afro-cuban-tales

I don’t remember clearly the last time I read fables. It might have been 15 years ago, it might have been even longer. What I do remember, though, is my pure infatuation with fables and especially with the one about the fox and the grapes. Like every healthy normal child (I would assume) I loved when animals spoke, acted and felt like us humans and I secretly dreamed they actually do. I secretly, secretly hoped they are just hiding their talents so that we do not utilize them to our advantage. Compared to that disappointment, the truth about Father Christmas hurt significantly less.

Come to think about it, I can’t find a reason why we ever stop reading fables. Life is unfair most of the time (as my dad usefully reminds me daily) so it feels more than awesome when the good guys overcome the bad guys using their wit and wisdom. Or when everyone gets what he deserves instead of what life serves him on a plate.

Lydia Cabrera’s Afro-Cuban Tales remind of fables, only fables set in Cuba. Growing up Cabrera becomes infatuated with the heritage and traditions of her home country – and she decides to convey them through magical and supernatural tales. A storyteller and an ethnographer, Cabrera sets on a journey throughout the history of Cuba – and delivers the real through the magical and the possible through the impossible. Her tales create a world, where people, Gods, animals and plants interact with each other and influence each other’s lives. Based on superstitions as well as religious rituals Afro-Cuban Tales offer abundance of details about Cuban practices, objects and religious ceremonies. For an ignorant reader as myself it has been an eye-opening experience into the world of Cuba. Some of the stories are existing legends or built around existing folk songs, while others are a result of the author’s imagination.

Unlike fables, though, Lydia Cabrera’s tales don’t always have a happy ending. Between the story of the girl who married an earthworm and later a bull and the history of how the mouse, cat and dog turned out to be death enemies, there are tales in which the evil flourishes and overcomes the good. Whatever the outcome, though, Cabrera always manages to end on some witty and wise note. Beyond the historical and cultural importance, Cabrera’s Afro-Cuban Tales establish ethical and human norms, according to which people regardless of race, colour or origin should live.

The English translation of the novel draws both from the Spanish and the French editions – the extensive notes below the text clearly explain the differences between the two editions and leaves open for interpretation the question of why Cabrera chose to write them differently. Overall, Afro-Cuban Tales is a good introduction to the mysterious and supernatural world of Cuba – told through the perspective of an ingeniously proud citizen.