Cuba Seeks World Heritage Designation for Cigar-Factory Readers..

September 29, 2009 - They’re called “cigar-factory readers” and for almost 150 years they have entertained the workers who hand-roll cigars in factories all over Cuba.

The Cuban government has suggested that these unique readers be designated as part of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage that the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization will vote on, together with another 110 candidates, at a the meeting to be held in Abu Dhabi beginning next Monday.

Cigar-factory readers stand on a platform and read to their co-workers, often for their education, though time is also allowed for horoscopes, sexology, novels and kitchen recipes.

Documents show that the custom began in December 1865 when a learned magnate called Nicolas de Azcarate decided to provide entertainment for the workers during their tedious job of hand-rolling cigars hour after hour, and at the same time teach them about progress and reformist ideas. In just six months the example spread across the island and more than 1,000 reader jobs were created. The workers chose whoever among them had the best enunciation and raised the money to pay the selected reader themselves, Zoe Nocedo, director of the Old Havana Tobacco Museum, told Efe.

In 1886 Spain’s colonial Captain General of the Island, Francisco Lersundi, pressured by the conservative bourgeoisie, banned the custom with the argument that is “makes workers undisciplined and they stop paying attention to their work,” but in 1890 it was reestablished, this time forever, Nocedo said.

The birth of radio could have put an end to the reader, but the custom was so deeply rooted that the factories alternated, as they do today, periods of reading with radio programs.

The readers nowadays are state employees with an enviable status: they read 90 minutes a day and spend the rest of the time preparing new readings or debating with the workers the meaning of what they have heard. Standing on a platform with a microphone heard throughout the factory, Jesus Pereira, 44, entertains his fellow-workers by reading to them in three sessions: the first two obligatorily dedicated to the press and the third to novels or self-help books.

Pereira is proud of having read to his 630 fellow workers at the prestigious Partagas factory from novels like “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Count of Montecristo,” and says that detective and suspense novels are the ones they like best.

Like all cigar-factory readers – there are 213 on the island – he had a 30-day trial to win the favor of his demanding audience and get those tobacco knives banging loud and strong.

Reference: Cuba Seeks World Heritage Designation for Cigar-Factory Readers by Javier Otazu, Latin American Herald Tribune, 9/29/2009