What a party that of Guatao!

What a party that of Guatao!

Heritage & Traditions

Gabriela Santiesteban

Among the famous and recurring phrases in conversations between Cubans is "It ended like the party in Guatao", which apparently went from joy to a massive brawl.

This is one of those cases where a seemingly insignificant place on the map transcends popular expression to reflect ideas or events. This is the case with Guatao, whose geographical location is unknown to many, but which all Cubans cite when they tell or predict the turbulent conclusion of any reunion, from a social gathering to a romance.

“It ended (or is going to end) like the Guatao party,” is invariably heard on these occasions, without the interlocutors knowing for sure what happened in that small town founded in the 18th century, which today belongs to the province of Havana. There are different versions of what happened in Guatao, although everything seems to indicate -and this is how the phrase is commonly interpreted- that at some point in the 19th century there was a monumental brawl there.

In the area there were several sugar mills and it was customary to celebrate a kind of festival known as "Tambor de Yuca" (Manioc Drum), also with the participation of slaves, in which people danced, drank and improvised tunes.

It is said that a rivalry between improvisers from the Maurín and Tahoro mills, assistants made common cause with their respective representatives and a sovereign dispute broke out that resulted in “40 broken stools, 70 heads and a good number of broken arms and legs and other injuries”, according to chroniclers.

Folklorist Samuel Feijoo collects another story about the phrase: During a dance, a beautiful young woman of the town, named Fela Cuesta, caused a huge fight with her flirting with one and other suitors.

Apparently "there was not a healthy piece of furniture left" and even the house where the celebration was held was partially destroyed.

Another version makes a shoemaker responsible for the anger: he sold footwear of such poor quality to neighbors of Guatao that the next day, during festivities of the Virgin of the Rosary, patron saint of the town, they began to scam on dancers' feet. These reacted violently against the unscrupulous shoemaker. The expression has also been linked to several other stories, but all related to a party with a very bad ending.