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Every year, the capital of the northeastern province of Las Tunas becomes the venue for the Jornada Cucalambeana in memory of Las Tunas-born poet Juan Cristóbal Nápoles Fajardo (aka El Cucalambé), the most important Cuban decimista, country ballad poet, in nineteenth-century Cuba.
A trip to the Cucalambeana Country Fair takes you a long way off of the regular tourist trail, but it gives you a unique opportunity to see real Cuban country folk. Whether you like the cock-fighting or not, you have to admit that it plays an undeniable role in countryside culture and history of Cuba. And that is what the festival isa ll about: keeping alive the music and traditions of the Cuban countryside.
The event lasts five days, beginning in late June to incorporate July 1, the birthdate of El Cucalambé. It is always held in El Cornito, the home of the poet that now serves as a hotel on the outskirts of Las Tunas. A scenic area, there are several sculptures dedicated to El Cucalambé, an open area for horseback riding, children’s playgrounds, and several small plazas.
The actual Cucalambeana itself includes the recital and singing of décimas, a Spanish stanza of ten octosyllabic lines created in early-modern Spain and adopted by the country folk of the Americas. Repentistas, or improvisers, come from all over the country to show their talent at this difficult art at the Justo Vega Competition while children showcase their talent at the Colorín.
There are also traditional country dances, which takes place at El Cornito’s plazas. These dances have a twist: they are competitions between two teams: the Blue team and the Red team. In fact, all of the activities held during the festival are competitions between the Red and Blue teams, so don’t be surprised to see competitors wearing costumes, hats and kerchiefs in one of these two colors.
If cock-fighting and dancing aren’t enough for you, why not join the audience at the popular improvisation event where you can contribute to the poets’ décimas by giving them pie forzados, phrases prompted by anyone present that the poets must follow in order to create their poem. Experts agree that repentismo, or the improvisation of décimas, requires great talent and quick thinking nurtured from the cradle.
And don’t forget the beauty pageant. Every year, a girl is chosen girl who best exemplifies the beauty of a typical country woman (tall, long black hair and dark skin). The winner is declared La Flor de Birama, or The Flower of Birama, and all the other girls are her Petals. During the festival, in their roles as the Flower and the Petals, the girls attend all of the events wearing the Cuban national dress, inspiring the poets and composers with their beauty.
For 45 years, the Cucalambeana has celebrated peasant traditions and honored the rich culture of the Cuban countryside. El Cornito may not be near the top of many tourist agendas, but a visit to the Cucalambeana is a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the traditional culture of the Cuban countryside in all its glory.