Four Moments for Just One Story
“TOBACCO WAS ALWAYS ELEGANT; 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…”
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