Culture, Nation and Social Cohesion: A Scrutiny of Revolutionary Cuba

By Kronenberg, Clive | Critical Arts, July 2008 | Go to article overview
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Culture, Nation and Social Cohesion: A Scrutiny of Revolutionary Cuba


Kronenberg, Clive, Critical Arts


Abstract

During the 1960s era and beyond, official Cuban cultural thinking sought to address, among many other issues, the colonial legacy of cultural partition and cultural subjugation. It is advanced in this article that the revolution sought to achieve its objectives by endorsing, amongst other measures, the concept of 'transculturation', a theoretical position earlier brought to prominence by Fernando Ortiz, Cuba's leading anthropologist at the time. The article endeavours to show that, though Cubans have come to display a remarkable devotion to their immediate cultural heritage, they likewise acknowledge and champion the interconnectedness that exists between their culture, the broader Caribbean territory, as well as the arts universally. The article inspects Cuban cultural spokespersons' perceptions of their cultural realities, including their discernment of broader political contexts--such as colonialism, racism, slave practices, economic exploitation, cultural and social oppression, and the resultant human struggle--which ultimately inform and shape the nation's cultural ethos. This broad outlook, it will be seen, similarly sustains the formation and growth of a cohesive and unified nation. In sum, it is contended that Cuban national culture policy is structured upon a uniquely progressive, all-encompassing and, above all, independent theoretical framework, rather distinct from the cultural policies of the prevailing socialist models of the time.

Keywords: Caribbean popular arts; Cuban history; cultural theory; culture and politics.

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   Culture creates the fundamental setting of our lives, our everyday
   way of living, our creative work. But the most precious part of
   culture is its deposit in the consciousness of humanity
   itself-those methods, habits, skills, acquired abilities of ours
   which have developed out of the whole of pre-existing material
   culture. (1)

The expansion and nature of post-apartheid South African national culture, particularly culture's prospective capacity to forge a new and integrated national community, today remain striking themes that call for sweeping scholarly analyses. After more than a decade of elected rule, citizens, government officials, policy planners and analysts alike increasingly grapple to unearth a strategic resolution to the legacy of cultural partition, cultural oppression, racism, national division and the like--all repressive measures that were systematically devised and disseminated over many decades by the apartheid culture machinery. In some critical circles it is contended that the post-apartheid democratic order has yet to begin to address, in systematic fashion, the psychological trauma, mental programming and distorted consciousness the colonial institution of bigotry inflicted upon millions of ordinary people. It is from this premise that attention turns to revolutionary Cuba, an economically destitute yet socially and culturally prosperous island nation situated on a remote periphery. In this instance focus is placed on, among others, Cuban cultural thinking which has come to shape and guide a rare cultural transformative process, chief of which is the formation and development of a highly inventive, socially interconnected and amalgamated citizenry.

The article endeavours to offer an overview of Cuba's cultural developmental process and its underlying theoretical framework. Accordingly it looks firstly into the historical decline of Cuba's indigenous populations, as well as the admission into the country of new traditions and cultures; secondly, colonialist beliefs and the marginalisation and oppression of the Afro-Cuban cultural heritage, and finally, revolutionary responses during the 1960s especially, towards resolving the country's national cultural question. The article aims to address the following questions: how did the revolution perceive, and react to, the existence of two distinct and divergent national cultural customs--the African and Spanish?

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