By Mayté Solano Gómez
Cuba is an island with extraordinary natural wealth. Many are the sites known for their beauty and heritage value. However, there are many other places of incredible beauty that foreign visitors don´t known.
One of those sites is Gibara, in the province of Holguín.
Gibara: a little bit of history.
Gibara is a small city located in north eastern Cuba. It has a peculiar charm that makes visiting it a plus on your trip to the island. Also known as the White Villa, it combines heritage, history, culture, a beautiful landscape and beautiful architectural sites.
Within the fauna, the specimen that most characterizes the territory is the white, crustacean crab that lives under stones and sands. Its life takes place near the coasts and in mangrove and forest areas where humidity prevails. In the spawning season these animals invaded the city on their way to the coasts – which still happens, but much less – and they could be seen walking on streets and sidewalks. This is why Gibara was given the nickname of the White Villa of the Crabs.
When the Spanish arrived in October 1492, the original aboriginal inhabitants showed them the crops they grew an how to use tobacco. However, January 16, 1817 is normally considered the date of the foundation of Gibara, on the occasion of the laying of the first stone of the fortification that would be built in Punta de Yarey, on the shores of the bay, for protection against pirates.
Already on this date the aboriginal Indians had been exterminated and the city was inhabited by a large number of Canary Islanders, Spaniards, other Europeans and people from different countries in America and Africa. Thanks to the economic boom created by the foundation of the port of Gibara and the arrival of the railway in the region, the population growth was considerable in these years. The construction of military fortifications was then necessary for the protection of the town.
Other economic activities were the export of cedar and mahogany wood and also sugar, using the most important rivers in the region, the Cacoyugüin, Gibara and Yabazón. Corn and plantains were also cultivated, in addition to tobacco; cattle, pigs and horses were raised and the hawksbill was exploited through the trade in its precious shells.
Gibara tourist attractions.
From a heritage point of view, the city has one of the best preserved historical centers in the country, 200 years old. Its architecture combines the XIX, XX and XXI centuries, with important examples of each one. The historic center is well preserved with more than 50 percent of the architectural heritage in good condition; wich explains why in 2004 Gibara was declared a National Monument.
The city has the Calixto García Íñiguez main park, formerly Plaza de Armas. In its center there is a miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty, which symbolizes the liberation from the Spanish yoke. Also here is the Parish Church, typical construction of the colonial era.
The Fernando VII Battery is a fortress built by Spain in the 19th century to defend the port from pirate attacks. El Cuartelón, on the other hand, contains the ruins of the fortifications built in the 19th century by the Spanish to defend the city from the attacks of the Mambi Cuban independence fighters.
Some of the most important existing museums in the town are:
• Museum of Decorative Arts: Located in one of the most significant domestic constructions with a local neoclassical style. It has one of the most important and complete collections of its kind in the country and treasures the largest semicircular stained glass windows in eastern Cuba.
• History Museum: It has pieces from the aboriginal settlements, documents and belongings of personalities from the region.
• Natural History Museum: Along with the one in the city of Holguín, it treasures both indigenous and migratory species.
• Old Headquarters of the Spanish Casino (today House of Culture)
The parties and dances are part of the customs and traditions of Gibara. Since the mid-nineteenth century it is said that these activities have been carried out, firstly in private homes and later in societies. With the triumph of the Revolution, some of them have been revitalized or culturally adapted to the new social realities. These parties and dances include:
• Festivities of San Fulgencio, patron saint of Gibara. It is considered the oldest festival in this city, until the triumph of the Revolution. It started on the 13th and lasted until January 16 or 18. During these days there was an activity program, which included traditional games, festivals, competitions between teams from the town, such as ball games. Drinks, food and other items were sold in kiosks built for the event. Since 1979 it has been called the Gibarean Culture Week, which is very popular.
• Chivo Capón dance. Funny and erotic couples dance, but an outsider (El Chivo Capón) wins the challenge and then eliminates all the local boys present. Then, dancer from the region appears and with his movements finally overcomes the visitor, remaining the sole owner of the dance. Currently, the Chivo Capón dance has been revitalized by young fans and is performed throughout the local area.
• Party of the Absent Gibareño. Due to hunger, misery and disease existing in the pre-revolutionary years, the Gibareños emigrated from the region. However, they were homesick and missed their families, so homecomings were organised. These included activities such as traditional games, tattoos in the Calixto García Park, carriage rides and parades, election and coronation of the queen and stars, etc. The Gibareños who had stayed the longest without visiting the town and returned for these celebrations were also publically decorated, as well as those who had excelled in the activities that were carried out. This festival was discontinued between 1961 and 1962 and was revitalized between 1982 and 1990. Today, the festivity no longer exists, but the tradition is kept alive in the hearts of the local people and absent Gibareños.
Other traditions, attractive to everyone who visits the place, are:
• Seafood-based cuisine, mainly crabs and shrimps,
• Tours along the waterfront between the Gibara and Cagoyoguin rivers to collect coquina (oyster-type mollusk),
• Small-scale fishing,
• The Verbena de la Calle de Cemento, a festive celebration that has been incorporated into the Gibareña Culture Week.
In terms of culture, the Gibara International Film Festival, previously known as the International Poor Film Festival, is one of the most important events not only in the region, but throughout the country.
Founded by director Humberto Solás in April 2003, it is an annual non-profit event with a multidisciplinary character, mainly focused on the seventh art. It integrates various artistic performances such as the visual arts, music, theater and dance.
Intended for the general public and lasting a week, it is a showcase for alternative cinema. It is an ideal opportunity for diague between filmmakers, technicians and audiovisual specialists, musicians, film and art students, designers and photographers from Cuba and the world.
In its first edition, a parade was held, which toured the main street of the town, in which the invited artists participated, accompanied by around six thousand people, most of them from the White Villa. This parade is held every year, attracting more and more people.
For this year 2020, the Gibara International Film Festival was postponed to 2021, due to the pandemic caused by the coronavirus. However, the contest “inAcción!” Microcinema in isolation, was created for audiovisual works that narrate stories that occurred or were imagined during the various phases of the pandemic that we still face. All those with a story to tell, from any country, without age limits, with one or more works, may participate.