A journey to Cuba gives the possibility to learn about varied cultures, due to its wide diversity of ethnics, religion and origin, which the Arabs influenced greatly and made them create their own house “Casa de los Árabes” in La Habana Vieja, appealing museum and information centre.
More than 50 thousand Arab descendants in Cuba preserve nowadays cultural elements valued by tourists such as the autochthonous recipes brought many decades ago from that beautiful land full of traditions.
A comprehensive book by the Director of the Museo de los Árabes (museum of Arabs), Rigoberto Menéndez, deals with interesting details such as two migration waves to Cuba: a Moorish in 1593 from Spain and the other one in 1870, of Lebanese emigrants.
The first mentioned, arrived to the Island as Iberian colonizers and others as slaves, many of them cheating Royal rules that used to limit those journeys to the Caribbean.
The reports show the first Lebanese arrivals in the 19th Century, and an Arab population reaching the 40 thousand people. Between 1900 and 1958, 25 societies were created and they currently get together in the Unión Árabe de Cuba, which organizes meetings with businesspersons from the Middle East, it has a venue with a typical restaurant and arranges varied cultural programs.
The work “Componentes Árabes de la cultura cubana” (Arab elements in the Cuban culture) was issued by the publisher Boloña of the Havana’s Historian Office and counts on 144 pages, attached research documents, and photographs.
Menéndez, professional historian, researched during nine years in order to issue his work, considered by himself a first step for future studies about Arabs in Cuba, especially in Havana.
Also, he is in charge of a museum that attracts the attention of thousand of tourists who walk daily around the old city, next to a restaurant named Al Medina where Lebanese and Syrian dishes are served such as the “Kiweh”, made of goat meat slices with wheat.
The museum was founded in 1983 where today is the cozy restaurant, and the new exhibition hall was opened in 1997. As a curiosity, there is a prayer room used by Muslim diplomats and students living in the city.
In the book there is an index of last names with Arab origins frequently used by Cuban families such as Abboud and Marawy. The museum is located in the crowded streets of Oficios between Obispo and Obrapía, near the Plaza de Armas, where the villa San Cristóbal de la Habana was founded on November 16, 1519 by the former inhabitants.
The Habana Vieja welcomes the 95 percent of the travelers who visit the capital. More than two million visitors arrive yearly to Cuba and by that area, the firm Habaguanex S.A. operates restaurants, stores, bars and hotels; run by the City Historian Eusebio Leal’s Office. To watch this place, to understand such a culture is another Cuban feast that pleases most vacationers eager to know beyond their customs.