My Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative project is a digital mapping that focuses on contributions from Cuba’s African heritage to socio-cultural spaces and places in the island’s eastern, Oriente region. Oriente has had an historical African presence dating back as early as the 1520s and the area has been the province from which began all of Cuba’s military contestations for independence.

For the mapping project, a select number of spaces and places will be identified as they contain contributions from Cuba’s African heritage. The contributions are of religio-cultural content and the mapping aspires to showcase, primarily through images and text, significant spaces and places of this religio-cultural sacrality within the eastern region. “Spaces” refers to arrangements of ritual objects and artifacts indicative of one of Cuba’s distinct religio-cultural traditions, while “places” refers to physical locations and structures that have significance for the practice or development of the traditions.

The online map will have minimally two layers: a terrain layer revealing provincial boundaries and city locations, and a satellite layer to topographically illustrate mountain ranges so important to the region’s history.  On these layers, I will use color-coordinated pins to designate sites of importance.  Each of the pins on the map will have a pop-up bubble revealing an enlargeable image and information about the space or place. The immediate objective is to locate fifteen (15) to twenty (20) spaces and places on the digital map.  Later phases of the project will incorporate more sites and may move to include historical locations linked to areas of early socio-cultural significance.

Much of the concepts, images, and content for this project will be co-produced with Jualynne E. Dodson, Professor of Sociology and African American & African Studies at Michigan State University.  She also is the director of the African Atlantic Research Team (AART), which will collaborate on the mapping project.  For nearly twenty years, members of AART have conducted research on Africa-inspired socio-religious phenomena in eastern Cuba and it is this collective expertise and the resources of the Team that make this project possible.

For the creation of the website, I will build an html framework through Bootstrap and use Leaflet to build the digital map.  Leaflet will allow the site to be hosted on the MSU Matrix servers rather than a cloud service, protecting the longevity of the project and the ability to add more data over time. I will likely use the Bootleaf template/codebase as well.

A major goal of the mapping project is to enhance public visibility of and familiarity with Africa-inspired religio-cultural traditions in Oriente Cuba.  Oriente is generally an understudied region of Cuba and Africa-inspired religio-cultural practices in the area are frequently neglected in scholarship and popular representations of Cuba’s African heritage. My hope is that the website will serve as a resource for teachers, scholars, and members of the general public interested in Cuba and African-inspired cultural heritage issues.

By Shanti Zaid