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Havana Cigars: Aboriginal Roots of Cuban Tobacco (First Part)

Cuban cigars, one of the products of the country's economy with greater international recognition, treasures in its green leaves a history of more than five centuries, closely linked to the discovery of the island.

According to legends, when Admiral Christopher Columbus landed in Cuba in 1492, he sent two of his best men with introduction letters from the Catholic King and Queen of Spain to the Emperor of China, since he thought they had arrived in that Asian country.

For Rodrigo de Xerez and Luis de Torres, the two men sent by Columbus, reality was completely different when they met with aborigines carrying rolls of leaves between their lips. The natives lighted one of the ends of the roll and absorbed the smoke from the other end.

This way, unintentionally, Columbus discovered one of Cuba's biggest treasures, and even some of his companions, including Xerez, became aficionados to these aromatic leaves, so the words "tobacco" and "cigar" were incorporated into the vocabulary of the inhabitants of the old continent.

Cuban natives called this plant "cojiba" or "cohoba", name also given to the V-shaped instrument they use to absorb the smoke, although many researchers link this second hypothesis to Trinidad and Tobago.

Colonizers also discovered that the aborigines performed a sort of ritual for the consumption of this plant. There are many stories about the use of a drum called "cemi", whose sound accompanied the whole process with medicinal and pleasurable aims among Cuba's native inhabitants.

As time went by, the cigar not only became an important element for the nobility of the epoch but also conquered its place in African religious cults brought to Cuba during the slave trade from the so-called black continent.

Experts say that for African gods, tobacco leaves represent an excellent tool for the cure of diseases and, according to traditions, all male deities like to smoke and chew the plant, including its roots and flowers.

The Spanish Crown gave green light for the cultivation of tobacco by virtue of a royal decree in 1614. It also took over the monopoly of its commercialization in 1740, with the creation of the Royal Company of Commerce of Havana, which marked the beginning of one of Cuba's first and most important industries.

Although tobacco is harvested in almost all Cuban provinces, the best soil for this plantation is located in the eastern province of Pinar del Rio - especially in Vueltabajo - considered the region of the world's best tobacco.

A perfect combination of soils, climate and humidity results in a product regarded as unique in the world, because of its aroma, color, texture and taste. All this is essential when rolling the famous Havana cigars, whose demand is increasing among the most select aficionados.

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