Tuesday, 28 July 2015
Cuba: Holy Tree, Vinales
Call me a 'tree hugger' if you like, but I do find old trees inviting to touch. To sweep your fingertips softly against old tree bark is to make a connection with history, with a living entity that has witnessed silently the coming and going of decades, even centuries. Trees inspire awe in me, reverence even. They are incredible when you come to think about it, but we mostly take them for granted.
We had been following a route downloaded from the internet. The presence of a cross on the map indicating a church, we thought, had confused us. It was difficult to imagine where it might be in the landscape. It was not a church but the tree: a shrine, perhaps even a place for worship, where offerings had been made.
Christianity is the principal religion in Cuba, mainly Roman Catholicism which was brought to the island in the Spanish colonial days. There is a Catholic Church in the town of Vinales itself.
There is another religion on the island called Santeria which, as I understand it, grew up with an outward appearance of catholicism but was mixed with the Yoruba religion practised by African slaves who were brought here to work on the sugar plantations.
Back in Havana for the last few days of our trip, our antennae were more in tune having seen the tree so that we picked up on aspects of Santeria in practice around the city. We noticed Santeria services being conducted in ordinary front rooms, the doors and windows wide open to let in the air.
Within this context, it's easy to imagine why one might choose a tree like the one in Vinales to be a holy place or a shrine. It has a strong presence, standing tall and visible from all around and providing shelter from the sun and rain. If you were to describe its character in human terms, you might choose words like calm, still, reassuring and strong: qualities most of us seek when we're in need of support.
Posted by Kelly at 07:00