La Marina and the Festividades del Muñeco de San Juan
By Raúl Domínguez, Yudania García Alberja, and Raúl (Yunior) Domínguez García
Translated by: Cindy García and Devon Severson
The Festividades del Muñeco de San Juan have been a cultural tradition of the La Marina neighborhood of Matanzas, Cuba since 1940. The tradition was created by Jorge Sabino García (Lubrillante), Jesús Alfonso, Mario Leal, and Vinajera, men born in the neighborhood, recognized by the community, on the banks of the Yurumí River. The tradition is a religious practice of Santería, since that same day is the day of Oggún, syncretized with San Juan. La Marina is a neighborhood of religious Black people who worked on the pier. The whole neighborhood identifies with Oggún since he is the owner of the iron and it is a blessing that he clears the way, that is, from the beginning of the summer with a clean path. They create it so that Oggún takes away everything bad and has a good summer, since, after San Juan burns, the religious can go to the beach and the river. There is also the aim of receiving Oggún’s blessings, because there was a time when many people drowned in the river and on the beach. Since Oggún is the one who takes away everything bad, by performing this ceremony, he is being given knowledge to clear the way and so that summer can be enjoyed without difficulties. It is blessed by all sailor men and women; there, we make offerings to Oshun and religious activities of Osha.
The creator of this tradition, Jorge Sabino García (Lubrillante), died in the 70s. Only one or two remained who were the ones who told us how the burning was done, and these two people who were alive did not do it anymore. This tradition was revitalized by the sociocultural project based on a diagnostic study that showed the interest of the neighborhood in rescuing it. Today, it lasts for more than 20 years. In 2001, we carried out a participatory diagnosis in the neighborhood, and there, the rescue of the burning of the El Muñeco de San Juan came out and they told us how the activity was carried out. Its purpose is aimed at strengthening the identity and culture of the neighborhood, an activity that is celebrated every June 23rd.
El Muñeco de San Juan was built by a gentleman from the neighborhood who is part of our project, Fedor, the head with papier-mâché and the body is from newspaper. Our family is responsible for all of the logistics, coordinating the cultural activity, and looking for the muñeco’s clothes with the people of the neighborhood. We prepare the stretcher and the chair. The muñeco is made by Fedor. The clothes are people from the neighborhood who approach, one person gives the tie, another the pants, and that’s how everything is achieved. It is done differently, with short or long hair, with glasses or without. We have a sailor named Rodolfito who cares a lot about the clothes, two or three months before the muñeco is already wearing some clothes.
The celebration begins at 9:00 at night with a procession, through the cabildos, bound for the banks of the Yurumí in the Viejo Espigón. The march will last the time necessary to arrive at this place at midnight to carry out the burning of el muñeco. La Marina and Simpson are two religious neighborhoods, in Daoiz we go up and find the Cabildo del Niño de Atocha, Elegua, which opens the way for us. The Iyesa is a Cabildo Religioso, it is important because it is the only one that exists in Latin America and it is located in Matanzas, in the Simpson neighborhood. I cannot tell you anything else because it is a very strong foundation that I cannot talk about any more. We continue and in Velardes we find two Casas de Juego in Abakua, Efi Condo, and Efi Acamaro. We continue and we arrive at the most important, the Cabildo de Oggún, where they give it its derecho, which can be a rooster, a candle, a bottle of brandy, a coconut, or candles. We continue and we arrive at the Cabildo de Olokun, where the principle drums of Central America exist. The burning happens at 12:00 at night, and on June 24.
Of the boys and girls, I will tell you that it is a party that they created, that when el muñeco is on fire, they throw stones at it to destroy it and that it falls into the river and that is how everything bad goes away. It is a tradition that takes place before the triumph of the Revolution, it is a characteristic of the neighborhood, it is centuries old and the sailors identify with the Quema del Muñeco because everything bad is taken away and the summer begins.
The entire neighborhood identifies with this tradition, since the activity is religious and the neighborhood is visibly religious, practicing Cuban religions of African origin. We achieve the integrity of the Cabildo Iyesa, the participation of children who love the burning of the muñeco, adults who appreciate the rescue, and provincial culture. It is linked to the municipal culture directorate, the municipal government, the Asociación Cubana de Artesanos y Artistas, known as ACAA. The Provincial Museum, performing arts, all recognize our tradition and have supported it in some moments.
Caption: Raúl Dominguez Valdés, Alias Kimbo, y Yudania García Alberja. Foto por Louis Seyler, 2018.
Raúl Domínguez Valdés, Alias Kimbo. Coordinator of the Red Barrial de Matanzas, Popular Educator, neighborhood leader of the La Marina neighborhood.
Yudania García Alberja. Coordinator of the Red Barrial de Matanzas team, Educator Popular.
Raúl Domínguez García, Alias Yunior. member of the Red Barrial Afrodescendiente team.