Four Mo­ments for Just One Story



Many cen­turies went by be­fore knowl­edge of to­bacco in Latin Amer­ica was truly ac­quired. It had been grown for over 5,000 years be­fore the ar­rival of Christo­pher Colum­bus

To­bacco of Ha­vana first and Ha­bano later; they are mo­ments that mark the de­vel­op­ment of this prod­uct and its in­dus­try, trav­el­ing from abo­rig­i­nals all the way to aris­to­crats in ev­ery nook and cranny of the world. The mo­ment of splen­dor, though, came to pass in the 19th cen­tury.

Many cen­turies went by be­fore knowl­edge of to­bacco in Latin Amer­ica was truly ac­quired. It's been grown for over 5,000 years be­fore the ar­rival of Christo­pher Colum­bus and his men, who found peo­ple who had come up through dif­fer­ent in­flows of im­mi­grants from South Amer­ica.

Ca­hoba or Co­jiba in the hands of the Arawaks didn't rely solely on the use of dry leaves that were ground into pow­der, rolled into stumps or turned into paste. They were also trans­formed into a to­ken of friend­ship and bond among all mem­bers of the com­mu­nity. To­gether to other herbs and plants, to­bacco smoke was part of a rit­ual in which the Be­hike was the star of the show, call­ing for peace, health, the elim­i­na­tion of con­flicts, good crops and other vi­tal needs for these pre-his­panic groups.

“To­bacco was al­ways ar­ro­gant; the Indies conquistadors bragged about it, and so did sailors and their com­pan­ions at sea, vet­eran sol­diers in far­away wars, well-to-do is­lan­ders, infatuated navigators, op­u­lent mer­chants, and then it turned out to be a stim­u­lus and a sym­bol for those men who could buy in­di­vid­ual plea­sure, yield­ing it in their hands as a chal­lenge against all con­ven­tion­alisms that used to re­strain plea­sure.” (Or­tiz, 1963,12).

Look­ing into the his­tory of this in­dus­try, the men and women who take part in it, into each cu­rios­ity and re­search out­come, are en­deav­ors this mu­seum has em­barked on day after day

And in that group of men the Cuban sage men­tioned above, we could count in those who will be ar­riv­ing in Cuba in Fe­bru­ary 2018, ea­ger to wit­ness a cel­e­bra­tion for the 20th Ha­bano Fes­ti­val and ex­pe­ri­ence the “in­di­vid­ual plea­sure” of puff­ing on new vitolas com­ing our way from two brands that have made his­tory in their own ways: Cohiba and Partagás.

Cohiba pays trib­ute to the old­est his­tory of to­bacco, later on trans­formed into that cigar brand every­body wanted to have, smoke and see; a brand that since 1966 had been re­served for the Coun­cil of State to give out among friends of Cuba's, pres­i­dents and other per­son­al­i­ties; a brand that Cuban leader Fidel Cas­tro used to smoke.

Parta­gas, for its part, is the ex­pres­sion of the to­bacco in­dus­try's ad­vance since the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tury, cov­eted for its strength and sought after by big-time smok­ers. It was born in 1845 by the hand of the big­gest rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Cat­alo­nian mi­gra­tion at that time, Jaime Parta­gas y Ra­bell, who wasn't con­tent with the small work­shop he opened in 1927 and even­tu­ally built a jaw-drop­ping ed­i­fice that could be eas­ily made out from Paseo del Prado when the Capi­tol wasn't still there.

Now this an­cient cigar fac­tory will give way to the fu­ture Mu­seum of Ha­bano, which will pan out to be one of the Cuba's main in­sti­tu­tions of its kind and the most sig­nif­i­cant ded­i­cated to this topic world­wide. It will open with a ba­sic view to study, pre­serve, pro­mote and safe­guard the to­bacco her­itage. Its mis­sion will con­sist of dig­ni­fy­ing the his­tory and cul­ture of to­bacco in this coun­try ev­ery step of the way. The mu­seum should not only spread out the his­tory of brands like Parta­gas and Cohiba, or the Ha­bano Fes­ti­vals, but should also delve deeper into ev­ery piece of his­tory in an ef­fort to show that to­bacco is a sym­bol of na­tional iden­tity and cul­ture.

For all those rea­sons, the small house on 120 Mer­caderes Street, in the heart of Ha­vana's his­toric core, will cel­e­brate the 25th an­niver­sary of its foun­da­tion on Fe­bru­ary 26, the same day the fes­ti­val will kick off.

Mak­ing cigar and cig­a­rette boxes, pipes, tips and butts, ash­trays, lighters, cigar cut­ters, bands, brand­ings, oil paint­ings and other ar­ti­facts tell their own sto­ries is a job this mu­seum has set out to achieve ev­ery day of ev­ery year.

Look­ing into the his­tory of this in­dus­try, the men and women who take part in it, into each cu­rios­ity that spins a yarn about his­tory, and putting the re­search out­comes in the hands of ex­ec­u­tives, ex­perts, busi­ness­peo­ple and oth­ers, are en­deav­ors this mu­seum has em­barked on day after day.

One of the projects the mu­seum con­ducts is a Di­ploma De­gree on “His­toric, So­cioe­co­nomic and Cul­tural Over­view of Cuba's To­bacco In­dus­try”, a course that has been by and large the most de­manded pro­posal among Ha­bano en­thu­si­asts since its open­ing on Novem­ber 3, 1999.

With a vol­ume of knowl­edge re­lated to the his­tory, art, cul­ture, cul­ti­va­tion, pre-in­dus­try and in­dus­try of Ha­bano around the world –cour­ses are taught by a clus­ter of 34 re­searcherseach and ev­ery one of the over 1,000 grad­u­ates from the 17 dif­fer­ent edi­tions have been able to la­bel the Ha­bano as a na­tional sym­bol.

The “Ha­vana-ha­banos Sym­po­sium”, now en­ter­ing its 7th edi­tion, has man­aged to gather more than 140 Cuban schol­ars and 15 for­eign­ers from 9 coun­tries. These lovers of Cuban cigars come to the is­land na­tion. The end re­sult is the con­gre­ga­tion of sci­en­tists, re­searchers, artists, col­lec­tors, mer­chants, Ha­banosom­me­liers and other pro­fes­sion­als who un­der­stand and need to gauge the sci­en­tific scope of this event that, as a mat­ter of fact, also fos­ters the ex­change among to­bacco planters.

Dur­ing the week­long “Ha­banos, Cul­ture and Pair­ing”work­shops, bar­tenders and Ha­banosom­me­liers can look deeper into the organolep­tic fea­tures of the prod­ucts hand­picked to be paired with Ha­banos.

Since 2009 and ev­ery other year, spe­cial­ists from dif­fer­ent coun­tries have a chance to share views in the course of this event, a gath­er­ing that has con­trib­uted to the train­ing of four Cuban som­me­liers and four from other na­tions who have won the Ha­banosom­me­lier Con­test at the Ha­bano Fes­ti­vals.

The Ha­bano Chats is a cul­tural space that for over 15 years has been ded­i­cated to per­son­al­i­ties that used to be cigar smok­ers. Their pho­to­graphs dec­o­rate the lounges where smok­ers gather. Some of the boldface names on the walls are Or­son Welles, José Lezama Lima, Win­ston Churchill, Com­pay Se­gundo, Ché Gue­vara, as well as peo­ple like Si­mon Chase (UK), Hein­rich Vil­liger (Ger­many), Blanxa Al­zog­a­ray (Ar­gentina), Amir Saarony (Canada), Roberto Dis­se­rio and Francesco Minet­tif (Italy). The list also in­cludes celebri­ties such as Chu­cho Valdés, Leo Brouwer, Ser­gio Vi­tier, Juan José López, Norma del Castillo, Fer­nando Fernán­dez and José Caste­lar, just to men­tion a few, but all of them closely re­lated to the mu­seum and with per­ma­nent col­lab­o­ra­tions with it. Last but not least, there are projects that tar­get women, such as the “Ha­bano Flow­ers” Col­lo­quium, an event that since the year 2000 is held ev­ery month of March to un­der­score the role played by le femmes in the realm of Ha­banos. Based on their pro­fes­sions, a meet­ing is held ev­ery month at the mu­seum in which one of these women tells her own story. An­other young project now un­der­way –it's been around for just seven years- is the “Fe­male Friends of Ha­banos”, gath­er­ing over 70 women from the turf and over­seas to dis­cuss on top­ics re­lated to to­bacco cul­ture, as well as take a closer look at the art of pair­ings and at his­tory, art and cul­ture from a gen­eral stand­point. It's been 25 years of love and pas­sion for the to­bacco cul­ture, of non­stop teach­ings and pro­mo­tion of this cul­ture, of con­stant ex­changes among those who ded­i­cate their lives to safe­guard­ing and prais­ing Cuban cigars. That's why when the gates of the Ha­vana In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence Cen­ter open on Fe­bru­ary 26 for the in­au­gu­ra­tion of the 20th Ha­bano Fes­ti­val, there will be four mo­ments com­ing to­gether as one: the 20th edi­tion of the Ha­bano Fes­ti­val, the recog­ni­tion of two prodi­gious brands –Cohiba and Partagás- and the 25th an­niver­sary of the To­bacco Mu­seum at the Of­fice of the City His­to­rian. Many thanks to each and ev­ery one of you that have sup­ported us through­out these years, to those that in both Cuba and around the world have un­der­stood that the “spe­cial gift Cuba has been blessed with” is boosted up ev­ery pass­ing day through the wis­dom, hard work and ded­i­ca­tion of peo­ple who want to keep Ha­banos on the high­est pedestal and see more his­tory be made be­fore their eyes.

In the near fu­ture, the To­bacco Mu­seum will pan out to be one the most sig­nif­i­cant in­sti­tu­tions in Cuba and the most im­por­tant one of its kind in the world

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