Cuba’s Tobacco Museum


26/02/2013

Maybe the act of puffing on a Habano could be nothing but a fleeting moment, but the history of Cuban tobacco harks back to many centuries and its roots are displayed at the Tobacco Museum in Old Havana’s historic center

When it comes to museums, people think of still artifacts and peaceful buildings. However, the Tobacco Museum in Cuba is an institution on the move that not only contains the history of this product that boasts Protected Denomination of Origin, but it also shows a place that holds cultural criteria on the ritual that tags along any good smoker.

As a matter of fact, in its origins –unfurled during the conquest of America- tobacco was part of aboriginal rites, yet it has arrived in the 21st century carrying the same pleasant charm and perhaps the same magic perceived by the senses. Because a cigar is enjoyed with the eyes, the palate, the nose and even the ears and the touch –lots of people caress the cigars next to their ears as soon as they pick one from the box.

Fortunately, the Habano production is well defined, thanks to the bands, seals and decorations, among other elements. At the Tobacco Museum, an extraordinary collection of lithographs retelling the different stages in the history of Cuba’s tobacco industry can be watched. They range from the first one-color etchings made back in the 1860s and 1870s to the colorful engravings and the so-called pan de oro, related to the pinnacle of lithography in general. Beyond the artistic values, the lithographs depict scenes from olden times that now constitute genuine historic documents.

The arts also do their own in this fabulous tobacco universe, through oils that show the act of smoking, the plantations, the fields and the productive process. They are all part of the museum’s painting collection.

A must-see at the museum is the collection of different utensils used by smokers in different periods of time. Some are them are really pricey because of the materials they are made of, while other were manufactured in wood, ceramics, ivory or metals, depicting assorted decorative styles as well. Don’t miss out on the pipes, lighters, ashtrays and all kinds of containers in an array of whimsical shapes. Some of them resemble such incredible objects as revolvers and guns, cannons, machine-guns, phones and cameras, not to mention cowboy hats and lamps that remind us of the Aladdin tale. 

Tobacco Museum director Zoe Nocedo believes some 150 donations were made to the institution from 2011 to 2012, coming from different nations. But this is only what meets the eye. The center carries out a tremendous amount of activities and projects targeting the preservation and promotion of the tobacco industry, one of the pillars of Cuban nationality.

Zoe underscores the popularity of a register course that has graduated over 800 experts linked to the realm of Habanos and consists of a staff of 34 top researchers and other boldface names. The intention is to look at tobacco in a comprehensive way, therefore the course contains such subject matters as History, Art and Culture, Growth, Pre-industry and Industry, Marketing and Pairing.

At the same time, a course entitled Habanos: Culture and Pairing delves deeper into the history and features of the products that can be consumed together with Habanos. Wines, cognacs, vermouths, rums, whiskies and the entire assortment of accompanying drinks are included. Lectures on waters, coffee, chocolate and pairing techniques are equally taught.

The Flowers of Habano colloquium and the Habano Women Friends project bank on strategies established on the basis of research studies that have shed new light on the job women can do as wholesalers in the tobacco industry –its 14th edition is coming up next, this time around dedicated to the International Women’s Day.

It’s important to underline that the museum has set out to assist cigar factory readers, unique figures in the industrial universe and exclusively hailing from Cuba. The arrangements made by this institution prompted this trade to be declared Culture Heritage of the Nation with plans to have it included on UNESCO’s list of Oral or Immaterial World Heritage.

The actions conducted by this institution make a difference in terms of seeing museums as immobile places. A good case in point is the fact that the museum has stretched out of its walls and reached out to other locations on the island and overseas. It’s run by the Office of the Havana Historian and it serves as a basic communication tool to get to know the enchanting history of that premium product that takes the Cuban nationality up a notch onto a universal character: Habano.