Life at Comecara and the Tumba Francesa

After dessert was served and the gentlemen shared port, cigars, and strong coffee, the entire group gathered on the large veranda surrounding the house, overlooking the coffee-terraced drying floors. Then they moved into the great salon where they were going to view a performance by the slaves.

Candles flickered all over the great salon as the slave women, dressed in lush, elaborate ball gowns, entered into the salon. Their partners, the slave men, wore sport white topcoats with tails and matching white cravats, contrasting with their dark skin.

The performance space filled the salon with the driving rhythms of Africa-style drums as the Tumba Francesa, a unique dance performed in Oriente, linked the entire group to their French and Haitian roots. The dancers, dignified, paraded with curtseys and bows, decorous dance steps counterbalanced by dramatic percussive music.

The dancers promenaded in stately rows, dancing to the beat of a battery of African-style drums: the premier, the largest drum; the segonde, medium-sized; and the smallest, the catá, a hollow wood log struck with two sticks.

“What is this fascinating dance?” asked Señor Roy.

“It comes from Haiti, the former home of our grandparents,” said Josefina.

“Tell me more about your arrival in Cuba?” he asked. “In Haiti, we were a family of French planters, and the slave insurrection of 1791 spread across the country, defeating even Napoleon’s armies. My grandparents were killed, and Papa fled with his household slaves,” explained Alejandrina. “Remember, one in four of us living in Oriente came from what is become the Republic of Haiti.”

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