By: Heidy González Cabrera
As if yawning with sleep, the tinajón opens its mouth and shows its uniqueness amongst the family of pots. These large earthenware pots are of great appeal for their beauty and will always be connected back to the Province of Camagüey.
Artisans say that this jar has its origins in the Andalusia region of southern Spain and was brought to Cuba by Spanish potters who settled in the town of Puerto Príncipe, the original name for Camagüey. The jars were first used to store grain, wine, oil and other liquids but soon became receptacles to gather water.
Although tinajones were made on a large scale in the eastern region of Cuba since the 17th century, they are not endemic solely to that area. Its benefits and ornamental beauty were put to good use in other places throughout Cuba such as in Trinidad and Sancti Spíritus.
E ven now in the age of refrigerators and freezers, you can still find tinajones in Camagüeyan homes. Not only are they used as ornaments in gardens and patios but are they used as ornaments in gardens and patios but also for storing the water that is offered to visitors with the friendly warning that "if you drink water from a tinajón, you will stay in Camagüey."
The original design has changed little with the passing of time but it has kept the classic shape that all Cubans know: a large belly, bordered geometric lines, and an almond shaped top. The larger ones are located in inner courtyards or at the entrances to houses and, most of the time, with plants and flowers rising from their mouths.
Those same large mouths, their main characteristic since the advent of these pots, have inspired legends of forbidden love affairs - young lovers, who to escape getting caught, would find safe haven inside the big belly of the tinajones.
There are other stories like the one from 187 5 when a Mambí soldier (member of the liberation army fighting against Spanish rule on the island) left the jungle to go see his sick infant son in town. While walking through the San Juan de Dios Square, he was discovered by Spanish troops and led them on a chase until finding refuge inside a tinajón.
All the stories may be true or pure fantasy but what is true is that the great size of these jars made imaginations fly.
The design of the tinajón has been preserved from generation to generation despite the change in styles of decoration and the use of clay. But time hasn't changed the artistic notion outlined by the first tinajones – it remains unmoved and "yawning" for centuries.