Lydia Cabrera, Matriarch of Letters

May 20, 1900 is the birthday of Lydia Cabrera, considered by contemporaries as the premiere Cuban ethnologist and Cuba’s matriarch of “letters”.  (In the 20th century, people wrote thoughtful, lengthy communications by hand with pen and ink on paper, called “letters”.) Cabrera focused on Afro-Cuban history, and wrote scholarly volumes and entertaining fiction, including work on santeria, the hybrid of Catholicism and African religions that developed in the Caribbean. A reporter from the Miami Times observed, “She befriended old, former slaves in Havana and Matanzas, in the fields and hills.  On their porches, inside their thatched-roof huts known as bohios, she heard their stories and translated them into tales, fictional stories based on folklore rooted in Africa and passed down from generation to generation.”