Cuba is a veritable melting pot, and as such, is a rich feast for the senses. Long after you’ve left Cuba, the vibrant colors, sounds and smells are sure to be woven into your memories of the place. A fusion of influences and ethnicities from across the globe has created a kaleidoscopic population and culture that is distinctly Cuban.
Cubans can trace their roots to widespread origins thanks to various contributing factors in the island’s history: the near-decimation of the island’s indigenous population; the invasion of Spanish colonialists; one of the world’s most active slave trades; an influx of immigrant labor from China and other parts of Asia; and years of close ties with North America and the Soviet Union.
West African and European influences are particularly evident in Cuban language, religion and music. Spanish is the official language of Cuba and the majority of Cubans identify themselves as Roman Catholic. However, Yoruba (originating in modern-day Nigeria) traditions, rhythms and beliefs traveled to Cuba with the hundreds of thousands of slaves brought to work the sugarcane plantations in the 18th and 19th centuries. Over time, the African and European religions and customs were synthesized, giving way to the widespread Santería belief system. African and Spanish influences are also central to Cuban music and dance, which is widely considered to be among Cuba’s greatest exports. Popular styles such as salsa, rumba and són draw on European melodies and instruments along with African percussion.