Chronicle of a unannounced end rumba


Photos: Gustavo Rivera.

Por: Emir García Meralla

Papá Montero*, seated to Olofi’s ** right hand, looks suspiciously. To the left, there is a long commission of souls, men and women who for more than two centuries have forged a tradition. Curved by the many years burden and the inexhaustible comings and goings is Má Teodora*; an empty cup and a big clay vessel in her bony hands. She pours the content with careful solemnity. Each one of her steps reminds her antecessors’ walk, the rhythm of the first drums. There is rumba on high this Sunday and the same happens in Havana.


Ten days have passed since the rumba became part of the list of the Cultural and Immaterial Patrimony of Humankind. The feast was to be postponed, forcé majeure causes. It’s Sunday and the people dressed their best. Men no longer wear the old “dril 100” linen suits, two-color shoes or jipijapa hats. Women exhibit again their fans, however are not made of pearly shells neither offering a late baroque luxury finish. One of these fans attracts my attention, combining the colors of the flag and a phrase which prevails in these times: I am Cuba.


They are black and white people as the poet would say. There are fine and bad female rumberas dancers. There is even Antonio with his woman* and that step that had made her popular, however today, Sunday; men don’t pay attention to her.  The drums began to do their work.    

Black and whites from all places of this city; many feel passionate about  rumba; others are sons of curiosity that will be recruited when the evening ends, no matter the social origin, the more or less illustrious surname.


There are some tourists attracted by the new: “this is real ruumbaa”…., they say while damaging the Spanish language and try to move their waists making some people to laugh and other to feel ashamed. But they are tourists and their sweat is also valid. Being tourists, they try to record everything with their cameras and even someone thinks naively it is time to connect to the social networks and to post the moment. Ingenuousness has its limits.


A big cloud that only the chosen ones see rises from the stage. Forms only they can see; it is easy to distinguish the founders’ silhouettes, those rumberos that have marked the legend; of those who danced the rumba either in a hut or at the port’s shore or during the long nights after cutting cane.

There are rumberos and rumberas from all parts of the Island. There are all Cubans, however there are some living abroad, but who have been brought back by the call of (the reveille, as the experts will say) the tumba and the beat of the box and the clef. 


Rumba is a form of living, a state of grace; a philosophical condition and a way of loving.

It’s getting dark, blacks and whites, all mixed up despite titles or places of origin, hug each other. The pagan gods that came from Africa are celebrating; some initiates enjoy the special permit their  godfather gave them so as not to miss this event. You live only once although you can dance rumba the whole life.

Papá Montero makes filigrees with his old acana wood can, checks his necklaces and salutes Olofi in the ecobios (amigos) style. Uncle Tom writes in his Rumba diary: “… here are the Cubans… those are my Cubans…” 


The lyric of the next rumba is still to be written, but this time it will bear a little from each one of us. It will be the never ending rumba.



* La mujer de Antonio, Papa Montero, Ma’ Teodora are popular Cuban songs and characters  of the Cuban imaginary.        

** Olofi  is the third manifestation of God in the Yoruba pantheon



Translation: Liana Fleitas (Cubarte)