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.
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.
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.
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.”