|Santiago de Cuba is Cuba's most Afro-Caribbean city.|
Heat shimmers off the road as the officer walks over and bends to speak to our driver and friend, Rolando. "Going to El Cobre?" he asks, pushing his visor up from his glistening, sun-roasted face. "Bring back some cold water, hermano."
"Of course, brother!" Rolando replies, and we're off again, through the green and lovely landscape northwest of Santiago de Cuba. Roadside vendors sell sunflowers; panhandlers slip glittering stones into our hands when we stop.
|On the way to El Cobre, 20 km northwest of Santiago de Cuba.|
|Honouring the Virgin by wearing yellow.|
A week after our visit, Pope Benedict XVI would make a landmark visit to Cuba and the shrine. For now it is quiet, a few families with babies to be blessed, a tour group annointing themselves with holy water. Something strikes me. From candles to ballcaps to sunflower bouquets, the scene has a definite colour scheme: yellow.
Here, where Cuba's complicated history and cultural mix have layered Catholic iconography over African beliefs in a complex religion called Santeria, the tiny Madonna perched above the altar at El Cobre is also worshipped as Ochun, the Yoruba orisha or goddess of love, dance, pleasure, home and happiness.
Colour has great significance in Santeria and beautiful Ochun is associated with the warm glow of yellow.
|Goddesses of dance and celebration at the Tropicana nightclub in Santiago de Cuba.|