Gloria Rolando’s new film “Reembarque” [Reshipment] documents the migration of Haitians to Cuba in the early 20 century to work on the sugar plantations. When the sugar market crashed many were forcibly returned. However a small number of Haitians remained in Cuba and it is they and their descendants who are the subjects of Rolando’s film.
The film tells a story that, despite discrimination suffered by the Haitians, the Creole language, vodou, and other musical and dance traditions remain strongly embedded in the Cuban cultural landscape.
The presence of Haitians in Cuba dates back to the Haitian revolution when French colonials ran away to Cuba taking their enslaved Africans with them. There are also more recent migrations by Haitians escaping the brutal regimes of the Duvaliers. Cuba has in turn been heavily involved in providing training and medical staff to Haiti including in the immediate aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake.
Afro Cuban Revolutionaries
Thematically Rolando’s films document the little know chapters in Cuban History such as “Voces para un Silencio” [Breaking the Silence] and “Raíces de mi corazón” [Roots of My Heart] which both tell the story of the ‘Partido Independiente de Color‘ founded in 1908. Long before Fidel Castro, Black Cubans had fought the Spanish plantocracy and kicked them out of Cuba. However the party was short lived and was denied status in 1910 when they were accused of being ‘crazed rapists’ wanting a ‘Haitian’ style revolution. In 1912 the leadership along with thousands of Afro Cubans were massacred.
Los Independientes were made up of many veterans of the Mambi Army, which was itself 80% to 90% of African descent. The Mambises kicked the Spaniards out from Cuba and forced the plantocracy to ally themselves with the Americans to take back Cuba from the Cubans of African descent. When the Independents challenged them again, the plantocracy massacred over 6,000 as US troops stood by and US Navy ships were on hand to provide back up. This whole history has long been passed under silence and repressed.
Her 1991 documentary, ‘Oggun: An Eternal Presence’ documents the life of Afro Cuban musician, Lazaro Ros. In telling the story Rolando draws on Cuba’s African heritage through, Orisha Ogún [Santería] [ In Vodou, Lwa Ogun] the Yoruba warrior spirit of iron courage and strength.
To learn more of Gloria Rolando’s work see the video below and also an interview with Africa Today host, Walter Turner.