Cuba Culture

Unburying the Forgotten Presence of Gypsies in Cuba

Posted February 01, 2005 by Dana Garrett in Cuba Culture.


Gypsy characters have become something of a fashion on prime-time soap operas on Cuban television these days.

This has aroused questions on the part of many people on the island who though aware of the influence exerted by foreign cultures on the formation of the Cuban nationality did not, until recently, know that gypsy blood might be running through their veins.

Our African roots, in contrast, are so patent that there is a well-known saying that goes that if a Cuban does not have Congo blood then heóor sheósurely has Calabar blood, meaning there is no way one could escape being racially mixed in Cuba.

But not only did Africans or Spaniards contribute their traditions to the emergence of Cuban culture, other ethnic groups also played a part in shaping it.

History shows that during the first decades of the past century, masses of gipsy immigrants began coming to the island. Some experts argue that these newcomers first set foot on Cuba in the days of Spanish colonization.

Yet, although gypsies were much less discriminated against here than in other parts, a law was passed in the 1930’s forbidding their entry into the country. However, in one way or another, they managed to sidestep the prohibition.

Tales of fortunetellers; women wearing colorful earrings, bracelets, and necklaces; and handsome men quick at putting up and disassembling canvas tents are some of the memories that remain in many old peoples’ minds.

Pedro Verdecie, a retired lawyer and historian who lives in the eastern Cuban province of Las Tunas, recalls having seen groups of men and women camping in this area.

Mr. Verdecie says that these nomads peddled in all kinds of goods and sometimes got involved in illegal activities but still managed to exchange their customs and traditions with the locals.

Despite lack of appropriate documentary evidence to prove the passage of gypsies across the island, the truth is that these days Cubans seem to have started appreciating the imprint left on their national identity by the gypsies, those bohemians of wandering charm.

Member Comments

On February 01, 2005, jesusp wrote:

Extremely interesting Dana, if you have any information on where these immigrants came from please share with us. I would suspect it was mostly from Spain. Thanks.

On February 02, 2005, Dana Garrett wrote:

Sorry, JesusP, I have bo further information.  But here is a link to the above article:

Perhaps the website managers there can help you.