey where this practice of yesteryear was maintained, the ajiaco is considered a typical exponent of Camagüey cuisine.
The culture and pottery tradition, reflected in various parts and spaces of what is known as the City of the Terracotta Jars, is one of the main tourist attractions in Camagüey.
The work with clay in Camagüey began really early, since the first potter enters the former villa already in 1516. The famous jars, direct descendants of those that at that time were manufactured by Sevillian and Andalusian artisans for the preservation of oils and wines, began to be produced in Cuba in 1617, in Puerto Príncipe, today Camagüey.
A few years later, not only were vessels made to store water, food, oils and other products, but a large quantity of bricks and tiles were also made for the manufacture of houses, as well as a wide assortment of jars.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Miguel Báez and Ángel Pareta dedicated a lot of time and effort to rescuing the technique of making the jar, until finally in 1975 they managed to make the first one and inaugurate a new era together with a group that has continued that task ever since, to which the female presence is incorporated for the first time.
This caused a group of young people of that time to become involved in the art of learning the requirements of the technique in traditional workshops where it would be possible to animate the clay with their own spirituality; as well as making themselves known locally, nationally and internationally.
In this way, the ascendancy and legitimation of artistic ceramics was conceived in the place where the pottery tradition was maintained, bringing with it the National Sculpture Symposium in Camagüey, and the International Symposium of Artistic Ceramics in Puerto Principe, on a biennial basis, considered among the four most important in Latin America.
The city also houses the International Room of Artistic Ceramics, with exhibitions of dozens of works from more than 20 countries and where the results of previous editions of the Symposium are shown.
Ceramics become, therefore, material anthologically linked to the identity of all Camagüeyan people, hence it becomes a symbol of the city and its people, as is also proven by archival documents and ancient bibliographic sources, which illustrate the links of the city with clay, a material with which an urban image is built, which will make it appear among the World Heritage Cities.
The Camagüey processions of Easter, include in their current tour three temples of the city: La Merced, the Cathedral, and La Soledad.
Holy Friday procession
One of the traditional processions of Holy Week is the Holy Burial. On Holy Friday, at eight o'clock at night, the procession of the Holy Sepulcher begins from the Iglesia de la Merced. During the parade, the Holy Sepulcher is carried on the shoulders of 14 or 16 stout men bearing small pads to assist them. The swinging motion makes the bells tinkle and adds something special to the ceremony. The Sepulcher is followed by an image of the Sorrowful to the Cathedral.
Resurrection Sunday procession
One of the most beautiful and joyful processions in Camagüey is the “Encounter” procession on Easter Sunday. It is the encounter between the images of the Virgin of Joy and the Risen Christ.
Around six o'clock in the afternoon, from the Cathedral trumpets are heard announcing the exit of the image of the Risen Christ placed on the Holy Sepulcher, as a sign that death has been definitively defeated. Upon reaching the Plaza de La Merced, the image of the Risen Christ meet with the Virgin of Joy, who had previously already left the Iglesia de la Soledad, also in procession. This emotional moment culminates when both images are bowed in greeting and the town celebrates it with applause and cheers. At this moment, homing pigeons are released from the bell tower of the church of La Merced, adorning the sky with their refined flight.
Coronation of the Queen of Triana
The Procession of the Cabildo de Santa Bárbara goes from Rosario Street to the Plaza de Triana, where the Coronation of the Queen of Triana takes place, which is represented every February 4, in Culture Week for the founding of the former Villa de Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe. The show recreates the procession of the nineteenth-century Congo council, therefore, it begins with the parade of faithful who carry the image of the Virgin dressed as Santa Barbara for its red and white colors, while they play musical instruments and sing the Ave Maria. At the beginning of the dance, known as Basunde, a dialogue is established between the main singer and the queen of the council. This dialogue is developed using the Congo language and is a kind of permission to perform the dance. In the second moment of the dance, the crowning of the queen of the town hall is performed supported by musical instruments and voices that perform an improvisation until falling into the second part of the choreography where strong movements down with both hands predominate, circular shoulders and choreographic movements in the shape of a cross. The instrumental accompaniment becomes more marked and choppy than in the previous section.