Photo: Ismael Francisco

Throughout my life, I’ve heard friends in Remedios talk about the Parrandas (traditional carnival-like street parties), just like my father who could spend hours in conversation with other lovers of the tradition. Since 1980, he has worked on carrozas (floats) and the preparation of the Plaza for both of the competing neighborhoods, and even those of other towns in the island’s center. More than once, as a teenager, I raised the banner of my neighborhood in small-scale Parrandas I organized.

Awaiting the celebrations and their magic has all of Cuba talking. Perhaps these same sentiments led another Remedios native, Rafael Lara González, to follow the path that led him to the cultural phenomena as a Popular Traditional Culture specialist. Now that the Parrandas of Cuba’s central region have been declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, he offers us his opinions.

What is the current state of Parrandas at the national level, in terms of conservation of the original tradition?

In Camajuaní, Chambas, and Guayos, despite some date changes and the incomplete assurance of supplies, the process has been viable, and happily celebrations have not stopped. Coincidentally, in these places, after the Heritage of the Nation Declaration, Parranda conferences were held, in which practitioners shared their activities, experiences, and concerns, in conjunction with the participating cultural and governmental institutions - spaces for dialogue, exchange, and reflection, with positive results, an initiative to be followed by other Parranda towns.

We have taken steps to ensure that the Remedios Parrandas again takes place as it always has. In the other communities, a much more viable celebration has been seen, as part of their conservation. After the Declaration, governments became more aware, and encouragement as process has improved. Many towns have already won the National Living Memory Award, granted by the Ministry of Culture, as is the case of the Remedios Parrandas and that of Chambas, which also have to their credit the National Community Culture Prize sponsored by the National Council of Casas de Cultura, among many other recognitions.

To win this battle it is imperative, first of all, to determine the reach of the state; we suggest an exhaustive study, since a diversity of initiatives exists, which must be reflected in policies and norms that accompany these. Additionally, these must be re-done in practice, taking into account all of the particularities of every one of the Parrandas.

This is a call for updating and taking advantage of the supports and initiatives, maintaining constant, ongoing dialogue with every member of the Parranda neighborhoods.

Photo: Ismael Francisco

To be sustainable, a transformative process is indispensable, which must take place within local governments. As a reciprocal necessity, therefore, knowledge of and respect for the area’s culture, its roots, history, identity, and particularities are essential, although much better advantage must be taken of regional relations and connections. The independence and autonomy of local bodies also facilitates this process.

There is a need to broadly share the most viable experiences that have been achieved in these celebrations. Clearing the road on the administrative level can undoubtedly contribute to new, effective formulas of cultural management. Promoting debate regarding these roles in already existing regional academic spaces or symposia would be very useful. It’s about gaining economic and legal culture within the phenomenon.How do you ensure that conditions are in place to reduce the risk of accidents?The secret is in the discipline each neighborhood leadership is capable of promoting. It is undoubtedly in the area of fireworks where the greatest risk of these unfortunate events exists. On several occasions, the Ministry’s National Commission for the Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage has placed this item on its agenda. We met with governments and public order authorities, and in all cases, accidents were attributed to the disorganization of the firing area. How can people not identified as professional fireworks staff be allowed in firing areas?

I understand that, in a timely fashion, public authorities are given a list of the persons authorized to carry out this activity, to be identified with a kerchief or arm band. On the other hand, we cannot permit the illicit sales of fireworks produced in clandestine sites, which at times do not meet chemical standards for their effective functioning. Authorized entities, pyrotechnicians, are the only ones who should supply fireworks to neighborhoods, for the good of the cultural event and for the good of Cuban culture.

What was the basis of the Parrandas’ recognition as Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO?It is a distinctly popular, deeply-rooted phenomenon, recognized in diverse communities, constituting a vital family, neighborhood, and community need, for each of their inhabitants. It is an authentic expression of Living Cultural Heritage, found only in Cuba. It cannot be found anywhere else in the world. It is unique, given its lucidity, dynamism, its thematic and ethno-demographic diversity, characteristics and identity elements, added value, and for facilitating the sense of continuity in new generations, for its sense of collectivity and inclusion, for its resistance and durability over almost 200 years, for keeping a tradition alive. - The Parrandas phenomenon of Cuba’s Central Region was recently declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, in the 13th Session of UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage Committee.- The Parrandas were selected along with other cultural traditions from among 40 proposals.- In 2013, these events were declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Nation, in a declaration that identifies 18 settlements in ten municipalities of Villa Clara, Sancti Spíritus, and Ciego de Ávila, during an assembly, which took place in the atrium of the Parish Church of San Juan Bautista, in Remedios.- The Parrandas emerged around 1820 and are in good health.