This is the fourth post in a week long series on Religion in Cuba Today. Our next post in this series will provide information on the multiple belief systems at play in Cuba’s religious life. You won’t want to miss it. Sign up for our e-mail list to have it delivered to your mailbox automatically.
While gold was not discovered in Cuba, the island’s strategic location and good harbors made the country quite valuable to Spain.
The Spanish population in Cuba grew slowly in the 16th and 17th centuries. There were few (Spanish) women among the colonial settlers, spurring the mingling of race and culture that is representative of Cuban society in present times.
Toward the end of the 18th century the profitability of sugar increased, leading to a marked increase in Cuba’s population.
Just to give you an idea: in 1763, there were fewer than 150,000 inhabitants on the island. By 1860, there were 1.3 million. Many were slaves.
Hundreds of thousands of West Africans arrived in Cuba as part of the Middle Passage. Their number rose dramatically, from 39,000 in the 1770s to 400,000 in the 1840s. Today, over 60% of Cubans have African roots: Yoruba, Congo, Old Dahomey, and the Efik/Efo from the Cross River Delta (Nigeria).
You can find out more about Cuba’s Afro-Cuban roots by visiting Afro Cuba Web.
Chinese indentured servants added to the mix. They were brought to Cuba in the late 1880s to replace slave labor.
Haitians, Jamaicans, and other Caribbean islanders also arrived in significant numbers to work in Cuba’s sugar industry, arriving in the early decades of the 20th century.
Today’s diversity of religious experience in Cuba is a result of the many ethnic and cultural groups that that I’ve just mentioned. The groups come from different continents, but more importantly, they’ve experienced unequal positions in a highly stratified Cuban society.
African blacks and European whites occupied the subordinate and superior positions of slaves and slaveholders respectively, and the legacy of this history is in evidence today.
A religious divide has been especially pronounced between the Catholic Church and the Afro-Cuban bellievers.
As I’ve pointed out, Christianity arrived in Cuba via the Catholic Church bringing with it associations with the conqueror, the colonizer, and the oppressor.
The African religions, on the other hand, gave spiritual sustenance to the uprooted, the subjugated, and the marginalized slave population. These influences shape Cuban society even today.
By the end of the 19th century, the four hundred year period of Spanish colonial rule was coming to an end, and America was stepping in to play a powerful role in Cuban affairs.
Politically, militarily, and economically, the US dominated Cuba throughout the first half of the 20th century.
American troops arrived on the island in 1898.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, given this penetration, to find US religious and educational institutions playing a more prominent role on the island.
As an aside, the Spanish colonial government first allowed Protestant preaching in 1871, but only to expatriates living in Cuba.
Protestantism was formally established in Cuba in 1898.
Prior to this — and aside from the expatriates I just mentioned — there had been attempts by Cuban patriots to establish Protestantism on the island. Many of the Cubans involved in this effort had returned from exile in the United States and had become Protestant pastors while living abroad.
It was these Cubans — not foreign missionaries — who established the first Protestant congregations on the island.
You won’t want to miss our next post in this series. It’s going to provide more information on the multiple beliefs in Religion in Cuba today. Sign up for our e-mail list to have it delivered to your mailbox automatically.