University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Stewart Culin in Cuba, 1901


By: Alessandro Pezzati

October 26, 2015

In 1901, Stewart Culin, Curator of the General Ethnology Section (among his many titles) of the Penn Museum, traveled to Cuba to investigate the existence of an un-acculturated indigenous group in the mountains of eastern Cuba. Culin’s journey, which lasted a few weeks, took him to Havana and points in eastern Cuba, including El Caney, Mata, Yara, Yateras, Jara, Punta Maisi, Pueblo Viejo, El Caney, El Cobre, Daiquiri, Santiago de Cuba, and Guantánamo.

Cave at Monte Libano. Source of the Guaso River. Taken by Stewart Culin during his 1901 trip to Cuba.
Cave at Monte Libano. Source of the Guaso River. Taken by Stewart Culin during his 1901 trip to Cuba.  Penn Museum image no. 240596A

Culin published the results of his trip in the Museum’s former journal, Bulletin of the Free Museum of Science and Art (vol. III, no. 4; 1902). He did not find the supposed “untouched” Indians, but he spent time studying the music and games of individuals living in El Caney, Yateras, and other places near Guantánamo.

Indians playing Guayo and Guitar. Culin's guide is on the left. Yateras, Cuba. From Stewart Culin's 1901 Expedition to Cuba. Penn Museum Image no. 240598
Indians playing Guayo and Guitar.  Yateras, Cuba, 1901.  Penn Museum Image no. 240598A

His records in the Museum Archives include two small field notebooks containing drawings of musical instruments and utensils, with notes on Spanish vocabulary and pronunciation. The photographs depict the harbor and buildings of Havana as well as individuals of eastern Cuba preparing food and playing musical instruments.

Indian woman pounding maize, Yateras, Cuba. From Stewart Culin's 1901 Expedition to Cuba. Penn Museum image no. 240599A
Indian woman pounding maize, Yateras, Cuba, 1901. Penn Museum image no. 240599A

Culin also met Josè Almenares Argüello, a man 112 years old, living in El Caney; “very hale and alert for his age.” Culin asked him “what course he had taken to prolong his life. He replied none, that he was in the hands of God who had permitted him to live.”

Jose Almenares Arguello, El Caney, Cuba. Almenares claimed to be 112. Penn Museum image no. 240597A
Jose Almenares Arguello of El Caney, Cuba, 1901. Almenares claimed to be 112. Penn Museum image no. 240597A
A Cuban boy constructing a model of a native musical instrument, the tumbadera, for the benefit of S. Culin. Mata, Cuba, 1901. Penn Museum image no. 240600A
A Cuban boy constructing a model of a native musical instrument, the tumbadera. Mata, Cuba, 1901. Penn Museum image no. 240600A

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