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The Chinese Community and the Corneta China: Two Divergent Paths in Cuba

  • Rolando Antonio Pérez Fernández

Extract

The Chinese are acknowledged to be one of the four basic ethnic groups that made up Cuba as a nation. Many Chinese joined in the nineteenth-century independence wars against Spanish colonial rule, and several Cubans of Chinese ancestry (hereafter, “Chinese descendants”) turned out to be renowned artists and writers, including, among others, poet Regino Pedroso, painter Flora Fong, and Wifredo Lam, the most universal of all Cuban painters. Chinese influence has been felt in diverse fields of Cuban culture, from culinary art to religion, and from martial arts to music. Specifically, the introduction of a musical instrument, a sort of oboe or shawm called a corneta china, derived from the Han Chinese suona, is one of the most significant Chinese cultural contributions to this island country. Nevertheless, the original instrument is no longer played by Chinese natives, and the corneta china has been appropriated by non-Chinese Cubans since 1915, particularly in the eastern region of the island, where it is played in carnival street bands almost exclusively by performers of African descent. Thus, except for a short-lived attempt to come together in the lion dance during the 1980s and early 1990s, the development of the Chinese community and that of the corneta china have followed divergent paths in Cuba, both of which are succinctly traced in this article.

Abstract in Spanish

Los chinos son reconocidos como una de los cuatro componentes básicos que conformaron a Cuba como nación. Muchos chinos pelearon por la independencia de Cuba en las guerras del siglo XIX contra el dominio colonial español. Asimismo, varios chino-descendientes en Cuba han resultado ser renombrados artistas y escritores. La influencia china se ha dejado sentir en varios campos de la cultura cubana, desde el arte culinario hasta la religión, y desde las artes marciales hasta la música. Específicamente, la introducción de un instrumento musical, una suerte de oboe o chirimía llamada corneta china, derivada del suona chino, es uno de los aportes chinos más importantes a la cultura cubana. Sin embargo, el instrumento original ya no lo tocan los chinos nativos, y de la corneta china se han apropiado los cubanos no chinos desde 1915, particularmente en la región oriental de la isla, donde es tocado casi exclusivamente por ejecutantes descendientes de africanos. Así, salvo en un fugaz y fallido intento de juntarse en la Danza del León en la década de 1980, el desarrollo de la comunidad china y el de la corneta china han seguido caminos divergentes que son rastreados aquí.

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References

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The Chinese Community and the Corneta China: Two Divergent Paths in Cuba

  • Rolando Antonio Pérez Fernández

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